Wine Tasting in Ensenada

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Got up at eight o’clock this morning and went out onto the balcony; the weather was a bit warmer this morning and we hoped it would be hot and sunny on our arrival into Ensenada, Mexico.  We had last visited Ensenada in March 2000 on the Holiday, and we looked forward to seeing how it had changed.

Went up to Deck 14 to walk along to the Ocean View café. The usual morning power walkers and joggers were out in force, getting their pre-breakfast laps in.  We enjoyed our regular substantial breakfast then went along to the Sky Lounge to meet up with the rest of our (winning!) quiz team for the morning trivia.

We answered the questions and felt as though we’d done fairly well, but I don’t know if we won or not, because Trevor and I had to leave before they’d gone through all the answers.  This is because, at 10 o’clock, a Remembrance Service was being held in the Eclipse Theatre and we didn’t want to miss it.

The service was brief (only 15 minutes) but meaningful.  It was non-religious, and gave thanks to the armed forces for their sacrifices in both World Wars (and other wars).  One of the entertainment team gave a reading, then Big Mike played a classical piece on the piano. Then came the beautiful and famous Ode to Remembrance (from the poem For the Fallen):

They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

We then stood up and had a minute’s silence, before the service finished with a tenor singing Nessun Dorma.

Afterwards we went back to our cabin and reluctantly decided to make a start with our packing, as tonight would be our last one on board.  Dragging one of the cases out from under the bed, we stashed a lot of the stuff we wouldn’t be needing again this cruise, as well as all the prizes we won.

We then went up on deck to have a wander around. We could see ‘land ahoy’ and we watched as the Eclipse manoeuvred her way into port.  We could hear the instantly-recognisable ohuh, ohuh, ohuh grunts of seals, and when we looked, sure enough we saw a group of them playing and frisking in the sea near the harbour wall.  There must have been about four of them, and their noise brought other passengers over to our side of the ship to have a look.  😊

We returned to 8166 to get our excursion tickets, as well as bag, phone, money, credit-cards etc. before making our way back to the theatre to await the call for our half-day excursion, which didn’t take too long.  Then we went down to Deck 2 to disembark the Eclipse and proceed to the line of waiting buses.  Beforehand, however, we all had to go and sign some sort of waiver form which we couldn’t understand, as we were only going to a vineyard for a spot of wine-tasting.  There were quite a lot of people milling around on the dockside, not quite knowing where we were supposed to be going; it didn’t seem to be very well organised.  There were about 90 people waiting to go on the vineyard tour, and I hoped the group would be split up into more manageably-sized groups, as it would have been ridiculous with a group of 90 (imagine the queues everywhere).

However, we needn’t have worried as we were split into two groups and each assigned a guide and a bus.  Our guide explained it would take about 45 minutes before we reached our chosen vineyard and winery and in the meantime we were to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery passing by outside our windows.

The scenery included a very arid landscape with rocky hillsides and many cacti, as well as many grapevines growing in rows on the sandy slopes.  This area is noted for its deep granite soils, warm sunny days, and nights cool due to breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The area is ideal for both red and white wines, and one of the few locales in the world that can grow grapes for world-class wines. Grapes for Baja California (which includes Ensenada) wines are also grown in areas in the neighbouring Sonora state. The varieties of red wine produced in the Baja California region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission. The white wines are Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga.

We were told that this area produced 90% of Mexico’s wine, with most of it coming from three regions not far from the port city of Ensenada: the San Antonio de las Minas zone, which includes the Valley of Guadalupe, the San Vicente Valley and the Santo Tomás Valley.

There are three major wine producers in this area, Vinos L.A. Cetto in the Calafia Valley, Vinos Pedro Domecq and Bodegas de Santo Tomás in the Santo Tomás Valley. All have had wines that won international competitions including the Double Gold won by L.A. Cetto at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in May 2009. Many of these wines are now exported to Europe, the U.S. and Canada.  Today we were visiting the first of these, Vinos L.A. Cetto.

On arrival at the winery we alighted from the bus into the hot Mexican sunshine.  Our guide explained how the grapes were grown, harvested and processed.  We went into one of the huge rooms where the wine was fermented in massive steel vats; in here the ambient temperature was strictly regulated and it felt cold after the sunshine outside.

We then went into another room where there were many large barrels containing the wine which was left to mature.  The air was rich with the scent of fruit, yeast and grape must. Then it was time to go along for the best part of the visit – the tasting.  😊

Inside the large shop a guy was waiting by a counter containing a long row of wine glasses, to which he poured some white wine to a depth of about half an inch.  We each took a glass (you kept the same glass for the duration of the tasting session) and swirled the wine about, sniffing and tasting, while the guy told us all about it and showed us the bottle, and how much it cost to buy.  We tried a total of three whites and three reds; they were all very palatable indeed, and very reasonably priced.

