A Journey Through Baja California’s Wine Country

A Journey Through Baja California’s Wine Country

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It’s a wine country unlike any I’ve come across. Start with the fact that in these parched environs, only splashes of vines are visible from the highway. Nowadays grapes grow in all sorts of places, but how they came to the valley is a peculiar tale. An obscure Russian sect of agrarian Christians known as the Molokans immigrated to Mexico around 1905 and put their farming talents to the test of the desert. The Molokans didn’t drink alcohol, but they sold their grapes to those who did.

In 1988, a scientist of German ancestry named Hans Backoff Senior founded Monte Xanic and thereupon became the first maker of high-quality wines in the Valley. Others followed, and the oenologists they hired from France, Italy and Spain brought their native varietals with them. You would think the resulting wine would be a hopeless multicultural jumble, everywhere-tasting wine in the middle of nowhere.

But then you would start drinking and stop quibbling. As one of the region’s pre-eminent winemakers, José Luis Durand, told me: “That eclecticism is part of our wine’s character. It expresses the freedom that our culture affords us.”

I dined with Mr. Durand, a native Chilean, one evening in the unprepossessing oceanside city of Ensenada, a half-hour from the valley, at an Italian restaurant called Da Toni. My brilliant if endearingly attention-disordered companion makes deeply personal valley wines featuring far-flung grapes like nebbiolo and tannat.

Elsewhere in Ensenada, at Sano’s, a dignified steakhouse, I washed down my filet mignon with a silky tempranillo-syrah blend from Norte 32, whose owner, a retired pilot named Oscar Obregón, beamed modestly as I stammered out praise.

And one afternoon in the city I found, alongside a clutter of docked fishing boats, a sunny seafood shack named Muelle 3. The yellowfin tuna sashimi and shrimp puff pastry might have been flawless by themselves — but, leaving nothing to chance, I ordered a needle-sharp sauvignon blanc made by Wenceslao Martinez Santos of Relieve Winery, and perfection was assured.

In the preceding paragraph I unintentionally made the case for simply staying in the poor man’s Cabo San Lucas of Ensenada where, in addition to the excellent restaurants, the usual beach hotels and tequila bars abound and the roads are paved. I won’t stop you, though you are especially likely to regret your choice should you linger in Ensenada in the middle of November, when the so-called Baja Mil procession of Americans in off-road vehicles makes its bellowing way down the thousand-mile coastline from Tijuana to Cabo. The serene rusticity of the valley has the feeling of a place rather than a playground.

Photo

The restaurant Laja in the valley leans more to the Mediterranean than to down-home Mexican. Here, Laja’s take on aguachile, a Mexican version of ceviche in which seafood is submerged in lime juice, chile, coriander and salt.

Credit
Oriana Koren for The New York Times

“If you come here directly from Napa, you’ll feel like you’re on a safari,” the winemaker Fernando Perez Castro said as we enjoyed a grand lunch of pig’s feet taquitos, tomato salad, radishes with black mole sauce and cabrito tortas (a sandwich of grilled baby goat) on the shady patio of TrasLomita, the restaurant on the premises of his family’s winery, Hacienda La Lomita. “But you see that this isn’t a place where big corporations have imposed a narrative. This is all about small families who actually live on the property. And along with making a tiny amount of high-quality wine, we’ve now brought tourism to the table. We’re giving our clients a full experience.”

At certain sites like La Lomita, that experience — superb wine and food in a picturesque setting presided over by a charming host — feels unassailably complete. Or it would, if there were rooms. Once Kirsten arrived three days into my weeklong trip, we stayed two nights in the area’s oldest hotel, Adobe Guadalupe, an elegant inn built in 1999 by an American businessman and his Dutch wife, who came to the valley to make wine and raise horses. Today, according to its website, the hotel is the most prolific breeder of Azteca Sporthorses in the world, and guests may ride them through Adobe Guadalupe’s vineyards.

