Last week I wrote about the town of San Antonio de Las Minas (in the wine country of Baja California, Mexico), but I have one more highlight to share with you: an old ranch called La Casa Vieja. The historic adobe home dates back to at least the 1800s, and the rhythm of this place still seems to move at the slower pace of a bygone era.
The ranch has been owned by the same family since Don Agustin Toscano and his wife Dona Petra moved there to raise their three sons in the 1950s. Locals would congregate at the adobe house to buy queso fresco and fresh tortillas, mebrillo, oranges, table grapes, olives, and jams and preserves that Dona Petra made at the ranch – all of this without the benefit of electricity.
After Don Agustin and Dona Petra passed away the ranch fell into disrepair until 2002, when Humberto Toscano and his family returned to begin restoring it. Their dream was to recreate the warm, welcoming atmosphere that Dona Petra had established. The ranch at La Casa Vieja is an ongoing labor of love – they even repaired the falling down adobe walls with bricks made from clay gathered on-site.
The result is a comfortable, rustic environment with a very positive, even spiritual, energy commented on by many visitors, including some Kumai people who came last year in search of a stick for their shaman to use in a ceremony. This energy is due in part to the age of the house and some of the vines, which are over 200 years old, as well as the attitude of those who live and work there.
The Toscano family and most of the staff speak fluent English as well as Spanish. You can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering the grounds, eating, sipping wine or chatting with the friendly folks who live and work here. The Toscanos see themselves as caretakers of a special place, with a mission to preserve and share it with others. Frequent visitors enjoy watching the ranch grow and evolve. You can even go stomp grapes at harvest time – an activity I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives!
The wines produced at La Casa Vieja by Tom Toscano are made primarily from old vine, Mission grapes, which is fairly unusual in the region these days. These artisan wines are also notable in that they are produced without the use of sulfates or added yeast (the fermentation process uses yeast that occurs naturally in the air).
On the weekends you can eat at La Palapa (palapas are traditional Mexican buildings with palm-thatched roofs). This restaurant offers a variety of savory meats (chicken, pork, steak, hamburgers) as well as local vegetables cooked on an open grill, served with soups, salads and French fries. Even though La Palapa is not fully enclosed, there are windbreaks, a fireplace and space heaters that keep the dining area cozy even in chilly weather.
Visitors are welcome to explore and hang out. Families often meet to eat and socialize while the children play. You can bring your own picnic, take pictures, and even bring a tent or RV and camp beneath the olive groves. The ranch has orange orchards, a vegetable garden, Nubian goats, miniature pigs, chickens, parrots, an information center, a picnic area, and clean, public restrooms. Finally, be sure to visit the old adobe house itself, which is now a gallery selling local arts and crafts.
For me, Casa Vieja exemplifies San Antonio de las Minas — a creative community in the heart of the Baja California wine country that blends the best of the old world with the new. It has a style and energy unlike anywhere else.
Casa Vieja is located just north of San Antonio de las Minas on Rt. 3 at km 93.5. For up to date info and hours of operation visit their website.