New Mexico Wine History
PROUD TRADITION TO NEW BEGINNINGS
The first wine making in New Mexico stemmed from the need for sacramental wine in New Spain. As the Spanish Crown edict prohibited wine making here, the requisite transport of wine from Spain brought it across the ocean from Cadiz, via Verazcruz, then overland to Mexico City and finally along the Jornada del Muerte to Santa Fe. A number of missions were established during the mid 1500’s, after the “conquest”, as the Catholic Church pursued its quest for souls (and of course, gold and real estate).
The two-year travail of transporting the wine to the New World via this arduous route precipitated innovative activities on the part of settlers here. Franciscan monks smuggled Monica grape vines into New Spain and searched up and down the Rio Grande River Valley for a place that would replicate the terroir (climate, altitude, soil, mineral content) and climate of central Spain. They decided on the unique terroir of the middle Rio Grande River Valley as the ideal locale to establish the first vineyards at a small mission called Senecu, south of present day Socorro. Frey Marcos de Zuñiga is considered to be among the first, if not THE first, to instigate this crime, which in 1633 resulted in the first wine produced in what is now New Mexico.
In the early 1600’s, the entire western European history of the Americas was just beginning. Now, over 300 years later, it is appropriate that we think about and celebrate the early contributions to the New World as Albuquerque looks to starting its year-long commemoration of its founding.
By 1885 New Mexico wine making was so prolific that New Mexico became the fifth largest area in what was to become the United States, producing 910,000 gallons, or twice the number of gallons of wine as New Mexico currently produces. Floods, California bulk wine marketing in the late 1880’s and, subsequently, Prohibition had a drastic effect on wine making here, such that by the time Prohibition was rescinded, wine making in both New York and California far and away out produced New Mexico.
Did you know that subsequent to the European phylloxera epidemic in the 1860’s, it was an American winery that stepped up to save the French wine industry? Stone Hill Winery in Herman, Missouri became the largest producer of wine for French winemakers for ten years around the turn of the 20th century. It is important to remember that all (not most) European grapevines exist on American root stocks which are phylloxera resistant. Once again, it seems the French have forgotten to whom they should be most thankful.
During the years immediately after World War II there was prolific wine making, especially among scientists working at the state’s various laboratories. One of New Mexico’s more successful wineries is La Chiripada, started by two counter-culture transplants from California in the 1970’s, continues to thrive near the Rio Grande in Dixon in northern New Mexico. Home wine making turned into commercial endeavors as vineyards struggled through the 1970’s, many producing wine that is considered by today’s standards undrinkable.
French, Swiss, and German families and partners in the early 1980’s purchased land near Deming or east of Truth or Consequences, when New Mexico plantings once again rose to reach Civil Ware era production levels. A vast majority of western Europeans of that era abandoned wine making operations after a decade, but a few visionaries stayed on, exhibiting patience, persistence and a deep belief in New Mexico as a great wine making region. Among them is the Gruet family who grow their fruit near Engel, New Mexico, and is the third largest Champagne producer in America. As a fellow winemaker, John Calvin is proud that Gruet is here, as they exhibit to the world that some of the best wines can and do come from New Mexico. Their award winning wines have been recognized in London, San Francisco, New York and Paris.
Wine making is an art form that transcends cultural boundaries. Among music, art, and architecture; wine making is a prime example of a universal language unlike any other.
Casa Rondeña Winery was a twinkle in John Calvin’s eye when he was studying and playing Flamenco guitar in southern Spain in the early 1970’s. As he studied the music in Andalusia and played the guitar often into the wee hours of the morning, accompanying some of the great old Flamenco singers of the age, John was charmed by Roman, Arabic and other influences surrounding me. However, at the time having to survive on the wages of a musician, the idea of actually starting a winery was then a pipe dream. To Calvin, Casa Rondeña was never conceived as just a winery, but rather a center of gravity for the arts. It was in 1990 that he planted the first vineyard here in Los Ranchos and began making wine from grapes purchased from other vineyards in the state. After winning a number of awards early in the 1990’s, Casa Rondeña was founded in 1994, bonded in 1995, and opened to the public in 1998.
It is a unique terroir and culture that makes this Los Ranchos de Albuquerque winery thrive. We take great pleasure in meeting people from all over the country and from western Europe, who come to enjoy what we make and in turn send it home to their families.
Last year, right here in Los Ranchos at the winery, we experienced the first Festival de Música Rondeña featuring Guillermo Figueroa, Maestro of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, and were proud to have the support of the mayor, trustees and the Village at large.
From humble but worthy roots to 21st century new beginnings, the wine industry and, closer to home, wine making in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque has traveled an interesting and agriculturally challenging path in this beautiful land. The spirit of bringing forth not only the fruit of the vine but also the cultural flowering of the arts in New Mexico is at the core of what this particular winemaker would like to bring to his neighbors and friends from near and far.