VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA – “Twelve years ago, my father was planning for retirement, so he bought some land here in the Valle and decided to build a ranch.” Francisco Rubio swept his hand across the front windows of the vineyard’s tasting room and deli, indicating the family’s ranch house, vines and the valley and mountains beyond. Francisco’s father – Francisco Rubio Senior – was a successful industrial developer in Tijuana who had worked hard all of his life, so he took some time off immediately after retirement to travel. One of his favorite destinations was Spain.
Francisco continued, “There was a street called Avenida Elefante (Elephant Avenue) in one of the towns in Spain. My father loved it there. There were lots of bars, people drank, enjoyed their lives and were happy.” Francisco Senior returned from Spain invigorated and decided to start a vineyard on the family ranch. He hired an oenologist to consult, and the rest of the Rubio family took on winemaking, sales, food, hospitality and administrative roles. Bodegas F. Rubio officially began selling their wines in February 2014.
When I asked about the elephants adorning their bottles and business cards, Francisco explained, “There is an elephant on our bottles for every member of our family. In addition to Avenida Elefante in Spain, the elephant represents good luck and prosperity in many cultures. Our designer illustrated the elephants on our labels with their trunks pointed up, which shows confidence and the lack of obstacles. The elephant also represents memory. And you always remember when you have a good wine.”
With that, El Gringo and his amigos stepped up to the tasting bar to sample the fruits of the Rubio family’s labor of love. Brother Alberto Rubio is the adept winemaker for Bodegas F. Rubio, and has done an outstanding job blending some of the region’s most popular grapes to create several unique wines, including; a blanco Palomino and Chenin Blanc blend, a tinto Tempranillo and Cab blend and a smooth riserva blending Cab, Merlot and Malbec. Alberto has a pedigree as an oenologist with stints at Bodega Mogor Badan and Viñedos Malagón, both notable vineyards in the Valle de Guadalupe. His experience shines through in Bodegas F. Rubio’s lineup.
When Francisco invited us to visit a couple of months ago, he’d mentioned that they also had a deli run by his brother – chef Alexandro Rubio – that they’d like for us to try. I looked forward to what I consider deli food, maybe with a Baja twist…an array of sandwiches, perhaps a good wood fired pizza with some regional camerones or pulpo. But we were all pleasantly blown away by the amazing food that was served. The use of the word “deli” here is an understatement.
First up was a beautiful plate of sashimi of salmon and yellowfin tuna atop a bed of zucchini “pasta” and soy vinaigrette, topped with thinly sliced red onion and a bit of pickled seaweed. We dug into this hearty helping of flavorful fish, enjoying every mouthwatering bite. The seafood was perfectly fresh and complemented nicely with the veggies and seaweed.
We didn’t think it would be possible to serve something even better than the plate of fresh sashimi we’d just devoured, but then came the sea snails. Chef Alex thoughtfully prepares his aguachile (chili water) of sea snails with jalapeño, tomatoes, red onions, micro greens and green onions from their garden. The snails are the perfect balance of chewy and tender and the aguachile of jalapeño provides just the right amount of heat, not overwhelming the main ingredients. This dish paired nicely with Bodegas F. Rubio’s blanco Palomino/Chenin Blanc blend.
After the next course of portobello mushroom stuffed with an herby house-made pesto, chef Alex beckoned us to follow him outside. We went around the back where something started to smell really good. Fragrant woodsmoke wafted out of the smoker as Alex opened the doors to reveal the short ribs, baby back ribs, and ears of corn cooking inside – the ribs for about 4 hours at this point. I went back inside, droolingly anticipating the next course.
The ribs were perfectly smoked and super tender – nearly falling off the bone. Two in our party called them “bacon ribs”, and they certainly packed the flavor to support that statement. Before smoking, the ribs are marinated in mustard and adobo for 24 hours, providing a deep, mildly spicy and rich flavor. The accompanying vegetables – sourced from Bodega Mogor Badan just down the road – were the perfect addition to this country style feast. The ribs were paired with glasses of the riserva Tempranillo, a bold, fruit-forward blend with notes of strawberry and aged in second-hand French oak barrels.
Dessert came in two courses: The first, a bowl of ice cream covered in chocolate “dirt”, planted in a pot with a plastic flower giving the impression of consuming ones houseplant. Good, but quickly topped by the accompanying second course, a pizza of gooey mozzarella and sweet membrillo (quince).
After throwing in our towels (napkins) and pushing ourselves back from the table, we took a trip down to the wine cave with refreshed glasses of Rubio’s tinto. Francisco gave us a tour of the winemaking facilities, explaining the process and the family’s vision for future varietals and blends. We were treated to a barrel tasting of a new Merlot. And it was fantastic, even in its early stages.
“We started Bodegas F. Rubio from nothing,” Francisco told me as we stepped out into the Valle dusk to say adios. “We are currently producing 1,400 cases a year.” And what does the future hold for this family of artisanal entrepreneurs? In addition to building an outdoor stage for concerts, they have plans to possibly offer several ecotourism cabins on their property for overnight guests. Given their style of thoughtful growth, excellent hospitality and an eye toward producing quality wines and cuisine, this family business is sure to be around for many more generations of Rubios to enjoy.
Your Gringo in Mexico,
Bodegas F. Rubio is located at:
Callejón de la Liebre Parcela #70 Ejido El Porvenir, Baja California, CP 22755
Once you arrive in the small town of El Porvenir on old Highway 1 from the south, follow the blue signs left onto a dirt road. Continue to follow the blue signs for one more turn and arrival at Bodegas F. Rubio.