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by Susan A Mahalick. Photos and article by the author

June 23, 2015 (Baja, Mexico) - I met Sitara when she first got here from Costa Rica with not much more than the clothes on her back and a dog named Lily. We became fast friends, fast. She got enrolled in the wine school which has tough requirements, one of which is knowing Spanish well enough to understand the classes and become proficient in business afterwards. I was her very first investor and it is indeed the best investment I have ever made. In a few short years she is now sending her wines to Mexico City which is the ultimate market here and poised to export to the United States. It takes at least a year to become legal, getting a tax stamp for your bottles, becoming a legal resident and the like. Since her grandmother was Mexican this allows her to become a dual citizen with the US. Originally from Alaska, she is an adventurer like so many of us expats in Mexico. She prefers to create blends so I just got a case of her Dolcetto at the rock bottom price of five dollars a bottle. I am going to use some of these along with her new house wine, Ruffian, for a wine tasting BBQ tomorrow on my patio with two friends.

Ruffian is a blend of the must from the barrels after racking the wine. The label will portray her graphic designer, Vincent Hammer Wray, who is a large, muscled man who can actually pick up a barrel of wine. He has been an integral part of her business in every way, from doing labels and business cards to fixing anything that goes wrong in the process of making her wines, which to this point have been made on her back porch with a wooden wine press. Talk about being hand crafted! I have been part of the press process and bottling so that I can experience how much hard work goes into creating a fine wine. I tease Sitara that her life is work, party, work, party, but that is exactly what happens when one markets their own wines. She has networked herself completely into what was beforehand a mostly male industry and learned from everyone she could along the way. She shared with me that one of her first adventures into making wine was to get in the fields with a winemaker from Baron Balché, one of the premiere wine making facilities in the Guadalupe valley.

My birthday, June 17th, dawned with a marine layer and cool air which has luckily been lifting most days by around 10 am. The wine valley has completely different weather which is dry and sunny so off I went in my friend Rocky’s sports car, an Audi TT. He lets me drive it on the way home as I have a sports car myself and he is often tired in the afternoon or early evening. It takes about 45 minutes to reach our destination from La Salina where I live. We are 15 minutes later that we told Sitara would be our arrival, so true to form she calls to verify everything is alright. She always requests a call when one returns home as well as that is part of her personality. She is beautiful inside and out so I always oblige her. We have been supportive to each other over the years, my writing and her wine making not always an easy road, but we would have it no other way. I never dreamed I would be a writer, working 10 hour days with long commutes in Southern California. I believe that moving to Baja was one of the smartest things I ever did. No traffic, inexpensive living and plenty of caring and intelligent people.

We started out by visiting the ranch she is moving to, close by her current home where she had to take care of the detail of building a wall around the property to enclose her winery and perhaps home. She has her eye on a piece of property just uphill where she fantasizes about building her domicile and I mentioned that all she could do is ask if she could purchase it and find out the answer.

We then proceeded to lunch at the nearby El Cielo winery which contains an elegant restaurant on beautifully landscaped grounds. I got to pick our food, being a birthday celebrant and chose baked brie with mushrooms, Angus beef carpaccio and a salad containing walnuts, arugula, and gorgonzola cheese for the three of us to enjoy. Along with freshly baked rolls we could decorate with flavored butter, Argentian chimichurri and olive oil done tapenade style with tomatoes, the meal seemed complete. But Sitara had asked the waiter in her now rapid Spanish to provide us with dessert, which was a piece of cheesecake adorned with fresh blueberries on a plate that proclaimed Happy Birthday. It brought tears to my eyes that she was so thoughtful and the three of us shared that as well. We finished the day going to her home where I could pick up the case of Dolcetto, along with her gift of Ruffian. Rocky was of course gifted as well. Time to head home, the day was one of the best birthday celebrations I have ever had.

El Cielo winery and restaurant:

Vally Girl Wines by Sitara Monica Perez:

Susan A Mahalick has written for the Secretary of Tourism, Baja Times and She has a book on Amazon that just came out in Kindle format called My Gold Coast—Baja, A Practical Guide, 3rd edition. The paperback will be out shortly.

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