As I prefer horses from a distance, we largely contented ourselves with the view from the hotel’s lovely pool, the armada of mountains providing a backdrop of surly majesty. Adobe Guadalupe’s conceit is that of a self-contained refuge. Its gracious courtyard and high-ceiling public rooms stocked with well-traveled books invite the visitor to proceed slowly, if at all.

Just by the entrance, a gift shop of local crafts is also well stocked with early vintages of Adobe Guadalupe’s excellent wine at startlingly low prices. More recent versions of the same wine are available by the glass at the adjacent charming food truck, which sells flavorful if strangely non-Mexican snacks. The greater disappointment comes with Adobe Guadalupe’s dinners, which feature the banal sort of beef-and-asparagus fare one encounters at Middle American country clubs.

Thus come evening we would find ourselves bumping down the unlit desert roads. One particular three-mile divot-riddled byway connecting two paved thoroughfares is the address for some of the valley’s best-regarded restaurants. These include the aforementioned veranda grill Finca Altozano; across the street, Brasa del Valle, another Campeche-style restaurant emphasizing fresh ingredients; and a quarter-mile down the road, Laja, the valley’s venerated ranch-house establishment with a prix fixe menu that leans more to the Mediterranean than to down-home Mexican. From Adobe Guadalupe, the drive to each of these is a mere 10 minutes, though getting there is not half the fun.

We were glad, then, to procure a room for our final night in the valley at Bruma Valle de Guadalupe, a first-class resort-in-the-making owned by Juan Pablo Arroyuelo, a restless Mexico City developer. When we visited, Bruma’s rambling complex consisted of six sleek guest rooms, a pool, dirt-biking trails, a vineyard, a kitchen for daytime meals and an architecturally stunning winery built out of recycled optical glass and discarded wooden beams from a San Francisco bridge.

As of this writing, two suites with private pools have been added, along with two residential villas. And this month, the resort opened Fauna, an upscale restaurant whose chef, David Castro, has spent the last several years in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

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April 25, 2017 at 03:39AM

10 dishes you cannot leave the Netherlands without eating

10 dishes you cannot leave the Netherlands without eating

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Continuing our series on unmissable dishes in popular destinations, our Netherlands expert reveals his favourites. See previous articles for the best food to eat in SpainItaly, Germany and France.

1. Texel lamb

What makes it great

The lambs that frolic and graze on the salty grasslands of the island of Texel, in the Wadden Sea off the Netherlands’ far northern coast, are renowned for their herby, faintly salty, meltingly tender flesh.

Where to try it

Travel across the mudflats to savour the lamb in situ. The best I’ve had on the island is at Bij Jef, where owner-chef Jef Schuur cooks a trio of cuts, each in a slightly different way.

2. North Sea cod

What makes it great

Firm of flesh and full of flavour, Dutch cod makes its own strong statement, yet combines excitingly with other tastes. In the hands of someone who know what to add and when to hold back, cod can make a dish far greater than the sum of its parts.

Where to try it

Chef Sidney Schutte at Librije’s Zusje in Amsterdam comes up with cod loin with a dashi-and-passion-fruit sauce, a dish that is my all-time top after many years of dining out.

3. Limburg asparagus

What makes it great

Thick, white and powerful, Limburg asparagus packs a lot of punch, and cooked to a point where it combines just the right amount of give and crunch is a main course in itself.

Limburg is famous for its white asparagus

Credit:
VALENTYN VOLKOV

Where to try it

In the restaurant at Kasteel Ter Worm, just outside Heerlen near the German border, I relish both the creamy soup and the classic grilled asparagus, served with a poached farm egg and savoury sabayon sauce.

4. Erwtensoep (pea soup)

What makes it great

Porridge-thick pea soup (your spoon should stand up in it) is the ideal winter warmer. Vegetarians beware: it comes with smoked sausage floating in it, and usually with a side of dark bread and cured ham.

