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Wine Is New, Once Again | Interview: Claudio Bortoluz
citizen-la-cover-claudio-bortoluz-bG.C. Stiehl | Citizen LA

Mexico’s cultural riches and abundant natural resources leave many other countries in envy. However, due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, Mexico was deprived of an opportunity to fully develop a wine culture.

Stepping-in to remedy this situation is a new generation of viticultural entrepreneurs that include winemakers, chefs and sommeliers. This new breed is tackling the daunting task of reinventing and reinvesting in Mexico through wine.

Though the idea of reinvesting in one’s own country is not a new idea, the degree to which each citizen is willing to compromise to produce results seems to vary with each generation. Unfortunately, short-sighted businessmen continue to choose self-preservation, often to detriment of a nation.

But there is hope…

Claudio Bortoluz is a risk-taker whose passion for wine literally runs through his blood. Claudio is the Marketing Director of La Redonda, a family run winery located in Ezequiel Montés, Querétaro. La Redonda not only produces some of the region’s best wines, but also its most successful and significant wine-related events. There is no doubt Claudio is committed to making a difference.

I catch Claudio a few days before the festival 100 Vinos Mexicanos, an annual event which is expecting 12,000 attendees this year. Graciously, he takes a break from the event production to accommodate my interview. We sit alongside the picturesque La Redonda vineyard, under a newly constructed open-air canopy; a plate of delicious local meats and cheeses to my right, a bottle of his best vintage on my left. Claudio is more than generous…

Citizen LA: What does Wine represent to you?

Claudio Bortoluz: Wine represents many things. First it represents the earth. The vineyard. The field. Then it represents the patience of winemaking. The time. It also represents the joy of life. Wine, is to enjoy life.

Citizen LA: What does Wine represent to Mexico?

Claudio: Mexico has many impressive things. Pyramids. Ancestral culture. Beautiful nature. Beaches. But, also, Mexico has one of the world’s most important cuisines. Wine increasingly represents culture in Mexican cuisine.

Citizen LA: Your winery, La Redonda, is located in Queretaro. How does this wine growing region differ from that of other states?

Claudio: This region has the southernmost vineyards in the North American hemisphere. It is semi-desert with contrasts of heat and cold, and little rain. It turns out that wines develop a bit fruitier, with a lower alcohol content, while maintaining their body. Our wines are very pleasant…

[Claudio pours a glass of wine.]

…This is one of our premium wines, called “Sierra Gorda” named after the mountains of Sierra Gorda in Querétaro. It is aged two years in American Double Barrel and is comprised of three grapes, Cabernet, Merlo and Malbec. Our barrels are new and the wood is very present. The resulting wines are very suitable to accompanying a meal.

Citizen LA: Wine is not a typical ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Do you believe wine is change traditional cooking?

Claudio: When Mexico was a Spanish colony, the Spanish who arrived began planting vineyards. This territory, designated “New Spain”, eventually stopped importing wine. Eventually someone over there in Spain complained to the king about the drop in wine revenue. And, as Mexico was a colony of Spain, the king banned the planting of vineyards in Mexico. This prohibition lasted 300 years…

[Claudio takes a sip.]

…In the 20th century, after the Spanish civil war, the Spanish return to Mexico with wine. Once again Mexicans view it as a something for the Spanish, something for foreigners. But things have changed a lot in the last 30 years and wine is new once again. If it wasn’t for that prohibition in Mexico we would have 400 years of history with wine. I do not know if there would be wine infused tamales, but something would have been different.

Citizen LA: Not many people are aware that Mexico produces wine, period.

Claudio: Mexico has had several phases, but never been a phase of drinking and tasting wine. People, who are given the opportunity to try it, are adopting it. And today, to go to a Mexican restaurant and order a bottle of wine is no longer strange, nor uncommon.

Citizen LA: Is “wine culture” viewed as elitist in Mexico?

Claudio: Of course there are expensive wines. There are $300 wines. But wine can be a daily drink. There are $8 wines, there are $6 wines. I believe we still see wine as something elitist, when it is not. Wine is normal, wine is common.

Citizen LA: So, at the end of the day, when the average person in Mexico is done working, this person is going to reach for a glass of wine instead of a glass of their “Holiest of Holy” cerveza? To me, that’s a tough sell.

