Back in the 1600s, Spanish settlers and their clergy made New Mexico the country’s first wine country. Today, the centuries-old grape-growing culture is one that New Mexicans are fiercely proud of (as they should be!).
The state’s wine culture includes down-home tasting rooms, festivals celebrating the state’s noteworthy varieties, and award-winning pours in every corner of the Land of Enchantment. The New Mexico Wine Trail is a roadmap to dozens of only-in-New Mexico wineries and experiences from the Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico to rural farming villages along the northern Rio Grande. About 24 wineries lie within an easy drive of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, making either city an ideal base for wine touring. Las Cruces anchors the southern New Mexico wine scene, with another dozen or so wineries within spitting distance. This sprawling geography means there’s usually something sprouting, blossoming, or maturing in the state’s vineyards.
Here’s your season-by-season guide to touring the state to sip, savor, and enjoy.
Spring and early summer brings a burst of green shoots — and not just on the vines. In central New Mexico, amid the chile and alfalfa fields, Black’s Smuggler Winery is nestled about an hour south of Albuquerque, where the state’s first vines were planted in 1629.
The small town of Tularosa is named for the abundance of rose-colored reeds that grow along the Rio Tularosa. The town is also within driving distance of one of the state’s iconic sites, White Sands National Monument. After taking in the world’s largest gypsum dune field, sip the fruits of local vines at Tularosa Vineyards.
Summer is the perfect time to visit wineries close to the Rio Grande, where irrigation has defied the otherwise arid environment and a forest of hundreds-year-old cottonwood creates scenic surrounds.
At Casa Rondeña in the North Valley of Albuquerque, lay out a spread in the grass for a picnic in the vineyard. Or grab lunch from Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm's shop — which uses local ingredients and bakes its bread in-house — less than a mile away.
The best time to visit wine country is during the harvest. When the weather cools, the fields are bustling with activity, and heavy vines make the vineyards particularly picturesque. The grapes change color from green to red and gradually the vines turn as golden as the surrounding foliage.
The wine harvest season is particularly long in New Mexico since there’s a dramatic shift from the lower elevations in the south to the higher elevations in the north, but it typically unfolds over two to three months from August to October. (Tip: Get the most out of the season by following the wine trail from south to north!)
Start at Sombra Antigua Vineyards and Winery south of Las Cruces, and Amaro Winery in Las Cruces proper. The wine harvest in southern New Mexico coincides with the harvest of the state’s pistachio orchards. Heart of the Desert outside of Alamogordo excels in both.
As the season goes on, follow the harvest north to the boutique Sheehan Winery in Albuquerque’s South Valley and the handful of wineries in the middle Rio Grande Valley including Corrales Winery, Acequia Vineyards & Winery, and Casa Abril Vineyards.
Follow the New Mexico Wine Trail north along the Rio Grande as the cottonwood leaves change from sprightly green to golden. The golden cottonwoods — and overflowing apple orchards — are within view from Vivac Wineryin Dixon. After a tasting at Black Mesa Winery in Velarde, check out the farm stands, which will be flush with green chiles this time of year. Las Nueve Niñas Winery lies a bit farther in Mora, where you can pair a visit to the winery with raspberry picking and petting alpacas.
The landscapes here have beckoned to artists like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe, and have been the inspiration to everyone from D. H. Lawrence to George R. R. Martin. That same scenery is a treat for wine lovers, too.
Take a scenic drive along N.M. 4 to Jemez Springs past the red rock cliffs and Jemez Pueblo to soak in the natural mineral hot springs here. En route, cruise past striking desert mesas to nearby Ponderosa Valley Vineyards. Find more hot springs, as well as eco-tourism, boating in the state’s largest lake, and touring the world’s first commercial spaceport at Spaceport America near the desert oasis of Shattuck Vineyard, outside Truth or Consequences.
Any time of year is also fitting to ask for flights in tasting rooms. New Mexico’s off-the-beaten-path wine scene means you’ll have an intimate experience wherever you go. Often the winery owners or winemakers are pouring behind the bar, and you’ll be able to gain a deeper appreciation for what’s in your glass as you sample.
For a complete list of the wineries in New Mexico, click here.
Written by Ashley M. Biggers for RootsRated in partnership with New Mexico.