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Baja Meets NYC with Mauricio Cantú

How many dream jobs start like this? Mauricio Cantú had been living in Ensenada, Baja California, for more than 30 years when he and four friends began making homemade wine for fun. Their bottles were intended solely for their own consumption, but, as wine tends to do, it began flowing freely among a wider circle of friends. “People liked our wine so much that they began asking us to sell it,” Cantú said. Now that passion project has turned into a successful business, one that Cantú will be showing off at the Baja Meets NYC wine and food festival happening in February in New York City. 

The compliments must have been flattering for the amateur winemakers, but they were hardly enough to propel Cantú and his pals into a full-fledged vineyard-winery venture. The motivation for turning their leisure-time hobby into a full-time career came from the joy and fun of the winemaking process itself. “The activity [of winemaking] is really pleasant,” said Cantú, “and once you start, you want to learn and do more and more. It was inevitable that we’d involve ourselves to the point that it would become such an important part of our professional lives.”

Elsewhere, the “inevitability” of becoming a winemaker might seem to be a bit of an exaggeration, but as Cantú explains, the culture of Ensenada is steeped in wine, both the making of it and the drinking of it. “There are vineyards here that are more than 100 years old,” Cantú says about Ensenada, “and we all grew up accustomed to our parents drinking wine at home.”

Cantú’s Cava Aragón 126 hasn’t reached its centennial mark yet; in fact, it’s just a few years shy of a decade. But since Cantú and his friends founded Cava Aragón in 2007, when they were making wine in a garage, both Cantú and his cava have matured considerably. Cantú developed his bona fides by taking professional winemaking courses. Now, just seven years into the winemaking business, Cava Aragón produces four different varietals: Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay, Tempranillo-Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese, and a Nebbiolo. Each of the wines has garnered at least one award, and its 2011 Madera 5 Nebbiolo was rated 88 by Wine Enthusiast, described by the reviewer as a “powerful, tannic yet sophisticated Nebbiolo that should improve with more time in the bottle.”

Next, Cantú scales up... 

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