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New Mexico wine

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New Mexico
Wine region
Southern New Mexico vineyard
Official nameState of New Mexico
TypeU.S. state
Year established1912
Years of wine industry1629-present
CountryUnited States
Sub-regionsMesilla Valley AVA, Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA, Mimbres Valley AVA.[1]
Total area121,665 square miles (315,111 km2)
Size of planted vineyards1,200 acres (4.9 km2)[2]
Grapes producedCabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Pinot noir, Ruby Cabernet, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Refosco, Barbera, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre,

Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Chenin blanc, Malvasia bianca, Muscat Canelli, Pinot gris, Viognier, Riesling, Muscat of Alexandria, Orange Muscat, Sauvignon blanc,

Baco noir, Chambourcin, De Chaunac, Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, Seyval blanc, Vidal blanc, Villard blanc.[1]
No. of wineriesOver 42[3]
Casa Rondena Winery,
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, NM.
July, 2022.

New Mexico has a long history of wine production, within American wine, especially along the Rio Grande, from its capital Santa Fe, the city of Albuquerque with its surrounding metropolitan area, and in valleys like the Mesilla and the Mimbres River valleys. In 1629, Franciscan friar García de Zúñiga and a Capuchín friar named Antonio de Arteaga planted the first wine grapes in Santa Fe de Nuevo México, in what would become the modern Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA. Today, wineries exist in the aforementioned Middle Rio Grande Valley, as well as the Mesilla Valley AVA and the Mimbres Valley AVA.[3]

Viticulture took hold since its 1629 introduction, in the middle Rio Grande and the surrounding area, 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."[4]

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 also 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 grow New Mexican heritage grapes, and to work in collaboration with Italian, Spanish and French wineries to make hybrid grape varieties.

New Mexico now has more than 60 wineries producing 900,000 US gallons (3,400,000 L) of wine annually.


Origins of viticulture in New Mexico[edit]

In 1598 Santa Fe de Nuevo México was founded, after Don Juan de Oñate led Spanish colonists to the upper valleys of the Rio Grande near Española, New Mexico.[5] Santa Fe, New Mexico was established in 1610, and further south near the Mesilla Valley Franciscans followed the colonists to minister Christianity to the Native Americans and Hispanos of New Mexico. The Franciscans who settled along the Rio Grande needed to hold daily mass; central to each mass was Holy Communion, a sacrament that includes the consumption of wine, which upon transubstantiation, becomes the blood of Christ shed for the redemptions of sinners. The friars 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 Franciscans 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. Franciscans 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 friar, 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.

As El Camino Real arrived in New Mexico, the city of Albuquerque was established to serve as an outpost for all of the towns and pueblos in the central Rio Grande. Wine was grown in these old towns, including near Barelas, Corrales, Old Town Albuquerque, Sandia Pueblo, Los Ranchos, and Isleta Pueblo. This region is now referred to as the Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA.

Sparkling wine made in New Mexico

Expansion of the wine industry in New Mexico[edit]

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, a grape from Europe Primitivo, 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[edit]

Grapevine nursery at the largest vineyard in Deming, New Mexico

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 1977, small commercial wineries opened their doors, creating wine from mostly French-Hybrid grape varietals. These cold-hardy grapevines prospered in northern New Mexico. The first of these wineries to open was La Viña Winery, now the oldest continually-operating winery in New Mexico.[6] La Chiripada Winery, in Dixon, NM planted its vines in 1977, the first vines to be planted in Northern New Mexico since prohibition. They opened with their first vintage in 1981, and remains family-operated to this day. La Chiripada Winery is the oldest continuously-owned winery in New Mexico.

In 1981, the Oppenheimer Corporation began marketing plots of "vineyard" land in the Armendariz Ranch, near Engle, which drew Hervé Lescombes and his family from Burgundy, France. Many more European investors were to follow suit, attracted to the inexpensive land and underdeveloped wine market. Due to the lack of water rights, and the great distance for irrigation, the land was deemed unfit for farming and many investors went bankrupt or pulled-out. Hervé Lescombes continued buying better-suited portions of land across southwest New Mexico, planting again in 1982. By 1984, St. Clair Winery opened their winery and first tasting room, quickly becoming the largest winery in New Mexico. Today, Hervé Lescombes' sons, Florent and Emmanuel, own and operate 5 locations across New Mexico, with over 180 acres of family-owned vineyards.

Between 1982 and 1983, 2,200 acres (3 sq mi) of vineyards were planted around Las Cruces. By 1986, there were 7,000 acres across New Mexico, falling to 700 acres by 1989. Many more vineyards and extensive acres of grapes were planted until present day.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Heald 2008.
  2. ^ Peavler & Green 1995.
  3. ^ a b "New Mexico: Appellation Profile". Appellation America. March 4, 2008. Archived from the original on September 7, 2014.
  4. ^ Socorro Bullion 1883-87.
  5. ^ Sandersier, Andy (September 1, 2005). The Wines of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0826332523.
  6. ^ Birchell 2013, p. 67.


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