California may be the most famous wine-growing region in the US, but New Mexico claims the title as the first in the New World. When Spanish explorers settled in the upper Rio Grande Valley, soon after, Franciscan monks followed with smuggled grapevine cuttings out of Spain. By 1629, they planted grapes, and the country’s first wine-growing region was born.
Floods at the turn of the 20th century wiped out the original vines, then Prohibition followed, practically destroying the wine region’s fame. But in the 1980s, visionary French winemakers discovered New Mexico’s potential and helped re-establish the wine industry. Today there are over 50 wineries and tasting rooms throughout the state, producing some outstanding vintages.
On a recent trip to Santa Fe for the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) Conference, and an in-depth tour with Tourism Santa Fe, I was curious to learn more about New Mexico wines. Santa Fe is well-known for its culinary scene, so it makes sense that wine tasting would be here, too. I counted several wine-tasting rooms within easy walking distance of my downtown hotel, making it easy to explore.
Hervé Wine Bar
The Hervé Wine Bar, just a few short steps from the lovely El Dorado Hotel and Spa and near the Plaza, features wines from the St. Clair and D.H. Lescombes wineries. Named after Lescombes’ founder, Hervé Lescombes, the Wine Bar is warm and inviting. A long, rustic, brick-lined entry, with plenty of outdoor seating, leads to the large and luxurious tasting room.
Small plates, salads, sandwiches, soups, and desserts are available to enhance your wine tasting experience. Choose from a featured flight of three wines for $10 or, “build your own flight” of four wines for $15.
D.H. Lescombes makes some great reds, and the cabernet sauvignon with its red jam, toast, and smoke flavors did not disappoint. The D.H. Lescombes Early Harvest Brut was a fun surprise too.
Gruet’s Sparkling Wines
Gruet Winery tasting room, inside the historic Hotel St. Francis, specializes in Methode Champenoise sparkling wines. Originating from Gilbert Gruet’s Champagne House in Bethon, France, this family-run winery was founded in New Mexico in 1984. Today, Gilbert’s son, Laurent, is the winemaker. Gruet’s Brut, made from 75% chardonnay and 25% pinot noir, and its Blanc de Noir, made from 75% pinot noir and 25% chardonnay, and the Sauvage, made from 100% chardonnay grapes, are recognized among the Top 100 Wines by Wine Spectator.
Seating at the tasting bar or side tables inside the tasting room provides a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. An ample outdoor patio is super popular in the summertime. A $12 tasting fee buys you a sampling of five wines and small bites are available for purchase. Because Gruet is so well-known for its sparkling wines and their selection is quite large, I opted to taste all sparkling. I loved the Sauvage, with a delicate brioche flavor and layers of citrus and green apple flavors. But they also make some still wines, both reds and whites.
Thanks to an invitation from my wine-loving friends, I ended up at the Vivac Winery Farmer’s Market tasting room in the Railyard District with the charming co-owners Jesse and Michele Padberg. Jesse, President of the New Mexico Wine Association, and Michelle, an international wine judge, are both advanced wine sommeliers. Vivac has been producing classic European styled wines for 22 years. Together with Jesse’s brother, Chris, and his wife, Liliana, this dynamic foursome is making a big name for New Mexico wine. Wine Enthusiast, Sunset Magazine, and USA Today all sing their praises. These “fresh and young, edgy and sophisticated” new generation of wine producers have shown the world that, yes, New Mexico wines are really good!
No doubt, Vivac produces some lovely red wines, but I must confess I loved their 2018 Dry Riesling made in an Alsace France style. It shows off the unique terror of their Dixon vineyard, 6000 feet high. Another distinctive wine is their 2017 Refosco, a grape originally from Northern Italy. Dark tree fruit, herbal undertones, sweet spices, velvety tannins, and a full fruit palate make this a crowd-pleaser.
Lucky us, we had a private tasting with Jesse and Michelle, who were one of the wine suppliers for the IFWTWA conference. Without a complimentary tasting, you can enjoy four wines, which will only set you back $5.00.
If You Go
Wineries are located throughout the state of New Mexico, so if you’re traveling by car, you’ll want to visit more of America’s first wine growing region for yourself. Vivo Vino New Mexico has a complete list of wineries and wine tasting rooms, plus an excellent map of their locations. But whether you try New Mexico wines in a tasting room or venture out to the wineries themselves, I think you’ll be delighted at just how good New Mexico wine is! Viva Vino, New Mexico!