Where to try it

The richest erwtensoep I’ve had was made by Jan Nederhoed, a butcher from Leek in Groningen. Luckily, you can buy it canned to take home from Het Lekkere Winkeltje in Leek.

5. Zeeland mussels

What makes it great

A pot of succulent, fat Zeeland mussels, semi-steamed with a dash of wine and stock, and served with crusty bread is the quickest way to heaven on a summer’s afternoon.

Where to try it

Danny and Juri Nolet at Nolet’s Vistro, almost on top of the oyster and mussel beds at Yerseke, cook the perfect pot.

6. Haring (herring)

What makes it great

Fat new Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch New) herring, caught between May and July, cleaned and salted aboard the boats and serve raw, to be slipped straight down the throat, or served on soft bread with chopped onion, is like kissing the sea.

Herring is usually served raw, with soft bread and chopped onion

Credit:
gigra – Fotolia

Where to try it

Schmidt Zeevis in Rotterdam serves it straight, and you eat standing up at counter-tables.

7. Hutspot (hotchpotch)

What makes it great

Potatoes mashed with carrot and served with slow-stewed brisket – or hutspot’s cousin, stamppot: spuds mashed with endive (usually) and dished up with smoked sausage – give just the right flavoursome solace required of comfort food.

Hutspot is simple but delicious

Credit:
MARC VENEMA

Where to try it

In Leiden, the home of hutspot (a pot was supposedly captured from the occupying Spanish forces and served to hungry citizens in 1574), you can get it all over town during the annual October celebration of the lifting of the siege. My favourite is from Roberto’s, where Roberto Slierlings turns a summer ice-cream parlour into a winter stamppot emporium.

8. Rijsttafel (literally: rice table)  

What makes it great

This feast of spicy dishes and rice was invented in colonial Indonesia to satisfy hungry Dutch overlords, and combines delicious mouthfuls of all manner of surprising flavours with the fun of a communal meal.

Where to try it

The rijsttafel is now considered a Dutch national speciality, and some of the best are to be had in The Hague, where many from the former colonies came to live after Indonesian independence. My favourite restaurant here is the very traditional Bogor (Van Swietenstraat 2, 00 31 70 346 1628; no website).

9. Croquettes

What makes them great

Crispy crumbed crusts and piping hot creamy fillings – traditionally beef, though I prefer prawn – make krokketten a deeply satisfying between-meals snack and a great drinks accompaniment.

Where to try it

Undisputed croquette king for well over half a century is Eetsalon Van Dobben in Amsterdam.

10. Friet mayonnaise (potato fries with mayonnaise)

What makes them great

Firm, sweet potatoes cut pinkie-thin and fried twice – once to cook them, then after cooling, a second time to turn them crispy golden brown – are simply irresistible, at any time of day or night, and are as much a national food for the Dutch as for their Flemish cousins to the south.

Where to try it

The Frietwinkel in Utrecht serves a superb cone of chips, using organic potatoes and with some adventurous toppings (such as pumpkin ketchup).

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April 25, 2017 at 03:25AM

News: Arabian Travel Market 2017: GCC eyes major emerging markets for tourism expansion

News: Arabian Travel Market 2017: GCC eyes major emerging markets for tourism expansion

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Major tourism destinations in the GCC will increase efforts to target Indian and Chinese inbound tourists, as regional and international guests from Europe continue to feel the acute financial pressures of the challenging global economy.

The findings were published by Colliers International at Arabian Travel Market, at Dubai World Trade Centre, during a seminar session entitled: Capitalising on Experiential Travel: China & India Mega Source Markets.

Already key markets for the region, China counts an average of 122 million outbound tourists annually and India contributes 22 million, with overseas spending calculated to be $252 billion and $15.4 billion respectively in 2015.

China’s outbound tourism market is currently growing, on average, 6.7 per cent year-on-year, while India’s market posts average annual growth of seven per cent.

Debrah Dhugga, managing director, Dukes Collection, said: “The GCC is home to a number of globally-recognised tourist attractions and continues to draw visitors from all over the world as a result.

