New Mexico Wine Tourism – Not Just For Visitors

A bucket of "Baco" grapes. Photo by Robert Naranjo with the Valley Daily Post of freshly picked grapes from Dona Carmalita Naranjo Vinyard LLC. 

New Mexico Wine Tourism – Not Just For Visitors

Wines Winning Medals In International Competitions – Finger Lakes In NY

The Secret Is In The Grape

By Robert A. Naranjo

Northern New Mexico wine has long been considered very good by wine lovers, even if drunk before its time.  But wine purists and connoisseurs have always preferred to wait and let wine age to its best potential.

Wine grapes, known as “vinifera,” have been grown in New Mexico for almost 4OO years making it the oldest wine grape growing region in the United States. Vines were planted by mission priests in 1629 near Socorro, New Mexico, to make wine for sacramental purposes. Before that, sacramental wine had to be brought in on “El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.”

Wine making in New Mexico peaked in the mid-1800’s but is enjoying a resurgence today with wine production and planting up, as recently the rest of the world has started to “discover” New Mexico wine. Tourists from around the nation and globe are frequenting area wineries more than ever, and wine publications are putting northern New Mexico wineries on their list of sights to see and places to go.

Jerry and Lynda Burd, own Black Mesa Winery in Velarde, one of the fastest growing local wineries in the state. When asked what he likes about the wine industry, Jerry Burd replied “I think it’s meeting fellow wine makers, wine grape growers and then the people that come in to taste and buy our wines in the tasting room because we meet people from all over the world, Burd answered. “That makes it very nice when the people say, “Gosh this is very good wine. It’s made in New Mexico,” Burd said people ask sometimes. Other’s know about the area’s quality wine and seek out Black Mesa and other northern New Mexico wineries. When asked about “wine tourism,” Burd said many people, including some whom stop at Black Mesa travel the country. “They put stopping at wineries on their itineraries,” Burd said.

“We’re getting more locals,” said Burd. “Like quite a bit, and a lot of it is because of La Chiripada and Vivac (in Dixon) we send people back and forth between the different wineries and the locals have been talking a lot about us right now. They’ll choose one wine at one place and another at another place – they have favorites. We think that’s cool! It would be nice to have more wineries,” Burd said. He agreed that it was like a mini or micro Napa Valley, certainly in the medal-winning category. “Come taste some of our internationally recognized wine. We would love to see you,” he cordially invited everyone. Other area wineries in addition to ones Black Mesa’s owner Jerry Burd mentioned are Estrella del Norte in Nambe, and Don Quixote in Pojoaque.

Burd was asked about the international wine competitions and he said that Finger Lakes in New York is a popular one where many New Mexico wineries compete. Wineries from New Mexico have brought back “lots Gold and Silver Medals” from Finger Lakes and “it’s an international competition,” he said. Burd was asked what makes the northern New Mexico wine grape so special to wine makers. It’s a big part of the success of the northern New Mexico wineries at these wine competitions winemakers have said.

“It’s different just because the growing season is different. Grapes grow a little slower; they ripen a little slower in northern New Mexico. And, so we often have more intense flavors from the northern New Mexico grapes than from the southern New Mexico grapes… Let’s take a Merlot from southern New Mexico versus a Merlot from northern New Mexico. A northern New Mexico Merlot (grape) has more intense flavors, more varied, and it makes for more of a complex wine. It has to do with the length of the growing season, with the days not getting quite as hot and the nights are cooler and it all comes together and makes for a dynamite grape and wine,” Burd responded.

Black Mesa Winery is only one of several growing wineries in our region of New Mexico. A few miles north of Black Mesa Winery brings you to La Chiripada, Blue Heron and Vivac Winery. Or, head south from Espanola, and you’ll find Estrella del Norte and Don Quixote in the Pojoaque area. Take the wine tourism tour and take in the beautiful scenery while you’re at it. Either direction is a winner!

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories on the grape growing and wine industry in northern New Mexico.)