No matter where you fall on the wine knowledge spectrum, there are certain facts acknowledged by most. New Zealand makes excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy’s Pinots and Chardonnays are life-changing, and California Cabs are great with a steak. But beyond the basics, a rewarding part of cultivating a strong palette is through exploration — learning about new wine brands, different grape varieties, unique styles (three cheers for pét-nat!), and lesser-known winemaking regions —like Mexico.
“Even though as an industry we are still quite new, historically, Mexico has one of the oldest wine producing backgrounds in the Americas,” el VINO co-founder Daniela Vargas Dieppa tells TZR. Together with fellow founders Ramya Giangola, Sofia Ajodan, Jessica Flesh, and winemaker Lulu Martinez Ojeda, the brand was launched in summer 2021. “Mexico’s wine history goes back to the 1600s with the famous ‘misiones’ where the Jesuits started planting and producing wine from Listán Negro and Tempranillo.”
The part of Mexico where el VINO is being produced is called Valle de Guadalupe and is in the Baja California region of the country. Here, the terroir is mainly sandy soils with clayish subsoils and the winters are dry and temperate while summer is warm and Mediterranean-like, Ojeda explains. “The wine scene is bubbling! It’s one of the newest emerging wine regions and everything is possible,” she says. “Crazy blends, avant-garde techniques, innovative concepts, unorthodox varietals.” She adds that there are more than 140 grape varieties planted here that range from dense, rich Petite Sirahs to fine floral Chenins.
Ojeda’s background is what wine documentaries are made of. “Lulu’s family is one of the founding families in Ensenada, her grandfather was the first mayor of the city,” Vargas shares. “On her mother’s side, her great grandmother planted a vineyard that’s now over 80 years old.” Ojeda left for France when she was 18-years-old and studied winemaking in the faculty of oenology of Bordeaux. She spent 16 years in the region working in grand crus like Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte in Pessac Leognan and Chateau Brane Cantenac in Margaux before returning to Mexico, which is where her story intersects with the el VINO co-founders.
Dieppa, Giangola, Ajodan, and Flesh worked in the fashion industry for 20 years prior to collaborating on el VINO. “For all of us, fashion is a lifestyle that can be represented not only in what you wear, but also what you drink, how you dress your table, how you design your house and so much more,” Dieppa says. As avid wine consumers, they pivoted their seasoned marketing know-how toward wine. But like many women navigating a male-dominated industry, it wasn’t without its obstacles.
“Our challenges started very early on when we began to explore wineries to make our wine,” Dieppa says. “We were confronted with men that frankly were very unhelpful and would not even entertain a conversation.” The wine industry sees its fair share of toxic masculinity and is traditional in nature as well, which is why when the team met Ojeda, it was a perfect match. “We were shocked to meet a female winemaker who has shattered many glass ceilings throughout her career to establish herself as an extremely respected winemaker globally. She has always said that from the moment she started studying winemaking, she was confronted by being a minority, not only because of her gender, but also because of her origins. This challenge made her work twice as hard and she has become 10 times stronger as a result.”
el VINO’s current wine portfolio consists of a Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, and a Rosé. The brand describes its growing and winemaking style as low intervention and the grapes are sourced from Llano Colorado, among the best vineyards in the region. “Low sulfites, no chemical products, no filtering, and respecting the nature of each varietal and plot is the priority,” Ojeda says. “The 2021 vintage was almost boring. Everything was perfect! Low yields but great quality, each varietal had the time to ripen calmly and with no rush. A year that shows great finesse and aromatic purity.” The climate conditions and dryness allows them to use only organic products and since 2020, biodynamic practices have been put in place.
Not surprisingly, Bordeaux’s climate conditions are radically different than in Valle de Guadalupe, but that doesn’t mean Ojeda can’t apply her experience. “The French way of learning is observation and analyzing. It’s well known that the French ‘questioning everything’ is in their blood,” she says. “What I apply in such a different region now is exactly that sense of observation, analyzing, and adapting. You have to know the rules before you can break them!”
Teaming up with another creative community that has a track record of breaking the rules, a pillar in el VINO’s mission is the brand’s artists collaborations. Each of these collabs — charmingly dubbed ‘wine pairings’ — consist of limited-edition collections from the artist that teams perfectly with the wine. “Our collaborators are tasked with creating exclusive artwork for the labels of the wine, as well as an exclusive collection of merchandise that lives with and ‘pairs’ with the wine,” Giangola says. “From ceramics with LRNCE, to sweats and up-cycled leather coasters from Clare V, it is about tapping into what the creative loves and is passionate about and bringing it to life through our filter of El VINO.”
Another component to these creative collaborations is through the visual assets for the various wine releases. “Our first was with Pia Riverola, travel and lifestyle photographer extraordinaire in Mexico, and now with the ubiquitous fashion creative and photographer Tommy Ton in Los Angeles,” Giangola says. “Having them help us bring these editions to life visually also is a huge part of creating our community and aesthetic."
And if you’re wondering what the el VINO community and aesthetic is exactly, it’s kind of like the perfect glass of wine: well-balanced, elevated, full of surprises, easy to consume, and something you’ll want to return to over and over again.
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