“As markets in Europe and other GCC countries continue to feel the pressure of low oil prices and depreciated currency rates, it is key that tourism bodies and private sector hospitality, travel and tourism brands continue to explore new markets.

“The growth seen from China and India has driven tourist arrivals across the region over the near past and we have seen this reflected in our recent guest profiles.”

The trend is largely proliferated by increasing levels of personal wealth and a demand for experiential travel.

China is home to 1.4 million high net worth individuals, with 146 million working class nationals, representing 19 per cent of the working population, and 90 million urban blue collar workers.

Counted together, they represent almost 29 per cent of the population and are the most likely to travel.
India, meanwhile, is home to 433,000 HNWI, with 59 million considered urban middle and educated urban and 97 million counted as urban blue collar workers.

Together, they represent almost 31 per cent of the population that is eligible and likely to travel.

Filippo Sona, director, head of hotels MENA region, Colliers International, said: “The growing middle class and cheaper flight options are transforming the outbound travel landscape for these two countries, with a combined 146 million passport holders.

“On the one hand, GCC cities are becoming increasingly interested in forging long-lasting relationships with Chinese companies, particularly in the fields of construction, infrastructure planning, oil, and manufacturing.

“On the other hand, countries such as the UAE and Oman are increasing their efforts to attract Indian leisure tourists, through targeted entertainment offerings and promotional activities, while Saudi Arabia is expected to ramp up the visa quotas for the large Muslim Indian population to visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.”

Making a total of 12 recommendations concerning visas, accommodation, cultural sensitivities and marketing, the report advises GCC-wide multi-entry visas with similar principles to the Schengen Area; hotel welcome kits and signage in guests’ native languages; promotion of cultural celebrations and festivals from each country; and targeted loyalty programmes.

According to the report, hotels should aim for a volume-driven strategy when tapping the combined Indian and Chinese market, creating culturally tailored experiences in order to boost their reputation in the guest’s home market.

For example, an understanding of Chinese social media is critical, as native sites such as Baidu and Weibo are favoured over TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

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April 25, 2017 at 12:16AM

Airline Trade Group Launches Ad Campaign to Support Open Skies Agreements

Airline Trade Group Launches Ad Campaign to Support Open Skies Agreements

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Michael Probst  / Associated Press

A Qatar Airways Airbus A350 approaches a gate in Frankfurt, Germany. Qatar Airways said recently it will fly from San Francisco to Doha next year. Michael Probst / Associated Press

Skift Take: This is a small ad buy, but good for Hawaiian, JetBlue and Fedex to spend money to try to persuade political types. Open Skies agreements are helpful for consumers, and for global trade. If the U.S. takes a protectionist stance against the UAE and Qatar, the repercussions could hurt U.S. businesses.

— Brian Sumers

A trade group representing three familiar U.S. brands — JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and FedEx — is criticizing United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines in a new advertising campaign, arguing the big airlines’ efforts to discredit the three largest Gulf carriers will harm U.S. business interests.

It’s a small ad buy, and it will only run for two weeks on social media and in Washington, D.C.-area media. But through a group called U.S. Airlines for Open Skies, JetBlue, Hawaiian and Fedex, along with shipping company Atlas Air, suggest United, Delta and American are distorting facts to try to prop up their businesses and avoid competition.

“The legacy carriers don’t speak for all — or even most — U.S. airlines,” the group said in one of its ads.

The group, which was founded in 2015, argues many U.S. entities benefit from the Open Skies agreements American, Delta and United have criticized. The agreements permit Emirates, Etihad and Qatar to start as many new U.S. routes as they want, including one-stop flights routed through Europe. But they also permit Fedex to operate a regional hub in Dubai, and they give Hawaiian and JetBlue unfettered access to many of the world’s most important airports.

