By: Talea Miller
While driving to Ensenada one recent Saturday, I passed billboards advertising no fewer than five foodie festivals: The festival of cheese and bread; the festival of seafood and shellfish—even a festival devoted entirely to salads and salad dressings. But it’s a paella competition that brings me south of the border today.
“If we win we get to go to the big contest in Valle de Guadalupe in the last weekend of August,” said Montserrat Vildósola, an architect from Mexico City and amateur paella chef. “There’s a contest where 100 paelleros go, and this is the contest you have to win in order to be able to contest there.”
Vildósola’s team is one of about a dozen competing today for a spot in the big paella contest that closes out the grandaddy of all Baja gastronomic festivals: the Fiestas de la Vendimia. That’s Spanish for harvest parties, and they’re happening now in Ensenada’s lush Guadalupe Valley wine country, a bucolic place where horses graze amid scenic vineyards surrounded by majestic purple mountains.
“Baja produces about 90 percent of the wine from Mexico,” said Joaquín Prieto, current president of Provino, the coalition of winemakers that coordinates the Vendimia. “Climate is the prime thing. We have the Pacific cold and the heat of the valley so it creates a microclimate.”