When most people think of Mexican wine (if they think of it at all), the Valle de Guadalupe first comes to mind. Located in Baja California just south of the US border with California, this region has been called the Napa Valley of Mexico. Baja California produces the majority of Mexican wine, but it’s not the only wine region in Mexico. The Spanish planted grape vines throughout “New Spain” when they arrived in Mexico in the 16th century. There is a growing wine country in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, where San Miguel de Allende is located.
Guanajuato currently produces about 300,000 bottles annually, making it the fourth largest producer in Mexico. Surrounded by mountains, Guanajuato sits at high elevation on the Central Mexican Plateau. The vineyards are planted at high altitudes of about 6,500 feet, providing a climate with warm days and cool nights. Grape vines love this dry air and daily temperature differential. The grape harvests, called vendimias, take place in late July and August, so the summer is going to be full of harvest festivals.
The state of Guanajuato formed a Grape and Wine Association (Asociación Uva y Vino de Guanajuato) in 2014 to promote their wines and develop wine routes in the region. This year at the Vendimia Guanajuato celebration they unveiled five wine routes including 15 vineyards in the state. Sounds exciting, but I’m still trying to get my hands on the details of those routes. What I do know is that one of the Guanajuato Wine Routes runs between Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende, beginning nearby at Vinícola Toyan.
Vinícola Toyan (also called Viñedo Toyan) is located just 8 km outside of San Miguel on the road to Querétaro. The property has been a working ranch for 25 years and a winery for the last 16 years. Owner Martha Molina has owned the ranch for that entire time. She is the one that planted the first vines and she still works in the vineyard.
Tours are offered in English from Thursday through Saturdays at 12pm and 2pm (make reservations through their website). Our tour guide, also named Martha, met us at the entrance to the ranch. The property is beautiful, with an old chapel, enchanting gazebos, faces carved in trees, statues and gargoyles throughout acting as guardians of the ranch.
We walked past the fields where they grow organic produce and a small orchard of fruit trees. On Wednesdays, they hold an organic farmers market where they sell their produce. We continued out to the 10 hectare vineyard, where roses grow at the edges to act as sentinels warning of pests and diseases. All of Toyan’s wines are organic, using no pesticides or other chemicals (although there is no official certification of organic wine in Mexico).
We stopped for discussions of the various varietals of grapes, which includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir grows well here and the berries were starting to ripen on the vines.
The showpiece of the winery is their unique underground wine cave. We paused at the entrance for Martha to tell the stories behind the symbols on the doors. Now, do I remember those stories? Nope. Perhaps if I hadn’t spent the rest of the afternoon drinking wine, but you really should hear Martha tell them herself.
The winery is full of symbolism and mystical forces – just inside the doorway is a large meteorite that was found on the property and is said to impart a calming energy to the vineyard. The walls of the dark cave are lined with 24 monks, each one having its own role in the winery.
The cave is 14 meters (about 46 feet) deep underground, so the temperature stays constant year round. Down here, wines are aging in bottles and French oak barrels, which they use only once. Vinícola Toyan produces about 25,000 cases of wine annually.
We finally got to drink some of that wine in the tasting room at the top of the cave. Unlike any tasting room we’ve ever been in, the spacious cavern is like an underground Medieval lair. Granted the blue light was not the best lighting for wine tasting, but our eyes adjusted and we got used to the ghostly pallor. I could see that some wines were white and some were red, which was all that I needed, because this was more about the overall experience than scrutinizing the subtle color differences of the wines.
At a long candle-lit table, plates of cheese, meat, bread, and pumpkin marmalade were set before each of us. Martha led us on a tasting that began with a well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc with floral and herbal notes. Next was a fun Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend with an unusual little sparkle to it. Moving on to the reds, we had a bright acidic Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by a Merlot that was noticeably softer. Their Pinot noir was not included in the tasting, so we purchased a bottle from the bar to taste around our table.
After the wine tasting, lunch was awaiting us upstairs in the Restaurante 4 Lunas. Since we had a group of eight people, we were able to add lunch for an extra $300 pesos per person. In the restaurant kitchen, a self-serve buffet of delicious traditional Mexican food was laid out that included stewed pork, chicharrones (pork skins), chopped nopales (cactus), and potatoes. Fresh tortillas and homemade salsa rounded out the meal. Martha brought out pitchers of sweet, cold hibiscus and alfalfa waters. We added a few bottles of Vinícola Toyan wines that we had purchased downstairs at the bar.
Vinícola Toyan was our first Mexican wine tour and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the way the day turned out. We really did not know what to expect, particularly from a smaller winery. Now we know that we have some great wine tours and tastings ahead of us on the Guanajuato Wine Route.
Km 8.5 on the San Miguel Highway a, Querétaro
San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico, 37734
A few words on transportation: We hired a car to drive us out to the winery and made arrangements for him to pick us back up when finished. Seems simple enough, but the lack of a cell phone signal, unless you were standing in a specific spot of the driveway, made it difficult to communicate when we were done. Those in our party that had not prearranged a ride back had a hard time summoning a taxi or Uber.