New Mexico Wine Trail
By Mike Marino
New Mexico has endless amounts of enchantment, but, is there a Muscat or Riesling in the cellar? There is that, and more amigo!
Move your Zins over California, I heard it through the grapevine, that New Mexico has been popping the cork on primo vino longer than any wine producing region in the land. In addition to Catholicism, the Spanish introduced wine in the southwest as early as the late 1590's, and by 1629, those madcap Franciscan monks began planting vines for wines in earnest on the banks of the Rio Grande River, near present day Socorro. Muscat grapes were used by the mission monks as they are a prolific varietal that can hold it's own under most weather conditions.
Fast forward to the 1880's. Billy the Kid was still riding the regulator range of Lincoln County before Garrett gunned him down, and at the same time New Mexico was one of the top wine producing regions in the United States. The heydays lasted a few decades until the Roaring Twenties gave birth to Prohibition which put a legal stranglehold on imbibing. That, combined with a series of devastating regional droughts, resulted in a Joe Louis knockout punch to the once flourishing New Mexico wine industry which kept it down for the count for half a century.
The dawn of the disco 1970s followed in the footsteps of the Flower Power Sixties, and with it, the New Mexico wine industry began it's grapevine comeback with an aggressive and savvy approach to wine production combined, with an agri-tourism marketing plan that is the envy of wine appellations from the Bordeaux region in France to the Napa Valley in California. A large piece of the agri-tourism puzzle encompasses a wine region that includes a burgeoning plethora of quaint bed and breakfasts, a cornucopia of arts, galleries, festivals and culture, along with an exquisitely rich and growing culinary scene that all combine for an agri-tourism marriage made in vine and wine heaven.
Vintning in New Mexico has an environmental philosophy of good stewardship of the land, and a preservationist perspective to protect the culture of small town farming and community. As a result it produces smaller boutique hand-crafted wines, and not the mass produced releases of the giant mechanized corporate grapes of wrath vineyards. A tour in any direction in New Mexico's wine country from the Colorado border to El Paso, Texas, is a visual feast with the rugged mosaic of the southwest landscape as backdrop, numerous tasting rooms, festivals, and a delightful selection of wine and dine experiences to compliment your journey through a veritable varietal garden of Eden.
What is a Wine Country trip without a wine festival to trip out at? The state has numerous art festivals, chili festivals and wine festivals, but the Godzilla fiesta of all New Mexico wine fests is held in the wine boomtown of Bernalillo, located between Albuquerque. and Placitas on the Wine Trail road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. They celebrate every year at the end of summer and if anyone knows how to throw a good party, it's New Mexico. The Bernalillo wine festival is the largest one held in the state, which includes a who's who of wineries when it gets underway at the end of August. Not only are the various wineries on hand for free tastings and purchases, but you'll have the opportunity to get up close and personal with them as they delight in answering questions about wines, wine growing, and of course wine appreciation. Nothing goes better with a wine festival than three jam packed days of music and dance from jazz improv to mariachi music, along with traditional southwestern dance troupes. The air is filled with the spicy aroma of southwestern cuisine that is hard to resist as you walk around the festival grounds with displays of local arts and crafts. It's a spirited three-day celebration of wine, music, food and art that must be savored to truly appreciate it.
Historically, Bernalillo has a wine making history that dates back to 1872 when the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order moved to the region to teach at the school they intended to open. Funding for education is still a problem in today’s society, but in 1883, the Christian Brothers opened the La France Winery to defray the costs associated with the opening of the school. They didn't make the wine themselves, but, hired a vineyard mercenary, for lack of a better term, named Lois Gros in 1917. The Gros' were a French wine making family that took root in Bernalillo and the wine began to flow. By 1921, an Italian winemaker leased the operation until 1933, and had the distinction of being the only winery in New Mexico allowed to produce wines during the era of Prohibition. It seems the archbishop of Santa Fe used his clout in a case of divine intervention, and it was the only winery in the state that was allowed to remain operational in order to supply the sacramental wines for all Catholic churches in New Mexico. The winery finally closed for good, putting a cork on it's operation, in 1948.
The long and winding wine trail road, meanders through some of the most beautiful parts of the state, but most of the wineries and vineyards are in the central region, a land of snow-capped mountains, volcanoes and ancient lava flows. Trek along the wine trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and you have to make a stop in Placitas. This is the home of the Anasazi Fields Winery, that has an almost mythical setting of picturesque orchards and vineyards with spring fed irrigation and an art gallery of ancient petroglyphs nearby that are over a thousand years old and bear testament to the Anasazi people who first farmed the region.
The specialties of the Anasazi house include a diversity of table wines made from berries and fruits other than grapes, but they assure you they are not those oversweet dessert wines with too much fruit taste. Some of the unique varieties of vino include wines made from plums, apricot, peach, blackberry and cranberry. That is all in addition to three grape varieties as well. All wines are lovingly aged in oak casks for one to four years to give it an Anasazi uniqueness. The Anasazi winery, as do others in the region, offer free tasting, personalized tours and gifts for the wine aficionado in you or others. Other central region wineries include, Milagro Vineyards, Ponderosa Valley Vineyards, Tierra Encantada Vineyards along with half-a-dozen others on the road between Taos and Albuquerque, each unique in that southwestern way.
Wining and dining along the wine trail can be even further enhanced by making a weekend get-away of it and staying at any one of numerous bed and breakfasts that lie along the wine country trail as though a string of pearls on a grapevine necklace. They run the gamut from rustic to luxurious, and each in their way will pamper the vino tourista by adding a romantic ambience to heighten the experience.
If you want to get off the beaten path to a place where wine making is an art form and not merely a business geared to stocking the shelves, then New Mexico is the Guggenheim of vintning. Hand-crafted wines with distinct flavors and cuisine prepared to perfection make wine pairing a tribute to gastronomical ecstasy for the sophisticated palate. All this in a rustic southwestern backdrop of the most drop-dead beautiful landscape that defines New Mexico, the land of enchantment, and even more enchanting wines. On your next vacation, or weekend outing, make plans to uncork the secrets of New Mexico's Wine Trail.
To find out more about New Mexico's Wine Trail wineries, vineyards and upcoming events visit their website at www.winecountrynm.com