Claudio: The truth is that wine can be consumed at almost any time of day. It relaxes you. Like now, we are having a glass of wine. Perhaps, as you say, at the end of the day, no. But wine has its place in various moments with company, or while sharing food. Perhaps, today, we start during meal times when we sit with friends or family to eat two or three hours, where wine completely has its place.

Citizen LA: What is the government’s stance in helping to promote wine in Mexico?

Claudio: The federal government has the secretary of agriculture, SAGARPA, which gives some support to raise awareness for Mexican wine. The state government helps us in the area of tourism. For our part, it is very important to carry the message to the government that wine is an agricultural product…

[Claudio holds up a bottle.]

…Wine creates many long-term jobs. This is why other countries like Spain, Italy and France protect it. The jobs range from farming, to winemaking, to tourism, to wine sales, to sommeliers, to the waiters. And the vineyard is perineal. When you invest in a vineyard, it’s for life.

Citizen LA: Once the Mexican government recognizes the importance of wine, once the people begin to understand that this is truly an investment in this country, that’s when things are going to change.

Claudio: The vineyard is a long-term investment… and that is what brings the long-term rewards for everyone. So I believe what you say is very important. It’s something that requires companies to re-invest in something that creates benefits for the community.

Citizen LA: What’s the biggest obstacle to the proliferation of wine in Mexico?

Claudio: Though the Mexican people are discovering wine, especially the younger generation, there is still a lack of acceptance. I told a friend once that I tried his barbacoa (Mexican barbecue) with a glass of red wine and it tasted great. However, he insisted that his barbacoa is only eaten with beer! No one is saying that because you drink wine that you’ll stop drinking beer. Make sense? Another thing is that we don’t believe we have good Mexican wine. So imported wine is still what sells most in Mexico. Gradually Mexicans will discover that there are good Mexican wines. Bottom line is that wine is a pleasure of life.

[I take another sip of the Sierra Gorda.]

Citizen LA: This wine is very light. It’s almost like a training-wine. I say this not because it’s low-quality, but because it’s very easy to drink. I don’t think the Mexican consumers would have a very difficult time making a transition into this type of wine. I love a good Rioja, but if a non-wine drinker went straight to a Rioja? Forget it.

Claudio: Yes, they are very acidic. For example, I don’t think anyone liked their first cup of coffee or their first beer. They are very bitter, very acidic. That happens with wine. We are thinking about making a good wine, but a good wine that Mexicans will enjoy.

Citizen LA: I think even more importantly than simply pleasing the Mexican palate, this is a very good wine for anyone to make that first step.

Claudio: Yes. I believe La Redonda is the first vineyard, and wine, many Mexicans are discovering. We have 80,000 people visiting us every year.

Citizen LA: La Redonda produces a variety of events throughout the year. Correct?

Claudio: We have a festival called FOMA (Orlandi Festival of Music and Art) in May, where we invite new artistic expressions. This is where we promote theater, cinema, fine art, photography and many other forms of expression. And because wine is art, we merge them together.

Citizen LA: And at its core, you’re involved in the art of wine-making.

Claudio: Wine is the most varied drink in the world. Each wine in the world is different. For example in our case, the wine we are drinking is made from three grapes. They are not divided into 33% Cabernet, 33% Merlot and 33% Malbec, but rather they are the percentages that the winemaker selected. So, if it’s in other percentages, it’s different. This is a 2008 vintage. The weather that was present in 2008 affected the wine.

[Claudio points out to the vineyard.]

…Another factor is this region of Querétaro. The microclimate of La Redonda. Other wineries in the region may have a different microclimate, different subsoil, or different topsoil. Our winemaker is from Rioja, Spain and each winemaker has his own way of preparing the wine. Wines are also aged in different types of barrels, for different amounts of time. All these components make it unique. Each bottle is a work of art.

Citizen LA: I’ve tasted some amazing works-of-art at the festival 100 Vinos Mexicanos.

Claudio: Part of the richness of wine is the variety. Today you may drink a wine from Querétaro, tomorrow a Baja California wine, and the day after a wine from Coahuila. Why do we invite all the wineries to our festival 100 Vinos Mexicanos? The truth is that wines, in reality, are not competition. The variety in wine is one of the characteristics that greatly benefit the consumer.

Citizen LA: Extending an invitation to the Mexican wine-making community sends an important message.

