Images provided by Boca Roja Baja Wine Adventures.
If you like wine and going to Baja you’ve probably stumbled across start-up Boca Roja Baja Wine Adventures in the past year. Either by following their drool-worthy Instagram account or at one of the many Taco Tuesdays & Taco Fridays they host at bars & Breweries in the San Diego area. The founder of Boca Roja Baja Wine Adventures is former finance guy turned entrepreneur Tim Barnes.
More than just wine BRBWA has expanded into craft beer, catering and more on both sides of the border. We chatted with the purveyor of this burgeoning empire to get the scoop on wine adventures, Baja and what to look for in 2017.
SoCal Sessions: Hi Tim. Congrats on a successful first year of Boca Roja Wine Tours! Before starting Boca Roja Baja Wine Adventures (BRBWA) you worked in finance. Why make the change? Was there a moment that inspired you?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: The Boca Roja story has evolved over a number of years but it started with my need and desire to explore the things that I am most passionate about – namely, travel, surfing, camping, food, wine and beer. It was a need because my life as an Investment Analyst and Operations Manager at a small investment firm had slowed to a relatively dull and monotonous pace – an unsustainable pace given my energy and spirit. I crave epic adventures and new experiences and my travels to Baja were providing this ten times over so I started to wonder how I could make those invigorating experiences part of the foundation of my life rather than a fleeting ‘escape’ from my then mundane reality. Developing a platform to introduce people to my favorite experiences in Baja and sharing their excitement and wonderment about these treasures was the perfect channel to do so.
If I had to pick a moment, and I am not trying to be funny, it was at a dinner party while I still worked in the finance world and I felt myself actually get bored describing to a friend what I did every day at work. Red lights flashed, alarm bells rang, the fat lady sang – I had to get the heck out and do something that I love!
SoCal Sessions: From following your newsletter we notice you’ve been really open about your business, how well it’s doing and generally keeping a dialogue with people who are following BRBWA. Why put that out there, and what benefits or negatives do you think that openness has with customers?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: Our business is all about making connections – similar connections to the ones I made along the way as Boca Roja was built from a tequila-stained-bar-napkin idea to a thriving start-up business reality. In a world where technology is driving social efficiency to the point where human interaction may soon become obsolete, we are all about engaging on a very personal level with our customers.
Booking a wine adventure with Boca Roja is a leap of faith in a sense because we ask our customers to spend their hard-earned money to hire a guide who will drive them into a foreign country for an entire day (or more) to show them what we call the Best of Baja. In order to overcome that ‘hurdle’ we want to make our customers feel like they are part of the mission and make them feel engaged in our vision and passion. When they see our excitement, learn about our successes and hear our struggles I think it creates a sense of connection and community which transcends a traditional a business-to-consumer relationship.
Negatives…we get a few “Unsubscribe” requests every so often. “And so it goes.”
(Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five)
SoCal Sessions: Why Valle de Guadalupe? Why over the border at all? We have to imagine that it would more difficult to wrangle groups back and forth than to offer some sort of tour domestically.
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: Ah, this is the essence of Boca Roja! We don’t do things the easy way – don’t want to and don’t need to. Valle de Guadalupe is an incredibly special place and the surrounding towns and communities are filled with people and culture and energy that I have not encountered in the US or in San Diego (and I have lived here for over 20 years!).
Baja is special – plain and simple. Filled with incredibly talented, proud, open-minded and loving people there is a pervasive sense of optimism and collaboration that is simultaneously striking and heart-warming when you encounter it. We don’t promise customers our tours are going to be “quick and easy” or that they are going to experience “the best in the world.” What we promise is that they are going to enjoy an experience that cannot be recreated anywhere else in the world because the fabric of Baja California is truly one-of-a-kind!
SoCal Sessions: Different regions of the world have different reputations for wine and become famous for wines (Napa, Champagne, etc). Mexico isn’t the first place we think of. Is that changing?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: Valle de Guadalupe (or “El Valle”) accounts for about 90% of all the wine produced in Mexico although it is still a developing and experimental wine region. While the Mediterranean climate in El Valle allows for the production of a multitude of grape varietals there is still no signature style or winemaking convention in the region which could be identified globally.
Can you find world-class single varietal wines made from well-known grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo or Sauvignon Blanc? Absolutely! Can you expect to see exotic expressions and blends of grape varietals that wouldn’t be let in the front door at a tasting room in more ‘traditional’ wine producing regions like Bordeaux or Napa Valley? You betcha’!
Long story short-El Valle is making its own name on the international wine stage and vying for recognition as a producer of premium wines and, spoiler alert, they are well on their way!
SoCal Sessions: With the current political climate do people need to be more cautious over the border? Has the election impacted your business?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: I haven’t noticed a change in the social temperament in Baja and I spend two or three days a week down there. We treat our travels in Mexico the same way we would treat our travels in any foreign land. We are always courteous and respectful, we only travel to places we know very well during the light of day and we obviously drive with a “FUCK TRUMP” sticker on our bumper!
SoCal Sessions: What should people be expecting when they take a BRBWA tour?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: Not to sound like a broken record but our customers get to experience the Best of Baja! Not the most popular places in Baja, not the places with the most Yelp! reviews but the very, very best. We visit the deepest hole-in-the-wall taco shops that will change your life for the better and we visit micro-wineries which make Temecula look like a sour grape juice factory.
You will be picked up at your home and ushered along a journey through Baja where each stop we are welcomed with open arms not by our business partners but our friends…er…amigos! And it is not just all about the wine on our curated adventures in Baja. You will have the chance to experience incredibly good food, both street food and gourmet cuisine, amazing craft beer, scenic viewpoints and culture epicenters which give you the sense that you really lived in Baja for a day or more-you didn’t just visit and get out of Dodge!
And if you opt for an overnight adventure then you are in for a real treat. Our 5-bedroom house in Ensenada has panoramic ocean views, is only 25 minutes from wine country (with over 150 wineries) and about 5 minutes north of Downtown Ensenada. We enjoy local craft beer gardens, shopping downtown, sport fishing surfing and other fun activities while our private chef prepares amazing Baja-inspired feasts at the house!
SoCal Sessions: You’ve started offering craft brewery tours in Baja as well. What else is on the horizon for BRBWA in 2017?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: Craft beer tours in Baja were a no-brainer because San Diego is the CBCOTW (Craft Beer Capital of the World). What we are seeing is many talented brewers are cutting their teeth with the big shops in San Diego like Stone Brewing and Ballast Point, for example, and then taking that knowledge and skill back to Baja where the cost of living is maybe half if not cheaper.
I have always said that when I am not running tours and bringing people to Baja I want to be hosting local events and bringing the Best of Baja to people in San Diego. We launched our catering business in late-2016 which features amazing street tacos and other Baja cuisine paired with the best wines from Valle de Guadalupe and the best craft beer from Mexico. Beyond that we will be curating private and public tastings which will include premium wine, craft beer, food, chocolate and coffee from both sides of the border.
SoCal Sessions: Any special events or trips coming up? Or anything people should know about BRBWA that we don’t already?
Tim Barnes, Founder BRBWA: The most immediate event will be a “V-Day Gift Basket Tasting” in collaboration with Global Coffee and Nibbles Chocolate in Sorrento Valley on the day before Valentine’s Day (Feb 13th). We will be pouring elegant, romantic, even sensual wines from Baja to pair with some of the best artisan chocolate and coffee in the world. Talk about the perfect gift idea for your loved one (or yourself!) on Valentine’s Day! The tasting will be free and will be held from 3-7pm on Monday, February 13th with all of the sample items available for purchase at a discount for a perfect V-Day gift basket!
Beyond that we are working on a couple big projects in 2017 which will meld the worlds of camping, surfing and hiking with the wine-lovers, foodies and craft beer geeks. Think One Wild Life (an adventure & outdoor-based coworking community) joins forces with Boca Roja, One Wild Boca Roja, maybe, to combine all of these exciting elements into a package that an individual customer could never design on their own.
One (other) event that we already have on the books is a multi-day wine and craft beer experience that is built around the Rosarito-to-Ensenada bike ride which happens on May 7th and September 24th and attracts about 7,000 riders. It is amazing coastal bike route and tons of fun which finishes at a big fiesta in Downtown Ensenada! Given that I am getting married in May of this year we are going designing the event around the September race which is an awesome time of year to visit Baja!