Beyond educating the next generation of winemakers, the region has other, perhaps bigger problems: It competes for water with the growing city of Ensenada.
A number of solutions to the region’s water needs have been proposed in recent years, including building a desalination plant to supply Ensenada. The latest proposal is to pipe in gray water — water leftover from sinks and washing machines — from Tijuana to use for crop irrigation.
But concrete plans to deliver the precious liquid have yet to materialize. Without water, grape growers can’t expand.
Baja California has about 8,000 acres of vineyards, compared to Napa’s 45,000 acres. While there simply isn’t as much land suitable for growing grapes in arid Baja, there is a lot more that could be planted.
Salt buildup is also a problem in the lower parts of the wine valleys. Salty soil can damage grapevines and decrease crop yield. It can also affect the flavor of the grapes.
And then there are the taxes. Currently, the sales and excise tax on wine in the state of Baja California is 41 percent. It was set to jump to 45.5 percent in February but the governor signed a last minute decree that postponed the tax on local producers for a year.
That tax “makes our wine a little more expensive compared with many other wines,” said Torres-Alegre.
In comparison, sales and excise tax on an equivalent bottle of California wine sold just north of the border, say in San Diego, is between 7 and 10 percent.
Alberta Ceja Medina is another leader of the Baja wine industry. She’s president of the state grape producers guild, and she runs the Xecue winery with her husband.
Ceja is realistic about the possibility of getting taxes reduced for the industry.
“In the history of Mexico, a tax has never been removed,” she said, chuckling. “We’re business people, we know we have to pay taxes.”
But she said there are other ways the government could help, for instance, by simplifying the paperwork winemakers are required to keep. And it could reinvest the taxes paid by winemakers in the form of credit back to the industry, she suggested.