Additionally, Open Skies agreements help carriers, including JetBlue and Alaska Airlines, to enter into profitable relationships with international airlines. JetBlue earns considerable revenue shuttling Emirates passengers to Boston, New York, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, where they transfer to flights to Dubai.

American, Delta and United generally support Open Skies agreements with most countries, but not the ones with United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Through their own trade group — the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies — they’ve asked the Trump administration to renegotiate the deals so Emirates, Etihad and Qatar no longer have unfettered access to U.S. airports. They’re especially irked by conditions permitting the airlines to fly nonstop flights between Europe and the United States, such as Emirates’ Milan-New York route.

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies claims the three Gulf carriers have taken $42 billion in government subsidies and “other unfair benefits” since 2004, including interest-free loans, government grants and capital injections, free land, and airport fee exemptions. The Gulf airlines acknowledge they receive help, but argue it’s no different than the assistance, on infrastructure and other matters, almost every government provides its airlines. The Gulf carriers say they’re profit-focused independent businesses, just like U.S. carriers.

Nearly every time Qatar, Emirates or Etihad announces a new U.S. route, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies sends out an angry statement criticizing it. On Monday, after Qatar Airways said it will begin flying from San Francisco to Doha next year, the group’s spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, released a new zinger.

“President Trump hasn’t even hit the 100-day mark in office and a Gulf carrier is launching yet another subsidized route into the United States,” Zuckman said. “Qatar Airways receives billions of dollars in illegal subsidies from its government in order to fly to our country and trash American jobs. It’s time to enforce our international agreements and stand up for 1.2 million American jobs supported by the U.S. carriers.”

But the new advertisements suggest the American/Delta/United group is engaging in some creative — and perhaps misleading — arguments to protect market share.

“If the Trump Administration caves to the demands of the legacy carriers it will open the U.S. to retaliation and jeopardize our entire network of Open Skies agreements and the economic benefits that come with them,” the JetBlue and Fedex-backed group said in an advertisement.

One of the group’s advertisements notes that, collectively, the three largest U.S. airlines employ roughly 270,000 people. Meanwhile, airlines not aligned with anti-Open Skies effort employ almost one million people, according to the trade group.

The ads also remind readers the U.S. travel, tourism and hospitality industry, which relies on international visitors, employs roughly 15 million Americans.

It is the first time U.S. Airlines for Open Skies has made an advertising buy, a spokeswoman for the group said.

Here is one of the ads. 

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April 25, 2017 at 12:04AM

Video: Mr & Mrs Smith and Bridging the Gap Between Content and Booking

Video: Mr & Mrs Smith and Bridging the Gap Between Content and Booking

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Skift Take: The Mr & Mrs Smith has carved out a unique space in the market, and its evolution over the last decade speaks to the radical changes in the ways we discover, book, and return to hotels.

— Jason Clampet

The guidebook business isn’t much of a standalone one these days, as any publisher will tell you. It takes multiple revenue streams beyond the bookshelf: from licensing to coffee table books to direct bookings.

Mr & Mrs Smith co-founders Tamara Heber-Percy and James Lohan know this last part well. They turned their best-selling hotel guide into a booking site before the publishing side became unsustainable on its own. “Publishing was even tougher and harder than the travel agency business because the books were on a downward trajectory,” Lohan told the audience at Skift Forum Europe earlier this month.

The spark of the idea came not from a smart publisher, but from a hotelier who casually mentioned to Heber-Percy that “you’re 40% of my booking business.”

In their discussion with Skift Europe Editor Patrick Whyte they discuss the competitive marketplace, hotel loyalty, and what couples really want when they get away for the weekend.

You can watch the full discussion below.

Note: Initial planning is in full-swing for our flagship event Skift Global Forum, which will be held September 26-27 in New York City. We wanted to make sure our most loyal Skift readers were able to purchase their tickets early and were rewarded for doing so. That’s why we’ve re-opened up our previously sold out early bird discount for an additional 35 tickets. Attendees can now save $800 per ticket on the largest creative business conference in travel.

