Last updateFri, 29 May 2015 4pm

Totol: the fiery red wines of Tijuana

She’s a beautiful pale-skinned and red-haired “Tapatia” called Marisol Medrano. Although he looks Mexican and his name is Gustavo Pena Verplancken, he’s of Belgian origin. 

She’s a child psychologist; he’s a computer software developer. But together the couple represent Totol – one of only two wineries in the border city of Tijuana.

Gustavo and Marisol’s love affair with wine began in 2009, when out of curiosity they visited the El Guateque festival in Ensenada. This yearly event showcases wines made by students from the school run by Hugo d’Acosta, one of Mexico’s foremost winemakers and consultants.

Gustavo and Marisol say they were inspired by a couple similar to themselves – a lawyer and a doctor – who had started making wine in order to share a hobby.  (Disappointingly, Gustavo and Marisol had learned that they were not able to have children.) 

They decided to enroll in courses at the famous winemaking school (known as La Escuelita) and in 2009 bought 500 kilograms of Cabernet Sauvignon – the most studied grape variety – and one 225-liter barrel.

The couple were thrilled by their first harvest and marched on with their hobby, buying one ton of  Zinfandel and another barrel the following year. In 2011, they experimented with a difficult French variety called Mourvedre (also known as Monastrel or Mataro) and in 2012 vinified it themselves. “We chose Mourvedre as we both like the wines of the Spanish Jumilla and this is the only red grape grown there,” Marisol says.

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