Jasper Riddle carries on New Mexico’s longstanding wine history (Spanish friars planted the first vines in the region in 1629 to ferment communion wine) from the perhaps unlikely town of Ruidoso. Noisy Water Winery operates five tasting rooms across the state and, in 2014 alone, won 15 awards at the prestigious Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. All its wines are made exclusively with grapes grown in New Mexico. With these bona fides, Riddle has helped shape Ruidoso’s craft scene.
I grew up in Ruidoso and loved it, but I left coming out of high school. Since I came back a decade ago, I’ve watched the mom-and-pops come back to town. I’ve seen the artisans and chefs and local producers put the town on an upswing.
We’ve been part of that with Noisy Water Winery. I’m the fifth generation in my family to farm, and the second generation to farm in New Mexico. When I founded the winery with my parents in 2009, we started small, and we’ve grown exponentially across the state. Our biggest vineyard is in Engle, near Truth or Consequences. We source grapes from vineyards in Tularosa and the Hondo Valley. Our grapes come from as far as two hours away to a few minutes away. In New Mexico, we grow a variety of grapes, including French and Italian grapes, such as dolcetto, aglianico, and sangiovese. We grow pinot noir, which you wouldn’t think of being planted in the American West. We like to say that grapes love struggle, and they’ve found struggle in New Mexico!
I try to take all the grapes I can from small growers, who have just half-acre or five-acre vineyards, to keep the acreage from declining. This year, we even took five tons of apples from the Hondo Valley, 30 minutes away along US 70, for cider.
From a production standpoint, the most important thing is to be able to control the temperature. Mother Nature is kind to us from that standpoint in Ruidoso. We’re not contending with 120 degrees outside in the summer or sub-zero temperatures in the winter.
Ruidoso is really a well-kept secret in a lot of ways. It’s physically beautiful. When you tell people we have the southernmost ski area in the U.S., and mountains filled with conifers, water, and green-grass meadows, people think you’re crazy. I love being able to hike in the area, play disc golf, or go paddle boarding on Grindstone Lake.
We also have restaurants, breweries, and wineries you’d expect in a place 10 times Ruidoso’s size. No one has seen Ruidoso as a culinary town, but that’s starting to change. Places like Noisy Water, Lost Hiker Brewing, and Glencoe Distillery have been catalysts for the eat-and-drink-local movement. It’s picking up steam, and a lot of cool things are happening from a craft perspective.
One of my favorite things to do on a day off is take a liquid tour. We’ll start off at Lost Hiker Brewing. Then stop at the Hidden Taproom, where you can also have earth-to-fork cuisine at Hunt & Harvest and listen to live music. Then we’ll have a beer at Bonita Valley Brewing Company, in Lincoln, and end the day at our Enchanted Vine Barn event center, which is open to the public and even has a petting zoo for kids.
It’s a great, complete afternoon. You can have a bite here or there, or pack a picnic from Mario’s Market on the way out of town.