Claudio: It’s important that Mexicans drink Mexican wine. This is what I say to my fellow winemakers. What this festival proposes is that you drink and decide if you like Mexican wine. You’ll find grapes, varieties, regions that you like and you’ll share them friends. Simple.

Citizen LA: You’re doing a wonderful thing here. It’s good Karma.

Claudio: Thank you.


For more information about La Redonda visit http://laredonda.com.mx

Where Wine Is King | 100 Vinos Mexicanos
citizen-la-cover-100-vinos-mexicanosG.C. Stiehl | Citizen LA

The Winery is something of a mystery.  One can take a tour, study the process, buy a “kit”, and yet something continues to elude.  Couple the mystery with a fabulous event at a Mexican winery… THEN you got something.

And so it is with the festival of 100 Vinos Mexicanos where each year one-hundred of the best wines are brought together for one weekend celebrating the best that this remarkable country has to offer.

La Redonda, a vineyard with 38 years of exquisite wine production, is located among the beautiful valleys of Queretaro about 2.5 hours from Mexico City.  It is strategically located on the scenic highway between Tequisquiapan and Cadereyta in close proximity other local wineries.  This area also boasts excellent lamb, beef, cheese and artisanal goodies waiting to be discovered in the surrounding pueblos that dot the landscape.

The picturesque La Redonda vineyard is a 160 hectare landscape producing a wide variety of grapes including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Trebbiano.  The winery bottles white, pink, red and sparkling wine in three collections: “La Redonda”, “Orlandi” and “Sierra Gorda”, which has won a gold medal at the Ensenada Tierra de Vinos.

100 Vinos Mexicanos festival gathers the best in wine from across the country and offers it to the public in an ideal setting.  Brands such as LA Cetto, Santo Tomas Winery, Casa Madero, Freixenet, Casa Pedro Domecq, Dorante Cervera, Vinisterra and many others have participated in this 2-day festival.  Mexico continues to produce outstanding wines from areas such as Queretaro, Baja California, Coahuila, Sonora and Durango… and La Redonda winery continues to host them.

Though much smaller than the mammoth Feria Del QuesoY El Vino (Festival of Wine & Cheese) that takes place in neighboring Tequisquiapan, the 100 Vinos Mexicanos festival focuses on the wine connoisseur and less on the partying. Not to say that the public is denied entertainment, however it is clear that the event producers intentionally place “wine appreciation” at the forefront of their festival.

To accompany the wine, live music is set in a beautiful raised gazebo which overlooks the event grounds. Guests can happily sip their liquid treasures while enjoying an unobstructed view of the performers. The weekend features Jazz, Blues, Rock en Español and a DJ which play late into the night.

Location tours and private sampling are options that bring the winery to life, while friendly and knowledgeable staff roam the event eager to serve and share a bit of history.  For an event that revolves around alcohol, the 100 Vinos Mexicanos festival is surprisingly well-managed and absent of incidents. Though there is security in place throughout the location, the force is low-key to further create an intimate atmosphere of luxury and relaxation.

As for the wine tastings?  For a small entrance fee, visitors are offered unlimited tastings from the best of what Mexico has to offer… and they ARE delicious.  La Redonda has gone to great lengths to create an atmosphere that gives the winemakers an excellent platform to present their wines to an eager public.  The guests, in turn, are given the respect and attention that they deserve. 

Of particular note, the wines emanating from Baja California’s Valle De Guadalupe are on-par with anything coming out of Napa or Sonoma, period.  Our 2012 festival favorite, Xik Bal Baja (2008 Syrah) produced by Hasta Que Se Agoten… simply out-of-this-world.   Also worth mentioning: Madera 5 (2010 Nebbiolo), Portola, Teziano, and a selection from Bodegas Guayo (Guayolo & Marques de la Ensenada).

When treated to such wonderful wines, it is almost inevitable that one will fall in love and purchase on-the-spot.  And with such an amazing atmosphere, it’s almost inevitable that your new bottles never make it to the car.  But not to worry, the wineries and their artisans have plenty to go around.  

If you’re looking for entertainment, history and amazing wines, head towards La Redonda for the 100 Vinos Mexicanos festival and treat yourself to an event where the guest clearly comes out the winner.


