Northern New Mexico wineries are right on track
When it comes to winemaking in the United States, California steals all the thunder. Sure, Washington and Oregon get their share, and occasionally even New York gets a nod. Not many people know that winemaking in New Mexico predates them all.
The first wine grapes were planted in what is now San Antonio, New Mexico in 1629. This was more than 50 years before such vines made it to California. It was Franciscan and Capuchin monks who brought vines from Spain to plant here to provide a steady supply of sacramental wine. The industry grew into the 19th century, by which time New Mexico was producing nearly a million gallons of wine annually.
In the early 20th century, however, joint disasters struck. Massive flooding of the Río Grande wiped out vineyards, and Prohibition made the production of anything but sacramental and medicinal alcohol illegal. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that New Mexico wineries began to rebuild.
La Chiripada Winery
At the frontlines of this movement was La Chiripada Winery, which planted its first vines in Dixon, just south of Taos, in 1977. Brothers Michael and Patrick Johnson produced their first vintage bottling in 1981. Today, Patrick’s son, Josh, serves as winemaker, with the brothers still very much involved in the winery’s operations.
The family commitment shows in the quality of their wines. An estate Riesling under their Blue Heron label is vibrant with peach, honey and cleansing mineral. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve serves as testament to the beautiful way in which their wines can age. The winery is now looking forward to the production of its first sparkling wine — made from apples.
La Chiripada boasts two inviting tasting rooms, one at the winery in Dixon, and one on Bent Street in Taos, where one can sample a variety of their delicious and innovative wines.
Vivác Winery, also located in Dixon, is likewise a family venture, owned by brothers Jesse and Chris Padberg, and their wives, Michele and Liliana.
Founded in 1998, the first vineyard planted — the Fire Vineyard, so-called because the brothers set fire to it as children — is still in use today. They have since planted the 1725 Vineyard, next to their tasting room in Dixon, which offers not only stunning views, but also music-filled happy hours on summer afternoons.
Vivác’s organically grown wines range from a bracing Alsatian-style dry Riesling, full of fresh citrus and mineral, to a deep and brooding Petit Verdot, rich with dark berries.
The self-professed “wine geeks” at Vivác are always hungry for knowledge and seeking ways to make better wine; some things, however, stay the same. Despite how the winery is grown, all their grapes are picked by hand (indeed, I’ve picked some myself ), and each stage of the wine’s production is done with an eye toward the highest quality and artistry.
Black Mesa Winery
In New Mexico, it’s amazing the difference in climate that a few miles (and a few hundred feet in elevation) can make. Black Mesa Winery is only 5 or 6 miles south of Dixon, in Velarde, but has temperatures closer to those of Albuquerque than to those of Taos. So, while Dixon’s vineyards are best suited to a few cool climate grapes,
Black Mesa is growing everything from Albariño and Chardonnay to Syrah and Montepulciano. (Vivác recently purchased a vineyard in Velarde as well.)
Founded in 1994 and acquired by current owners Jerry and Lynda Burd in 2000, Black Mesa prides itself on “winemaking by committee.” Winemaker Karl Johnsen and Assistant Winemaker Craig Dunn work closely with the Burds to make a wide variety of wines.
Outstanding among these are their estate Albariño, fragrant with orange blossom, and their dry rosé, redolent of strawberry and pink grapefruit. Also not-to-be-missed is their 2012 Petit Verdot, which is inky and meaty, with aromas of black currant and slate.
Black Mesa’s two tasting rooms offer something for every guest. In Taos, the elegant room on Ledoux Street has become a local staple for live music. The cozy Velarde location boasts striking vistas and, if you’re lucky, a visit from Sola, the feline “CEO.”
Although each of these three wineries has a distinct and special character, I am struck by their unified goal of enhancing the quality and reputation of New Mexico wine, both locally and nationally. From what I’ve tasted, they’re on the right track.
–– Molly Steinbach, of Ranchos de Taos, is a wine columnist for The Taos News. She is a Certified Wine Specialist and the sommelier at medley., in El Prado.