New Mexico wine
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Southern New Mexico Vineyard
|Official name||State of New Mexico|
|Years of wine industry||1629-present|
|Sub-regions||Mesilla Valley AVA, Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA, Mimbres Valley AVA|
|Total area||121,665 square miles (315,111 km2)|
|Size of planted vineyards||1,200 acres (4.9 km2)|
Baco noir, Chambourcin, De Chaunac, Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, Seyval blanc, Vidal blanc, Villard blanc,
|No. of wineries||Over 35|
New Mexico has a long history of wine production in the United States. In 1629, Franciscan friar García de Zúñiga and a Capuchín monk named Antonio de Arteaga planted the first wine grapes in the Río Grande valley of southern New Mexico. Viticulture took hold in the valley, and by the year 1880, grapes were grown on over 3,000 acres (12 km2), and wineries produced over 1,000,000 US gallons (3,800,000 L) of wine. The editor of the Socorro bulletin predicted in 1880 that “We see in the present attention given to grape culture, an important and growing industry which, in a few years, will assume proportions of no ordinary nature.”
The wine industry in New Mexico declined in the latter decades of the nineteenth century in part due to flooding of the Río Grande. Prohibition in the United States forced many wineries to close, while others remained operational providing sacramental wine to primarily Catholic as well as other Christian churches. The modern New Mexico wine industry received significant support in 1978 when a government-sponsored study encouraged winegrowers to plant French hybrid grape varieties.
New Mexico now has more than 20 wineries producing 350,000 US gallons (1,300,000 L) of wine annually.
Origins of viticulture in New Mexico
In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate led Spanish colonists to the upper valleys of the Rio Grande. Franciscan monks followed the colonists to minister Christianity to the Native Americans. This area would later be known as “El Camino Real”. The Franciscan monks who settled there needed to hold daily mass; central to each mass was Holy Communion, a sacrament that included the consumption of wine, representing the blood of Christ shed for the redemptions of sinners. The monks needed a local source for their sacramental wine since the next nearest supply was several months' travel away. In this region of the Upper Río Grande is where grape vines were first introduced to New Mexico.
Before grapevines were planted in New Mexico, the Franciscan monks had wine shipped from Spain. The sacramental wine was light pink in color, had a sherry-like taste, was 18% alcohol, and 10% sugar. The wine was transported in heavy jugs resembling those in Roman times. The stoneware jugs held approximately 2.6 to 3.6 gallons (9.8 to 13.6 liters) each and were sealed with a cork or wood plug. The jugs needed to be sealed with a green glaze, applied to the inside of the jug. This glaze would have contained lead that leaked out into the wine during prolonged exposure to heat or to the acid in the wine.
Grapevine planting in New Mexico was initially hindered by Spanish law which in 1595 forbid the exportation of Spanish grapevines to protect the Spanish agriculture industry. At the time, Spanish wine exports provided one fourth of Spain's foreign trade revenue. Franciscan monks chose to ignore this economic law and smuggled vines out of Spain into New Mexico around 1629. Fray García de Zúñiga, a Franciscan, and Antonio de Arteaga, a Capuchín monk, planted the first vines at a Piro pueblo just south of modern day Socorro. The cuttings brought by the missionaries were a Vitis vinifera grape variety known as the Mission grape. This variety is still grown in New Mexico today.
Expansion of the wine industry in New Mexico
Between 1633 and 1800, numerous events took place which threatened the wine industry in New Mexico. Several pueblo revolts and hard winters threatened the grapes, but by the 1800s New Mexico had emerged as wine country. In 1800, vineyards were planted from Bernalillo to Socorro in central New Mexico and from Las Cruces to El Paso, Texas in the southern part of the state. In 1850, New Mexico became a territory of the United States. In 1868, Jesuit priests settled in New Mexico and brought their Italian wine making techniques, founding a winery in 1872. In 1870, New Mexico produced 16,000 US gallons (61,000 L) of wine. By 1880, New Mexico produced 908,000 US gallons (3,440,000 L). The 1880 census indicated that New Mexico had twice the grapevine area of New York, a more developed state. New Mexico was fifth in the nation in wine production.
New Mexico State University has long played a part in the cultivation, expansion, and education of grape growing and winemaking in New Mexico. In 1920, at the beginning of Prohibition in the United States, Giovanni Giorgio Rinaldi took over production of Christian Brothers Winery in Bernalillo. He enlisted the help of faculty at New Mexico A & M College, in Las Cruces, now New Mexico State University. With their help, Rinaldi improved grape production and experimented with other grape varieties and grape growing styles. Zinfandel, in a Burgundy–style wine, was the result of experimentation with grape varieties by Rinaldi and New Mexico A & M. Rinaldi remained Christian Brother’s Winery manager until 1933 when prohibition ended.
Decline and rebirth
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Río Grande and its tributaries experienced extensive flooding. In 1926, the first Río Grande flood occurred that impacted the vineyards throughout the grape growing region, from Bernalillo to El Paso. Prohibition began in 1919, and only a small amount of medicinal alcohol could be legally produced and sold. Though the sale of wine was hindered, the grapevine acreage doubled between 1920 and 1930. In 1943, the largest Río Grande flood of the century destroyed vineyards throughout New Mexico. Vineyards that had been producing wine for fifty years were destroyed. What remained of the old commercial wine industry in New Mexico never recovered from these floods.
By 1978, small commercial wineries opened their doors, creating wine from mostly French-Hybrid grape varietals. These cold-hardy grapevines prospered in northern New Mexico. By the 1980s, production of wine was up and a rush on New Mexican vineyard land began, led by a group of European investors who were attracted to New Mexico’s still underdeveloped wine market and inexpensive land. Between 1982 and 1983, 2,200 acres (3 sq mi) of vineyards were planted around Las Cruces. Many more vineyards and extensive acres of grapes were planted until present day.
- Viticulture Program official website
- New Mexico Wine and Vine Society
- New Mexico Wine Growers Association