Visit La Redonda @ http://www.laredonda.com.mx/

Flyin’ Hi at Zinco | Interview: Sachal Vasandani
citizen-la-sachal-vasandani-bGCStiehl

There’s a standard for Jazz clubs that is eternally etched in our minds. It’s a relaxed, alluring, intimate space that allows us to sit close enough to feel the notes that radiate from instruments and vocals alike. The Jazz musicians who grace these rare venues offer performances that leave us feeling lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

Though Mexico City has many hidden live-music gems, none embodies the quintessential Jazz club metaphor better than Zinco. Bank turned nightclub, Zinco is located in the city’s historical center and is dripping with “cool”. The minute I walked in, I knew it was special. And haunted. Very haunted.

On my first visit to this amazing spot, I was fortunate enough to watch a two sets from Sachal Vasandani; a 25 year old crooner with a burgeoning satin-tongue and a calming presence. A very smooth cat. Honestly I knew little of his career, but when I read that the Grammy-Winning Producer John Clayton produced his latest album “Hi-Fly” I knew I had to check this guy out.

Inside, red velvet curtains sprawled across the entire length of a long wall. This was no simple interior design element; Zinco was definitely making a statement. Just in front of the curtain sat a pianist, a bassist and a drummer. Just in front of these cats stood Sachal the vocalist and songwriter.

Two 45 minute sets were filled with playful heartfelt standards and original music. This young talent capably summoned the legendary spirit of Jazz, wearing Sinatra and flirting with Fitzgerald. Sachal had the crowd completely under his control.

After the show, I caught up with Sachal as he was signing CDs and charming the ladies… and some of the men too.

Citizen LA: Not that Wisdom is measured in years, but you seem pretty young.

Sachal Vasandani: Thankfully I’ve been very fortunate. Opportunities have been presented. And people look after me in a positive way. I’m just happy to be here.

Citizen LA: So how did you get to Mexico?

Sachal: They brought me in for a special performance last night and tonight… and… well things just happen with a happy coincidence. This is my very first time in this country, and I’m loving every minute of it.

Citizen LA: You unveiled a new piece tonight which was written during your time in traffic. I think people here in Mexico City spend more time in traffic than doing anything else.

Sachal: The traffic is very intense, though it did give me enough time to write a good song. But it has nothing to do with stoplights or bad drivers.

Citizen LA:Your sound is a bit straight-ahead, a bit scat, showered in standards. Who are your influences?

Sachal: Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday. I also spend a lot of time listening to what’s current. I feel like I was born and raised with Jazz in the traditional sense and now I’m open to what the world has to offer.

Citizen LA: How do you fit into this world? Do you consider yourself a song-writer or a musician or a poet?

Sachal: It’s not so much how I see myself, but what I create. I’m inspired by the poetry of Baudelaire. I’m inspired by a Paul Simon song. I’m inspired by the great musicians I shared the stage with tonight. So all that stuff comes out in my own ethos. In the way I interpret the word. Sometimes it’s whatever the cat just played on the piano. It all comes through me. I’m like a sieve.

Citizen LA: On stage you were completely in the moment. But more than being comfortable, you were so there. It seems the place could be on fire, and you’d STILL be singing.

Sachal: That’s a great compliment. I’ll take it.

Citizen LA: You choose to perform in a focused and calm manner. Yet you are inspired by horrific traffic that results in a beautiful song.

Sachal: Ha! It’s true.

Citizen LA: But HOW does it come to you. As a phrase? A note? A melody? A feeling?

Sachal: Inspiration comes from all sources. I just try to be ready for it. So I can retaining it and turn it into something meaningful over time. Inspiration comes quick. It comes fast. It comes like a bullet. If you’re not watching, you may miss it completely. I try and remain ready with the tools to turn inspiration into a real song.

Citizen LA: I’m’ sure that you feel lucky to be in the position that you’re in; to receive inspiration and share it with others. Tonight everybody out there in the audience appreciated you. Thank you for a great night.

Sachal: Thank you. Very much.

Citizen LA: So what makes you tick?

Sachal: Enjoying the moment. Enjoying experiences that are both good and bad, and making music out of them. Mundane, inspirational, crappy, beautiful… turning that into music. That’s the challenge.


More information on Sachal Vasandani @ http://sachalvasandani.com
More information on Zinco Jazz Club @ http://zincojazz.com

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