Nine years after the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, New Mexico was already in wine-making mode. With the longest history of wine production in the U.S., the very first grapes were planted by Franciscan friars nearly 400 years ago in 1629, and American viticulture was born.
Originally born out of necessity, the New Mexico wine industry has religious roots in missionary settlements. In 1598, among the Spanish explorers were monks whose main mission was to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. They found a rich, volcanic soil along the riverbanks of the Rio Grande perfect for growing crops.
Back home in Spain, grape production was a major source of income – comprising one-fourth of the foreign trade revenue for the Spanish crown. Therefore, a law was passed prohibiting growing grapevines in the New World. Monks initially abided by the law, sometimes waiting up to two years for a shipment of grapes to arrive. Then, in defiance of Spanish law and to save the church money, grapevines were smuggled from Spain and planted by monks to produce wines for ceremonial and sacramental use. These were labeled “mission grapes.” What began as a sacred tradition eventually grew into a thriving industry.
Hosted by Scott and Vicki Baker during their May tasting, the Wine Knots sampled two wines originating from New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The first was a Moscato from Luna Rossa Winery, located in the middle of the Mimbres Valley outside of Deming. The wines are made exclusively from 100% New Mexico estate-grown Italian grape varietals, all individually grafted onto hardy American rootstock and grown in the family-run vineyard.
Next, we tasted a red table wine from Balzano Vineyard and Winery. The vineyard is cradled on three sides by pecan orchards in Seven Rivers, a small hamlet north of Carlsbad, in a land that bore witness to the Old West, once a domain for outlaws such as Billy the Kid.
And what’s wine without food? The menu featured a taco bar with spicy beef and roasted chicken in flour and corn taco boats topped with salsa, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, avocado, onions, sour cream, black olives and cheese. This was complemented by gooey dips, tortilla chips, queso with just a little heat and a decadent dessert.
For Wine Knots, it was another great evening with great friends. Although there was no 30-minute lecture about soil types or a PowerPoint presentation on grape harvesting, we certainly learned something about the wine in our glasses. The thing about wine is that beyond the pleasure of drinking it, each bottle reveals stories about real people, histories of real places and aspects of cultures and local traditions.
Viva vino to enchanting wines from New Mexico!