Brilliant mountain landscapes? Check. A rich culture and unbeatable cuisine? Check. A thriving wine country worth exploring? Check. Visiting one of New Mexico’s vineyards is the experience of a lifetime. The wine reflects the flavors of a rich landscape, from fresh juniper and fire-roasted pine nuts to chocolate and chile. Sit down with a glass and marvel at the views that make the state so special, and you might finally understand why they call this place "The Land of Enchantment."
A History of Wine in New Mexico
Wine grapes are not native to New Mexico, so when the Spanish settled this area in the 1500s, monks had to serve a sherry-like substance at Catholic Mass instead of actual wine. This was because the Spanish had actually passed a law preventing any grapes to be exported from the homeland to protect their thriving agricultural industry.
Finally, Fray Garcîa de Zuñiga and Antonio de Arteaga smuggled the Mission grape (a sweet and tough varietal) into the state in 1629, kickstarting the wine revolution. In just a few years, New Mexican viticulture had firmly taken root, but it wasn’t an easy journey from there.
A series of difficult winters and Pueblo revolts destroyed a large chunk of vineyards in the 1600s, and though the industry managed to recover a bit by the late 1800s, Prohibition and severe flooding of the Rio Grande River wiped out pretty much anything that was left in the early 1900s. At one point, it looked like the state would never produce another barrel.
The true comeback finally came in 1977 with the opening of La Viña Winery in La Union, which still stands as the state’s longest continuously operating vineyard. After seeing that a vineyard could thrive in New Mexico’s climate, European immigrants flocked here to open their own wineries, attracted by the inexpensive land and picturesque scenery.
Since then, the wine industry has exploded, and New Mexico is now home to more than 40 vineyards and wineries.
The high desert climate and dry, nutrient-rich soil in the state is absolutely ideal for producing wine, but that’s only half of it. The passion of New Mexican winemakers is unparallelled—people are in love with the land and are willing to bend over backward to explore new methods in the industry.
In fact, the University of New Mexico has recently implemented a viticulture program to educate prospective winemakers in the art of cultivating and fermenting wine grapes, so we only expect that the local industry will continue to thrive.
How to Best Experience New Mexican Wines
No wine tour of the state would be complete without a visit to [La Viña](lavina.wolfep.com/). You’ll remember that La Viña was at the forefront of the wine revival in 1977, and 40 years of winemaking experience has certainly paid off! The family-owned spot is nestled in the southeastern corner of the state and offers a wide selection of whites, reds and dessert wines. The winery is open for tours and tastings every day (except Wednesdays) from noon to 5 pm.
For award-winning wines in a picturesque setting, visit [Casa Rondeña Winery](www.casarondena.com/) in the Los Ranchos neighborhood of Albuquerque. The vines are sprawled in front of a gorgeous, Spanish-style church and an elegant tasting room with plenty of rustic charm. Try the 1629, a rich mix of Tempranillo, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon—blended and named in honor of the first vinifera plantings in North America. Grab a glass (or a bottle) and retreat to the back courtyard to sit by the pond and marvel at the Sandia Mountain Range.
Due to its popularity, St. Clair Winery has locations in Farmington, Albuquerque, Deming, and Las Cruces, with the actual vineyard located in the spectacularly picturesque Mimbres Valley near Lordsburg. As the state’s largest winery, it encompasses more than 180 acres of vineyards in the most ideal wine climate in the state, which means the final product is nothing short of delicious. Make sure to try the Hatch Green Chile Wine, which adds a fun New Mexican twist to a white.
One of the many reasons that outdoor adventurers visit New Mexico is to see the Carlsbad Caverns. Protected as a national park, there are more than 119 caves hidden under the ground in southern New Mexico. And just 20 miles away in the town of Carlsbad is Trinity Hotel and Restaurant, where they serve up tasty meals and a variety of wine from their family vineyard and the Luna Rossa Winery.
Of course, true wine enthusiasts will want to go a little further than the classic tasting experience. New Mexico hosts a handful of not-to-be-missed wine-centric events and festivals throughout the year. Take for instance the Wine and Chile Fiesta in Santa Fe every year, the Angel Fire Wine and Food Roundup, or the New Mexico Harvest Wine Festival. Each event offers attendees the chance to see New Mexico’s wine culture in action.
Tips for Wine Tasting In New Mexico
Regardless of how you choose to experience wine in New Mexico, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Always Start With White: If you’re looking to try any white wines (and especially any bubbles), you will want to start with those first! The elegant subtleties in lighter varietals will be more difficult to pick up after a bold red.
Pack a Picnic: Many New Mexico wineries offer pretzels or other small bites to cleanse your palate between tastings, but we recommend bringing a small spread of crackers and cheese to enjoy while you’re there so you can linger without feeling hungry. Of course, always check with the winery in advance to see if bringing your own food is allowed.
When in Doubt, ask the Winemaker: It’s easy to be blinded by personal preferences when walking into a winery, but New Mexico wines often go far beyond the typical cabernet or merlot. Taste the winery’s signature varietals, and ask the winemaker what he or she recommends—they will never steer you wrong.
In New Mexico, it’s all about quality over quantity. Instead of trying to hit as many destinations as you can in a day, choose one or two spots, linger over a bottle and take in the beautiful scenery that surrounds you. You just might find that the state is as flavorful as the wine you’re drinking.
Originally written by RootsRated for New Mexico.