Read more coverage of Skift Forum Europe 2017.

At this year’s inaugural Skift Forum Europe in London, travel leaders from around the world gathered for a days of inspiration, information, and conversation on the future of travel.

Visit our Skift Global Forum site for more details about 2017 events, including our New York City event September 26-27.

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April 24, 2017 at 11:35PM

Playlists: Arabian Travel Market – 2017

Playlists: Arabian Travel Market – 2017

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Arabian Travel Market - 2017

Arabian Travel Market hosts four days of business networking opportunities, insightful seminar sessions and top level ministerial discussions. Here Breaking Travel News talks to the key players at the event.

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April 24, 2017 at 11:05PM

Kinda Backwards…but Close

Kinda Backwards…but Close

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We’ve Moved! Update your Reader Now.

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April 24, 2017 at 10:34PM

High-End Chinese Travelers Can Now Book VistaJets on WeChat

High-End Chinese Travelers Can Now Book VistaJets on WeChat

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VistaJet

The on-demand private jet service VistaJet is partnering with WeChat in China for bookings. VistaJet

Skift Take: We have more faith that WeChat will help make on-demand private jet travel happen than any of the other smart-phone centric services we’ve seen come (and go) in the last few years.

— Jason Clampet

VistaJet is now the first international private jet operator that lets clients book flights on WeChat. The company hopes its newly launched service on the mobile platform can replace the convenience of owning  or renting a private plane by allowing affluent Chinese consumers to charter a private jet virtually in an instant.

“For Chinese customers who require guaranteed aircraft availability 365 days a year, WeChat could genuinely become an alternative to ownership—merely instant message our team, and we’ll organize the rest, to your own specific taste.” Vista Jet founder and chairman Thomas Flohr said in a statement.

The launch comes amid the rapid expansion of VistaJet’s business in the Great China region in 2016, where the number of Chinese clients now makes up 17 percent of their current global customer base. Heading into the year of 2017, the company’s growth has continued in the first quarter, when sales of flight hours doubled compared to the same period the year before.

Flohr said VistaJet intends to use the WeChat service to continue this expansion by reaching out to China’s digitally active consumers and simplify the way they charter a private jet. The WeChat platform will provide clients 24/7 customer service. “Launching a WeChat service is a huge opportunity to allow people to talk to our team—anytime, anywhere—and enable us to provide Chinese customers with the best experience in the industry,” he said.

Offline, the company offers a tailor-made onboard experience for passengers, including an authentic Chinese tea service, Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking cabin staff, and dining ordering privileges from passengers’ preferred restaurants and hotels.

China represents a promising market for private jet operators across the world. The latest Hurun Global Rich List shows that the size of China’s ultra-rich population has swelled to be even bigger than that of the United States, accounting for nearly one-third of the billionaires who made the list. Nevertheless, the number of private jets in China is still lagging far behind its American counterpart, though the detailed estimation varies according to different institutions, partly thanks to China’s aviation regulations.

There are a number of other factors curbing growth though. Both the sales and charter sectors of the private jet market have been hit hard by China’s economic slowdown and President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign. In the meanwhile, domestic rivals such as HNA Group’s Deer Jet have begun to create more competition for international players.

As the competition escalates in China, VistaJet is using WeChat to expand its charter market, targeting affluent consumers who haven’t committed to plane ownership—“40 percent of VistaJet’s new business came from customers moving away from fractional or full aircraft ownership, and we are now seeing this reflected in China,” Flohr continued in the statement.

The adoption of WeChat in a global aviation business has once again proved the importance of China’s mobile messaging app for luxury brands doing business with Chinese consumers. VistaJet’s WeChat strategy in China also starkly contrasts private jet booking habits in the West, where clients typically book flights via email, the phone, and online.

This story originally appeared on Jing Daily, a Skift content partner.

Additional links from Jing Daily:

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April 24, 2017 at 10:32PM