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Diving Into New Mexico’s Underrated Wine Power — The Land of Enchantment Brings Winery Wonders Too

5 New Mexico Wines You Need to Know

BY // 06.16.23

Some of the oldest grape vines in North America can be found in New Mexico, and that really should be no surprise (at least if you know your history) since Spanish settlers began moving into the region as early as the late 1500s. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States, having been founded between 1609 and 1610. By comparison, the pilgrims didn’t arrive at Plymouth until 1620.

While New Mexico’s winemakers might be somewhat lesser known, the so-called Land of Enchantment is filled with variety of wines and some very tasty vintages from some remarkable winemakers. And that all goes back to its long history of viniculture.

The first vines were imported to New Mexican soil from Spain by one renegade and thirsty Catholic friar, who was willing to flout the Spanish law forbidding the export of the country’s prized grape vines.

“In 1629, Fray Garcîa de Zuñiga and Antonio de Arteaga smuggled vines out of their home country and planted New Mexico’s first grapes in a field just south of modern-day Socorro — and we are so thankful they did,” New Mexico’s tourism department details in a promotional article. “The variety that was planted is currently known as the Mission grape and is still grown in New Mexico today.”

The 400-year history of monastic winemaking in New Mexico is a heritage all its own. Plus, grape vines love a bit of struggle and New Mexico’s soil and climate provide them the challenge required to produce high-quality grapes. Close your eyes and picture a Georgia O’Keefe landscape ― dusty and sandy soils, towering and rugged ranges and dramatic daily temperature swings.

Notable New Mexico Winemakers

NM – Gruet Winery is produces French style sparkling wines with multiple vineyards across New Mexico.
Gruet Winery is produces French style sparkling wines with multiple vineyards across New Mexico.

Gruet

Gruet Winery was founded in New Mexico in 1984, and it specializes in Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines. For good reason. The winery’s roots date back to the 1960s in France with Gilbert Gruet’s Champagne house in Bethon, France.

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Gruet produces pinot noir and chardonnay-based sparkling wines and a small collection of still wines. The New Mexico Sparkling Pinot Munier is a lovely rose with plenty of red fruits and honeyed notes. The winery has French roots and American dreams, with two tasting rooms, one in Albuquerque and the other inside the iconic Hotel St. Francis in Santa Fe.

NM – Vara Winery and Distillery is focused on Spanish style wines and cavas.
Vara Winery and Distillery is focused on Spanish style wines and cavas.

Vara

Laurent Gruet, formerly of Gruet Winery, is a partner in Vara Winery & Distillery, along with Bob and Louisa Lindquist. Vara’s focus is on Spanish-style wines and cavas. The Albuquerque-based winemaker just introduced its newest vintage ― Vara 2020 Tinto Especial.

This wine is blended with grapes from Spain and California at its winery in New Mexico. The wine underwent stainless steel fermentation, full malolactic fermentation. Then it spent 15 months in 78 percent neutral oak and 22 percent new French oak barrels before being aged for an additional 18 months in bottle. The deep dark garnet-tinted wine is lush with blackberry, cassis and black cherries — plus spices of cloves, cardamon and a touch of savory smoke.

In New Mexico harvest starts in late August and extends into October. These clusters grow at Heart of the Desert.
In New Mexico harvest starts in late August and extends into October. These clusters grow at Heart of the Desert.

Heart of the Desert

The well-known Heart of the Desert pistachio farm dubbed Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves was founded in Alamogordo, New Mexico by George and Marianne Schweers. In July of 2001, the Schweers family purchased 135 acres of land just a half mile South from the central store location and began planting vines.

The vineyard at Heart of the Desert currently now has 24,000 vines, in seven different varieties including chardonnay, cabernet, zinfandel, shiraz, riesling, malvasia bianca and gewürztraminer and the wines they produce have drawn a following as well.

Most are produced in stainless steel, like the semi-sweet pistachio rose. This wine has a hint of pistachio extract in the blend lending a nutty flavor to the wine. Heart of the Desert’s Royal Zinphony is a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon and 50 percent zinfandel grapes featuring flavors of juicy raspberries, cranberries and dried cherries.

Noisy Water offers a wide variety of award winning wines to sip and sample.
Noisy Water offers a wide variety of award winning wines to sip and sample.

Noisy Water

Jasper Riddle grew up in Ruidoso, so the village in the southern part of New Mexico is where his Noisy Water winery is based. The vineyard produces 14 varieties of grapes so far and boasts ever-expanding tasting rooms in Ruidoso, Alto, Cloudcroft, Red River and Albuquerque.

The popular winery sells 40,000 cases of wine per year, and the range is impressive from dry cabernet sauvignons to sweeter summery sips of rieslings and Gewurztraminers. Noisy Water believes better soil produces better grapes, so it follows sustainable and organic practices, while not being organic certified. Its wines have garnered awards from the Finger Lakes to San Francisco.

Vivác

Located in Dixon, New Mexico in-between Taos and Santa Fe, Vivác is another New Mexico winery of note. Co-owners Jesse Padberg and his younger brother Chris Padberg were born and raised on an apple farm in Dixon. Their wives Liliana and Michele are co-owners as well.

Vivác’s wines run the gamut from crisp whites to full-bodied reds. For instance, its 2022 Gruner Veltliner is marked with 1725 on its label. This denotes where the grapes came from. That would be Vivác’s newly planted 1725 Vineyard, which is organically farmed and sits at 5,800 feet of elevation. What’s more, when you drink a Vivác wine you are helping the environment. For every bottle of wine sold, Vivác will plant a tree through its partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects.

If you can’t locate these wines in Texas, it’s easy enough to order directly from these New Mexico wineries. This Land of wine enchantments is more accessible than you may think.

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