Mexico Dispatch: Even in Wine Lover’s Paradise, Drug War Takes Its Toll

BY Jose Luis Sierra  September 16, 2010 at 4:45 PM EST

The Morans in Mexico

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA, Mexico | Not even a place that could be considered Eden has been able to escape the war on drugs. Tucked on a green, hilly area 60 miles south of the U.S. border, Guadalupe Valley remains one of the best kept secrets by wine lovers and one of the few places in the northern part of the peninsula that seems to have escaped the passing of time.

Forget your cell phone. You might not need it … and it might not work. Relish a village where the day of the week or the hours of the clock become as inconsequential as the clothes you are wearing or the car you are driving. Whatever is important outside Valle de Guadalupe has little meaning here.

“I get up before the sunrise and do what I have to do. If I see that the fruit trees and the plants need water, I water them. I know the animals would be hungry so I feed them. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is,” says Humberto Toscan Moran, sitting by the porch of his home, La Casa Vieja, believed to be the oldest house in the valley.

Surrounded by old trees and a backyard vineyard planted by the Dominican priests toward the end of the 1800s, Toscan Moran says he took over his mother’s house after she died four years ago. He moved back with his wife Colleen to the village where he was born, after living for 19 years in Nebraska. They have four children, now adults. Only one decided to follow them to Mexico.

Now the Morans are among approximately 50 independent wine producers in the area. They sell by request only, in bottles identified solely with a piece of tape that bears the type of wine and the house that produced it.

“I have found myself. I have found my life. I have found my real spirit,” says Colleen Toscan, a native of Newport Beach, Calif. Her only complaint is the bad rap by the media about the violence connected to the war on drugs launched four years ago by President Felipe Calderon.

“The media has been portraying Mexico as a bad place to go, a dangerous place to go. Our customers tell us that on the way here [many friends] tell them ‘don’t go, don’t go.’ We even have friends and relatives who won’t come visit us because they are frightened,” said Humberto Toscan, who blames the publicity for the 50 percent drop in sales of the 4,000 bottles of wine they are able to produce a year.

They still get by and have no plans to move back to the U.S. However, they believe that the U.S. government should take a more active role in Mexico’s campaign against drug trafficking, since the United States provides much of the demand.

Jose Luis Sierra is a New America Media contributing editor. As part of a Ford Foundation grant, he worked with NewsHour correspondent Saul Gonzalez on a report on the toll the drug war is taking on the country: