Three hours into the mountains from the southern city of Tarija en route to Potosi, the Cinti Valley is among the highest growing regions in the Americas. Located in the Andean region in the southwest of Bolivia at 2400 meters above sea level, many of the country's vineyards grow in locations more than a mile high. The land-locked country is home to a huge variety of terrain and climates with a high level of biodiversity. It is partly due to this difficult terrain that Bolivia’s wine production has yet to catch up to other countries in South America, and mostly that conventional wineries choose to grow and produce international varietals that are not indigenous to the land. When the Spanish colonized Bolivia, they left behind vines of Negra Criolla and Moscatel de Alejandria. Even after the war, the Spaniards returned in an attempt to take the vines back, yet they were unsuccessful.
Today, these ancient ungrafted vines are farmed by local farmers. The vines climb up the abundant Pink Peppercorn (Schinus molle) trees, whose canopies protect them from the intense, high altitude sun. The dry climate and the age of the hardy, well-adapted vines make chemical treatments and heavy pruning unnecessary. Bitoque focuses on these old vines to produce Negra Criolla (also known as Listan Prieto in the Canary Islands or Pais in the Western Hemisphere), Moscatel de Alejandria, and an indigenous natural hybrid cross of the two known as Vischoqueña. In the cellar, the wines are made simply and without machines; macerations are short, alcohol levels are low, and no additives are employed.
Bitoque began as a collaborative effort with Alejandro’s late father Herland Medina, a Bolivian native, who searched for ancient vineyards that met Alejandro’s specifications. After searching for vines that met their requirements, they discovered that there was a bounty of old vines to work with. The project began in 2018 with its first vintage in 2019.
Alejandro Medina is the Owner and Managing Partner at Bibi Ji, Santa Barbara’s first modern Indian restaurant and natural wine bar, JuiceBox, a low-intervention wine distribution company in Colorado, and makes his own wine in Bolivia under the label Bitoque. Having traveled to Bolivia since a newborn, it is the inspiration from his homeland to make these wines and share them with the world. Bitoque is the first natural wine from Bolivia to come to the US after years in the making.
Having grown up in Santa Barbara, he has strong ties to the region and its food and wine industry. At just 38 years old, Medina has become a fixture in the local Santa Barbara restaurant community. In 2018, Medina partnered with James Beard award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr to open Bibi Ji, a restaurant offering an approachable and modern twist on traditional Indian cuisine, in Santa Barbara. The now Michelin-recognized and critically acclaimed restaurant opened in February of that year. The wine program reflects the beliefs and ideologies of the two, only offering rare, honest, and non-intervention wines.