The wines have reached a high enough caliber that he is working on a custom Rioja-inspired tempranillo blend that will be sold retail at Coasterra and its sister restaurant, Island Prime.
Bayless, the regional Mexican cuisine powerhouse, is equally impressed with Valle wines. His sommelier, Jill Gubesch, the wine director for Chicago's Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and Xoco, was recently in Baja on a similar winemaking mission.
Working with the noted winery Adobe Guadalupe, Gubesch has created a cabernet franc-petit verdot blend that will be sold at Bayless' nationally acclaimed restaurants.
"We're very excited by what they're doing there," said Bayless by phone from Chicago. "It's kind of amazing that most people in the U.S. don't even know Mexican wines exist, and they're making some amazing wine."
"I'm shipping a pallet of wines to Rick Bayless as we speak," said Youssef Benjelloun, president of Volubilis Imports in La Jolla.
Benjelloun represents the wines by Hugo D'Acosta, the French-trained winemaker who has been called the Robert Mondavi of the Valle. D'Acosta's name is a selling point, Benjelloun said, but usually only to those who've had Baja wines or visited wine country.
"I say Mexican wine, and people think it's a joke," he said. "Sometimes people have the notion that the wine is going to be cheap, so we have to explain to them that it's not like a cheap T-shirt or a cheap margarita..... But trust me, when they taste it, they buy it. No question."
Distributors, wine shop owners and restaurateurs all characterized the pipeline for getting the wines into the hands — and wine glasses — of thirsty consumers as haphazard at best. Challenges include distributors who rely on ineffective online marketing, versus knocking on doors and holding tastings; shipping without refrigeration; inconsistent deliveries, which leave retailers and restaurants with no inventory; and a supply chain that inexplicably shuts down.
"Currently we're working toward building [the stock] up again," Bayless said. "The way we were getting them in the past dried up. The availability ebbs and flows. We used to have as many as 30 to 40 bottles on our list, but the contact has just dried up. It's always been a challenge."