A lot of people were buying bottles (and even cases) of the wines, but we couldn’t really do so as we were flying home tomorrow. ☹

After visiting the restrooms we all got back on the bus again to our next stop, the Casa de Doña Lupe.  Not only was this a winery but it was also a farm shop, selling fresh, home-made breads in different varieties, some containing sun-dried tomatoes and jalapeños.  Also home-made cheeses, jams and marmalades.  If, like me, you were thinking of strawberry or raspberry jams – think again.  These were made of chillies, including jalapeño and the very hot habanero. The chillies were mixed with fruits like pineapples, peaches and apricots.

In the farm shop were many samples of the delicious breads, cheeses and jams for us to try.  As we hadn’t had any lunch we were quite hungry, so we tasted the breads and cheeses then joined the queue for the chilli jams.  There were Ritz crackers out so you could put a teaspoon of jam onto the cracker to try.  I tried a habanero one and, at first, all I tasted was sweetness.  A few seconds later the heat kicked in.  😊  I bought a jar of the home-made habanero jam to take into work for my colleagues to try.

Next was the wine-tasting.  We were each given some vouchers which entitled us to four samples of wine.  Taking a small plastic glass in which to contain it, we queued at the front of an open-sided trailer which had the list of available wines chalked on a board above it.  The queues were quite long, so the trick was to get your sample of wine, then immediately rejoin the queue so you could drink your wine before getting the next sample.  We tried a few – a delectable honey wine stood out for me; it was more like a sherry or a Madeira.

Once we’d used up all our vouchers it was time for pizza!  We all sat down at a long wooden trestle table while staff came round with large boards containing different varieties of pizza; we were allowed a slice each (which, to be honest, was sufficient, as the pizzas were large).

Then it was back on the bus for the return journey to the Celebrity Eclipse.  If anyone thought they were going to be able to have a nice, wine-induced nap on the bus, however, they were in for a disappointment.  For some inexplicable reason our guide put a Spanish-language movie on in the bus which we gleaned was about the tennis player Billie Jean King.  The sound was quite loud so that ruled out any napping!  I don’t think any of us understood Spanish well enough either.

We were glad when we finally arrived back at the port, but we had quite a bit to wait as the bus went through customs, and a Port Authority bloke came on the bus to look at all our passports and shipboard cards.  Eventually we got through, however, and it was around 4.20pm when we found ourselves back on board.

We did some more packing, leaving out what we would need for this evening.  Around five o’clock the Eclipse gave a long, loud blast on her foghorn and slowly started to move away from the dockside, next stop Los Angeles.

I got showered and shampooed and ready for the “last supper” in the Moonlight Sonata restaurant.  Quite a few people were absent from the restaurant, probably doing the last of their packing or eating in the self-service.  We enjoyed the usual calorie-laden delicious four-course meal and the impeccable service of our waiter David and our sommelier Demmy.  Then we said our “goodbyes” and “safe journeys” to our table mates and went back to our cabin to finish off our packing, as the cases had to be outside our cabin doors by 10.00pm.

Back in 8166 I changed out of my smart clothing and back into what I would be travelling home in tomorrow, that is, linen trousers, cotton top, flat shoes and fleece-lined denim jacket.  Then I just left out my toothbrush and cosmetics for tomorrow morning, and we sealed and locked the cases and put them outside the door before going to the Eclipse Theatre for the show.

Tonight’s performance was by the Show Company and was called “Euphoria”.  It was a very unusual show, more like a circus act, featuring the aerialists, gymnasts and acrobats as well as a number of inflatables, like huge dragons or chrysalises.  The music was amazing and it was an extremely enjoyable show.  We were sorry when it ended.

We finished the evening by going to the Quasar where Shania was valiantly trying to get a karaoke started, but there was hardly anyone there (unsurprisingly).  One person got up and sang in a half-hearted fashion, and I got up and did Zombie by the Cranberries, but that was about it.  Therefore,  Shania closed the karaoke early and had an unexpected bonus early finish.  She came over and thanked us for making her first cruise very memorable (if it was her first time, she was very good at it – a natural, in fact).

We then just stayed behind and had a few drinks and chatted with Eka.  Then we returned to stateroom 8166 for our last night on board the fabulous Celebrity Eclipse.  We turned in about 11.30pm – we didn’t want too late a night because we had to be out of our stateroom by 8.00am, and we needed to be up early for our arrival into Los Angeles.

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