When most people think of award-winning wineries, New Mexico is probably not the first destination that comes to mind, however, the extensive winemaking knowledge that Spanish settlers brought with them created a fiercely proud culture of growers and enthusiasts that has persevered for centuries. The state’s wine industry is rich in history and is home to the oldest wine-growing region in the nation!
New Mexico’s wine history takes us back to 1629 – long before Californians planted their first vines – when the region was under Spanish rule. After colonizing vast territories of Mexico, the Spaniards ventured north in search of gold along with Franciscan monks who followed the settlers with the hope of ministering Christianity to the indigenous people that populated the area.
The Franciscan monks had a serious wine problem – there wasn’t enough of it. Sacramental wine was central to daily mass performed by the monks and the only source was shipped from Spain and in short supply. With a huge undertaking, the monks planted the first Mission grapes brought by the Spanish colonists. Early viticulturists had a tough go of grape growing because of rocky, dry soil with areas of nearly impenetrable clay-like earth, as well as harsh weather patterns only added to the challenge.
Wine production quickly expanded after the region gained its independence from Spain and once producers adopted the Italian technique of filtering the wine through cow skin, the product was much improved.
At its peak, there were nearly 3,200 acres of vineyards in the region and when New Mexico achieved statehood in 1912 there were high hopes that the industry would prosper in its new market. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had different intentions and pervasive heavy precipitation led to a substantial surge of the Rio Grande which decimated a majority of the vines.
It wasn’t until 1977 that the industry was reborn and gave way to the unique culture of wine growing that New Mexicans call their own today. Now there are more than 40 mostly small independent wineries and a few larger labels scattered throughout the state with plenty of opportunities to get your taste buds on the deliciousness that they produce in and around Santa Fe.
Estrella del Norte Vineyard and Tasting Room
Estrella del Norte Vineyard embodies the spirit and heart of Santa Fe. Owners Richard and Eileen take great pride in the one-of-a-kind experience they’ve created for guests to taste their wines in an easygoing and relaxing atmosphere without all of the pressure that usually comes with wine tasting.
This wine oasis is located in the picturesque Nambé Valley, a quick 15-minute drive north from Santa Fe and is about as unpretentious and approachable as vineyards come; well behaved pups are always welcome in the tasting room and the delightful proprietors are happy to answer any and all questions or give a quick wine tasting lesson.
With uniquely New Mexican labels like Holy Molé red wine, which incorporates a dash of almond flavor, a bit of chocolate and a hint of red chile, or the Zozobra Red Table Wine, a homage to one of Santa Fe’s iconic traditions, you won’t be disappointed!
Gruet Winery Tasting Room
If you are taking in the historic downtown sites of Santa Fe, stop in at the Gruet Winery Tasting Room at the Hotel St. Francis. The Tasting Room has a modern and intimate atmosphere offering a superb selection of New Mexico produced wines. Regardless of whether you’re into sparkling wines or not, Gruet’s bubbly selections are likely to capture your heart.
Whether you stop by for an afternoon glass on the sun soaked patio or pre-dinner drinks in the cozy and elegant tasting room, it is bound to be a delightful experience.
New Mexico Wine Tours
Planning to explore the wine region of New Mexico? For a scenic and relaxing experience, let New Mexico Wine Tours do the driving with a wine tour that highlights the beautiful landscape of the state and celebrates the legacy of its winemaking.
Planning a wine tour getaway this summer or fall will allow you take in some of the area’s best wineries and history. Start planning your wine adventure by ordering the free Santa Fe Visitors Guide. Be sure to check out our Deals and Specials page, which includes special offers on lodging, meals and shopping