The adobe winery stands tall and proud, looking like a movie set for the famous Don Quixote. A Moorish arch leads to a garden with a vineyard bordering one side and a pond in the middle. But this is not in Spain; this is in New Mexico wine country.
Under the radar wine country
If you haven’t heard of wines from New Mexico, you’re not alone. This under-the-radar wine country has a long history of making quality wines. Grapes were first planted byFranciscan Friars in 1629. The wine was made for religious ceremonies (sacramental wine), and I suspect a bit of pleasure tasting for quality took place also. California, by contrast, didn’t start wine production until 140 years after New Mexico. Even though California overtook New Mexico by 1890, wine production continued making wines for a local market. In 1890, Old Town Albuquerque had a total of 10 wineries fulfilling the needs of a thirsty population.
When prohibition swept the nation, like most wineries, New Mexico lost most of its production. Big floods that wiped out much of New Mexico’s vineyards and prohibition but a damper on the wine market, but in 1973 Anderson Valley Vineyards got the ball rolling again. By 1977 two others jumped into the wine pool, winemakers and wine drinkers were seeing significant progress.
Bring on the bubbly
One of the most interesting winemaker stories in New Mexico is about Gilbert Gruet, a French national who dreamt of having his own vineyard to produce champagne. Gilbert and his wife Danielle started a co-op in the village of Bethon but had higher aspirations. Vineyard land was prohibitively expensive in France, and Gilbert searched for more affordable property. His search ended in New Mexico when Gilbert and his family met with European winemakers in Engle. Seeing these fellow winemakers successfully making good quality wine on land similar to conditions in Spain, convinced Gilbert he’d found his future in sparkling wine.
Gilbert planted an experimental vineyard in Engle with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varietals. The results were sufficient to talk two of his adult children into launching what would become America’s third-largest maker of sparkling wines. Gruet produces several varieties of sparkling and still wine sold in restaurants and wine shops throughout America and beyond. To taste Gruet sparkling and still wines, look for their tasting rooms in Albuquerque and downtown Santa Fe.
While in Albuquerque
Another wine success story is that of John Calvin, a Flamenco guitar player from the US that spent time in Spain. John Calvin planted grapes in 1990 in Los Rancheros in the west-Albuquerque area. John’s Casa Rondeña started as an arts center but transitioned into a gorgeous vineyard and winemaking facility. Thinking the soil and climate were much like what he’d seen in Spain, he has been making fine wine in New Mexico ever since those first vines were planted in 1990. Visitors to Casa Rondeña can taste Viognier, Merlot Rosé, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, 1629-a red blend, and Animante-a port-style wine aged in American and French oak. The tasting fee is 10USD and is a great place to hang out sipping wine, indoors or outside.
Another French connection
Santa Fe has culture, art, history, and wine! If you’re staying in town, stop by Hervé Wine Bar. At Hervé, you’ll find wines from DH Lescombes Winery. This winery is New Mexico’s largest producer. DH Lescombes pumps out 220,000 cases of wine from their 218 acres/82.22 hectares of vines in Southern New Mexico. Hervé Lescombes is a winemaker from Algeria but relocated to Burgundy, France before being drawn to the Land of Enchantment for its beauty, soil, affordable land, and climate.
Hervé planted his first vines in 1981 and bottled his first New Mexico vintage in 1984. The Hervé Wine Bar is an upscale facility in the middle of Santa Fe’s old town with an interior reminiscent of a French restaurant. Grab a seat at one of two bars or a table and sample some of their 20+ red wines, 18 white wines, and don’t miss out on their rosé which I thought was so good; I had to bring a bottle home. Not all of their wines will be available to taste, but they offer enough to provide most wine enthusiasts a good experience.
Over 50 wineries to choose from
During my recent trip, I was also able to taste wines from Noisy Water Winery and Sheehan Winery. At each winery, I found wines I’d be happy to bring home or order at a restaurant. With over 50 wineries in New Mexico, you’re sure to find a wine that suits your taste. A wine culture that began over 400 years ago is going strong and is only getting better with each passing year. To learn more, follow the link provided below to explore the wineries of New Mexico.
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