Bringing the people to the wine:
How New Mexico connects wines, tourism and its unique cuisine
Eleanor & Ray Heald
March 4, 2008
New Mexico has tremendous historical relevance to North American and US wine production. Predating most known wine states of today by a century the industry became shadowed by evolved appellations such as California, but vines never left this ground. Today a revitalization continues across the state. Most vineyards are in the far south but brave soles have pushed up the Rio Grande to places above Sante Fe and canyons just short of Taos. Winemaking talent certainly followed.
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In 1629, Franciscan friar Fray Gracia de Zuniga and Antonio de Arteaga, a Capuchin monk, planted the Mission grape along the shores of the Rio Grande, making New Mexico the first grape-growing state in America. By 1880, there were over 3,000 acres under vine, producing more than one million gallons of wine. New Mexico would have ranked fifth in American wine production at that time. However, within a decade the Rio Grande began to overflow, with groundwater often reaching the soil’s surface, turning the land into swamp. Grapevines rotted in the ground. By 1900, wine production was three percent of what it had been only 20 years before. The second American wine revolution began in New Mexico in 1978, when a major, government-sponsored study encouraged vignerons to plant French hybrids. Today, the state has three approved viticultural areas and over 20 wineries, with both hybrids and an abundant amount of quality vinifera plantings. The high desert climate, with hot days and cool nights, makes this a quality winegrowing region with a promising future.
Since Thomas Jefferson first tried to cultivate European vinifera in Virginia, the state has been a decided piece of American wine country. Over the years better knowledge, equipment and materials have all contributed to an advancing wine industry, but the more recent decade or two has brought out the real potential that can be found.
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