The Mexican winery that got the most praise in our internet research was Don Leo – which is about one hour from Parras de la Fuente. It is situated 7000 ft above sea level in its own small valley. Saturday morning we woke up, took a very cold shower (no heat!) and did a quick yoga. We then went into town to see about some breakfast – I had found a gordita place on tripadvisor, but we were not able to locate it. We did get some gas at the Pemex since we were just under a half tank and the stations are sparse in the desert. After refueling, we continued our search for breakfast, which ended up at Casa Vieja, which was a small family run restaurant that served some really good Cafe de Olla and huevos divorciados along with some elephant ear-like glazed tortillas. The eggs were great, and both the red and green salsas were very good. After breakfast, we decided to head up to Iglesia de Santo Madero. The curvy path we took was a bit sketchy and precarious, Siri wanted us to go up a steep road that our trusty Nissan March was terrified of (so was Erika). We finally got up to where the walk to the church starts and took a few pictures. The hike up to the church is a pretty wide brick path width steps on one side. You spiral your way around the church on the way up and there are a few benches along the way to take a rest or picture on the way. Where the path ends, steps start to the top of the hill. You can take the path on the left, which is made up of really steep stone steps or the right, which has a more gradual and consistent steps. We took the left route up, and on the way you up there is a short tunnel you walk through with a few places to light candles under a crucifix on either side. Once at the top, you have a great view of Parras below, and are up at the small chapel. We took a few pictures and headed back down. There were great views not only of the valley, but the surrounding mountain range that Parras is in the foothills of.
After the quick trip to the church, we headed back into town and got some cash before departing for Don Leo. We ended up stumbling upon a more lively market in a square near Las Parras De Santa Maria (restaurant) with a lot of cool stuff. We tried and bought some whiskey cream, but they also had Pecan cream liqueur that was good. They had a lot of wine themed accessories and decorations. We knew we would be really early, but our map said it was an hour drive from our hotel so we didn’t want to take any chances. We were initially under the impression that Don Leo was in the Parras region, and while it technically might be, it is completely different. From Parras, it is about a 45 minute drive closer to Saltillo (but not taking the toll road). Then after a really scenic drive through orchards, desert, eroded river beds, and Don Leo signs meant to encourage you that you are on the right road, you reach the entrance sign for Don Leo. Picture driving through the desert without having seen a building for 25 miles and turning right on a dirt road that leads up the mountain – it was a nice looking sign that told us we were at least on the right path.
It was another 10 km or something up the mountain on this dirt road climbing roughly 2k feet of elevation to be at the roughly 7k ft of elevation Don Leo says they are located. Since we were about 45 minutes early we took the ride really slowly and took a bunch of pictures – it is a really pretty ride up, which ends up in a huge clearing in a high valley that resembles a bowl surrounded by mountains. In the middle, there is a massive field of cattle grazing on grass. In the distance there at other crops that are difficult to distinguish from the distance. You finally veer to the right to end up at the winery with the vineyard surrounding it. It was by far the most refined place we visited. We parked and found our way to the reception desk where we gave them reservation name and paid. We were lucky that a nice English speaking gentleman that worked there caught our poor Spanish and showed us around for a few minutes since we were waiting. We walked around on the balcony and took in the views, which were great! When it got closer to our tour time, we went back to the reception desk where they corralled us onto a trailer for a vineyard tour. As I had expected, the tour was in Spanish (our communication in setting up the reservation made it sound like there was a chance at English) which wasn’t a huge deal: I can understand a fair bit and we have been to enough wineries to know what they are doing. We just missed some of the specifics of what made Don Leo unique. What I did gather is that they are a bit unique to the other Mexican wineries in that they are situated at a higher elevation. This allows them to grow grapes the others would not, such as Pinot Noir, Semillon, and others. When we got back to the winery after a trip around the vineyard, we unloaded and descended the steps ok to the barrel room – as with any winery, this is usually the highlight that most people get excited about and this one did not disappoint. It actually reminded me of a larger Loma Larga (Chile)- with backlit “Don Leo” signs in an otherwise dark room, all the barrels in neat rows and ready for the pictures. From the barrels, I saw they used American, European (Hungary), and I heard our guide say French barrels (I didn’t see any though). There was also another tour going through their tasting in the barrel room, so it was a bit difficult to understand him. We then went into the winery – very modern and clean in comparison to the old Casa Madero winery we had seen the day before. He then proceeded to talk through the entire winemaking process from grapes to crushing/destemming to fermentationp, pressing and fining. Well I am assuming so – my winemaking Spanish vocabulary could be a bit better, but he was very thorough in his explanation.
After another 15-20 minutes we had finally sat around a big table for the tasting (this was about an hour and 20 minutes in and we were getting restless). We sat down to a cheese and meat platter, with three tastings coming up. He then went into the tasting process (See/Swirl/Smell/Sip/Savor) as we stared longingly at our wine glasses hoping for permission to taste. The actual tasting, food pairings, and wine were all very good. We ended up liking the Cab/Syrah the best of the wines we tasted. There was also a Zinfandel rose (thankfully it was dry), and Merlot – which was good, but not as full bodied after having the Cab/Syrah (I probably would have structured the Merlot before the Cab/Syrah). After the tasting, some of the group went upstairs to have a meal paired with wine, but we didn’t opt for that and just bought a bottle of Syrah, which we hadn’t tried, and started our journey back to Saltillo.
-Overall impression of Don Leo was that they were putting in a lot of effort to educate the people on wine: what it is, what the process is, how to taste it, etc. The guide at Rivero Gonzales had mentioned that they are trying to create more of a wine culture in Mexico, since right now people view it more as a mixer (sweet reds, sangria, etc.). In that regard, I think Don Leo is doing a good job of the education side. I would say that the tour, while educational was a bit drawn out – two hours total for a tour and tasting of three wines is a long time. I think a solid hour could have kept people a bit more interested. To be fair, I was listening in a second language that isn’t super strong in an echoey loud room and I was just tired of trying to listen. The winery, vineyard, and surroundings are all really nice, and the wine was quite good.
– Tour- 7/10 English would have been nice, but more points were deducted because it was a bit longer than I thought it needed to be.
– Tasting 8/10 – He did a nice job of walking through the tasting process, the wines were all good, and the pairings were actually really good. For an almost 35 minute tasting I probably would have preferred 4 or 5 wines (or cut the time down a bit) we talked about the wine sitting in the glass in front of us for 15 minutes before our first taste. The group was probably also about 25 people, which was part of the reason it took so long and made it much less personal. Ideal for this style of tour/taste would have probably been 10-12
– Wines – 8/10 All of the wines we tried were solid, nothing blew my socks off though. That being said, I would have liked to try their premium bottle – which I am guessing received first-use oak and better concentration. We probably also would have bought a bottle of it if we had.
– Winery/Vineyard – 9/10 it is an impressive place. Not a large scale operation, but the whole experience of the drive in to the winery itself is on par some of the better wineries we have been to. The view itself is worth the drive.
After we worked our way out of the Don Leo estate, we took the long backroad to Saltillo since it doesn’t make sense to backtrack to Parras to take the toll road. You are basically crossing the Coahuila Desert and you won’t see many cars, have any cell service, or see a gas station so make sure you are prepared (I preloaded a map before departing Parras). It is a really scenic route though and if you aren’t in too much of a hurry, plan to stop to take pictures.
Here are the links to our other posts about more wine tasting in this area of Mexico: