Fly Fishing on the Rio Grande

A Note from the Editor:

Localflavor is thrilled to have the father-son team of Taylor and Nick Streit sharing their expertise with us this month. The Taos-based Streits are world-class anglers with a combined total of forty-five years of teaching and guiding under their belts. Taylor has authored several fly fishingbooks, and both he and Nick have traveled to countless rivers worldwide in search of the perfect catch. But (lucky for us) there’s no place they’d rather be than fishing Northern New Mexico’s own Rio Grande.

We have been fortunate to travel to some of the world’s best fly-fishing destinations, from Alaska to Argentina, and  people often ask us where our top place to fish is.  The answer usually surprises them, because although other rivers and lakes in far-off lands have produced more and bigger trout, the Rio Grande—when it is fishing well—is still our favorite place. The lonely river offers more than just the fishing.  A truly wild world lies between its banks, where the angler is surrounded by nature in its rawest form, from the quiet to the chaotic. There are times when the water seems to leap around you; at others, it glides peacefully by. And, let’s not forget, you might just have a have a huge trout or pike attack your fly at any time, too! Continue reading

Erin Wade

Erin Wade’s Nambé farm is home to a curious cast of characters.

There’s the large flock of what Wade calls “ridiculously hormonal” chickens ranging freely over the property. They keep the pests down, roost in the trees and sometimes break into the house. Four very large pigs root around in a sturdy pen above the driveway. They spend their days taking mud baths and arguing with a bold pair of ravens over savory tidbits of slop. Charlie, Wade’s “egg-suckin’ hound,” pokes around in the shadows looking for wayward chicken eggs.

Finally, there’s Hopkins, a little orange cat that showed up on the farm one day and decided to stay. Hopkins is named after poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. She follows Wade around the farm, wagging her long striped tail and basking in the sunshine. She’s a cat that thinks she’s a dog.

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Wines at the Market

Beginning in January of this year, localflavor has been featuring a different independent Northern New Mexico wine shop in each issue.  In part, this series was conceived as a way to showcase the personalities and unique qualities of these locally owned businesses—as well as highlight their strengths. But then it got more interesting. We discovered within this vigorously competitive field a collective championing of the same kind of sustainable, organic, farm-to-table standards for responsibly produced wine that are applied to our foodstuffs. This month, we pick up the series by shining a light on two small family-owned grocery stores with wine selections that are anything but small in scope or stature.

Rancho Viejo Village Market

One year ago Jane and Jay Winter opened Rancho Viejo Village Market, a pristine emporium nestled within a commercial center on curvy Rancho Viejo Boulevard, linking Highway 14 and Richards Road beyond Santa Fe Community College. For the Southside of Santa Fe it fills a niche. Smartly displayed on blonde-wood shelves in the corner of the market is an impressive, global sampling of well-made wines, including wares from important producers, popular brands and must-have spirits and beer. You’ll find beans from neighboring Aroma Coffee, fresh Plaza Bakery breads, gourmet food items, artisan olive oils, hand-made greeting cards, daily papers and general staples, all congenially purveyed. The Winters have created a country store in urban clothing.

      Jay Winter, a tall, dapper man of middle years, stands by the counter reflecting on the process of opening. “It’s been enlightening. I have newfound empathy for anyone in a start-up business, including us,” he says wryly. For the Winters, whose family has owned Blue Chip Insurance Agency in Santa Fe since 1966, the business at the foot of a picnic-perfect, tree-lined park was only meant to be an investment. But when a local grocer decided not to build across the street, Jane and Jay stepped in to provide a market. “There isn’t another store for miles,” says Jay, “and we’ve seen solid support from the residents. That’s key.”  What’s been tricky is being in a location not on the way to anywhere—unless it is. “Every day,” he tells me, “someone says, ‘I had no idea you were out here.’”

      Conspiratorially, to avoid embarrassing his wife standing nearby with a customer, Jay adds, “The real reason people come in here is Jane. They walk up to me and say, ‘Where’s Jane?  I need a bottle of wine.’  She remembers what wine they bought and what they were eating.”

      Since meeting the seemly Mrs. Winter more than a year ago when nothing stood in the store but her,I’ve learned she’s composed, humble and assiduous in her approach to business. The market is a reflection of her: tasteful, pleasantly appointed and elegant in a practical way. Adjusting a strand of well-cut hair behind her ear, Jane says evenly, “Some days are better than others, but we’ve seen our sales slowly increase. My goal is to move away from some of the convenience items and expand our wines and spirits. It’s so much more fun to sell Pinot Noir than potato chips.”

      What makes this small market stand out is their long suit of offerings.  If you want to ogle dozens of Cotes du Rhône, this isn’t your destination. But, if you’re comfortable with a smaller selection of say, a Sancerre, a Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley, a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Junmai Daiginjo sake without feeling like you need to be a sommelier to figure it out, this could be your place.

      Walk in on any given Friday from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., and you’ll find the Winters pulling corks or putting out a flight of tequila. A recent tasting featured wines supplied by Crawford Malone, a local businessman who brokers wine from some of Napa Valley’s top producers, including Burgess Cellars, a second-generation winery in St. Helen founded by Tom Burgess, in 1972. Along with son, Steve, Burgess makes estate wines from grapes grown solely on the family property. The 2007 Merlot (a steal at $22) from the Triere Vineyard, near Yountville, is seamless: redolent of black cherry, plush as melted chocolate, with a firm tannic backbone. Despite the slander of Merlot by the movie Sideways, there are magnificent examples out there, and this is one. Jane and Jay dispensed tastes in small plastic cups, hailing many guests by name. The evening at Rancho Viejo Village Market had the ballyhoo and warmth of a community gathering.

 Rancho Viejo Village Market is at 55 Cañada del Rancho, Santa Fe, 505.474.2828. ranchoviejovillagemarket.com. They’re open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Kaune’s

In one form or another, a Kaune’s (pronounced “connie’s”) has been around for nearly a quarter of the time Santa Fe has been a capitol. It’s the only family-owned, full-service grocery (they deliver) in this 400-year-old burg. Kurt and Cheryl Pick Sommer took ownership of the business—located at the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta—eight years ago. Make no mistake: The store, now known as Kaune’s Neighborhood Market, is Cheryl’s. You’ll see her there all the time, working on displays, mopping spills, dashing to and from her suite of offices, housed in a separate building behind the store. Sharing credit for shaping Kaune’s spirited new vision is Vice President of Operations, major domo and wine director, Rick Hale.

      Six years ago Kaune’s invested in a full liquor license and waded into the shallow end of Santa Fe’s wine and spirits pool. It’s now doing swan dives. “It was a case of extreme exposure,” recalls Hale, a robust man with close-cropped red hair. “We took out the diaper section, built wood shelving and wine salespeople force-fed us samples. It’s amazing to look back,” he says. “Our offerings were completely different to what you’ll find now; we’ve a much better defined, well-rounded selection.”

      When they began, admittedly, Hale didn’t have an experienced palate. That has changed. He’s since earned a reputation as one of the most articulate and analytical buyers in Santa Fe. “One of my wine reps says I’m hard on wine, but I just don’t know any other way to do it,” says Hale, who estimates he tastes about 1000 wines a year. “My job is to take the risk away, to find wines representing the best value, whether its $10 or $200,” he continues. “Good wines share fundamental components. I look for a life force in the wine. Is it distinguished in some way? I want balance between the acid, tannin and fruit. Is the alcohol integrated?  With lower-end wines, is it a crowd pleaser? In the higher-end, I expect more complexity and expressive aromatics.”

      Even with the 500 wines he has on display, Hale knows there are stores with more space and ample choices. But Kaune’s is emblematic among Northern New Mexico’s elite markets, given its size, for noteworthy artisan wines such as Grower Champagne, white Burgundy and Riesling. “Sales may not fully justify some placements, but it encourages our customers to expand their frame of reference,” says Hale, pouring Riesling for guests in the room designated for wine tastings.

      It was a 2008 Dönnhoff (the producer) Schlossbockelheimer (the town, in this case “Schlossbockelheim” plus “er,” added to designate origin, in the same way you’d form “New Yorker” from “New York”) Kupfergrube (the vineyard) Riesling Spätlese (the grape/ripeness) from Nahe (the region) of Germany. (Now you can understand German labels. Stick with it.) At a retail price of $61, it’s not an everyday wine, though it’s a bargain compared to those of equal pedigree from Burgundy. “These aren’t chemists,” says Hale of the Dönnhoff family, who has made wine on the same 32 acres since 1750. “They’re in the fields, tasting from the vine. They know when it’s time.”

      Dan George, a floppy-haired young gentleman who represents the winery swirls the sheer platinum liquid, which shimmers in the glass, like dew. “This has lemon flower and yellow rose. There’s power, yet a multi-layered sophistication,” effuses George.  Indeed, the expressions in the wine change every second.  “Spätlese isn’t necessarily sweet,” he insists. “This isn’t. It’s ripeness you get, of nectarine and lime. The acid is bracing. This is electric acid!”

      Hale adds, “You can taste the provenance of the wine, as well, the slate it’s grown in, even copper, like the vineyard’s name.”

      Another guest remarks that they are learning new “vin vernacular.”

      At the front of the store, a retailer’s hot spot, are “stacks” of less expensive table wines. “They can’t just be cheap,” says Hale, “they have to represent the quality we offer.”  Bashfully, he continues, “The other day, a gentleman stopped me and said I did a great job. ‘You go into a lot of places,’ he told me, ‘they’ve got bottles everywhere, like a shotgun blast. Here, it’s like a rifle shot!  Bull’s-eye.’ That was the nicest compliment.”

 Kaune’s is located at 511 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, 505.982.2629, kaunes.com

Story by James Selby

At The Table with The Gorge Bar & Grill

My history with Taos goes back to the late 1980’s, when I was living in Sydney and working for a company that set up American-themed restaurants in that beautiful Australian city. Hearing of the popular new culinary trend that was sweeping the states called Southwestern cooking, we ventured to hop on the bandwagon and introduce the cuisine and concept Down Under. I found a chef consultant named Dan Hoyer who headed down to assist us in establishing the authenticity of the food, and Dan was from Taos.
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Sweat and Miracles

Gardening requires lots of water—most of it in the form of perspiration. –Lou Erickson

Milagro is Spanish for “miracle” because it takes a miracle to grow grapes here. –Mitzi Hobson

If, perchance, you are interested in making wine, whether commercially or for a hobby, Milagro Vineyards owners, Rick and Mitzi Hobson have three rules to abide by: keep your day job, keep your day job, keep your day job.

The Hobsons lived in Albuquerque’s North Valley until 1985; Mitzi was an educator, and Rick was an engineer who sold mechanical equipment. They moved to Corrales in ’85 and began growing grapes as an “experiment.”

“We liked to drink and eat, and it was totally to be the fun part of our life,” Mitzi explains when I inquire as to how one comes to oversee ten acres of grapes in the little village of Corrales. “It was about getting family together to mark the seasons and celebrate.”

Then the (unpaid) work began. Their land was a field of alfalfa and Christmas trees, so the initial task was to dig them up and haul them to local parks to be donated. The next task was the primary planting of the grape vines, another rigorous ordeal that required long hours and a lot of assistance from family and friends. “We kept wondering, ‘This is what we’re doing for fun?’” Mitzi laughs in recollection.

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Kokoman

With last month’s issue, localflavor began a series featuring Northern New Mexico’s independent wine merchants. Why these? Being neighbors proffering things to taste, they fit the mission of the magazine. Specifically, attention is being paid because we observed something distinct occurring. In addition to being a small business struggling to keep the lights on, each shop, grand or modest, is guided by individuals in lockstep with consumers concerned with husbandry of fields and waterways, who revere craft and have high regard for natural process, vineyard to table. The indistinguishable industrial choices are still available anywhere, aut more than ever, in your neighborhood retail outlet, they share the shelves with wines made in the artisanal spirit. We wanted to explore this community and introduce local merchants, one by one, who have journeyed to wine country, walked rows of vines, and met the farmer who grew the grapes. If not the farmer, then the winemaker; if not the winemaker, the importer or supplier—all of them intent on putting hands-on wine at your table.

      I was invited to the home of a family newly relocated from Europe to Tesuque, and my eye went to some Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Crozes-Hermitage by a good producer in the Côtes du Rhône. The host was asked where he liked to shop for his wine selections locally. “Oh,” he said, “I buy them online.” When told he had fortuitously plunked down a couple of miles from Kokoman Fine Wine and Liquor, one of the great wine shops in New Mexico—indeed, the U.S.—he looked askance. “Oh, you mean the place that looks like a warehouse for kegs?”  Well, yes, they have those. But take note: Big red letters on the building say BURGUNDY.

      Now walk through the doors of Kokoman and meet owner Keith Obermaier. A dash of salt peppers Keith Obermaier’s thick, cayenne-colored hair, not much gray for a guy who came from Chicago to attend the University of New Mexico thirty-odd years ago to matriculate in engineering, a path that left him unfulfilled. Leaving college, he took work in Durango as a carpenter and, subsequently, in Central Oregon, on a cattle ranch. “It was fun,” he says, “but it was very hard work.”  By this time, he had started a family and begun to rethink life after a nightmarish encounter with a chainsaw left the side of his face nearly paralyzed. As it so often will, New Mexico had gotten under his skin and he re-settled in Santa Fe. Using brains rather than brawn, Obermaier found success working “hedges” for Smith-Barney but, again, not satisfaction.

      “My father was a concert violinist,” says Keith. “He gave up what he loved to make a career as a physicist and do the ‘right’ thing. I didn’t want to make that mistake.” One of Keith’s customers at the brokerage had a floundering liquor and beer mart north of Santa Fe up for sale. It was called Kokoman (named for the mythic boogeyman parents call up to keep young children in check.) It sat at the crossroads to Taos and Los Alamos in a community called Pojoaque (“watering hole” in Tewa) in what had been a converted gas station. In 1984, the keys were passed to Keith and “Fine Wine” was officially added to the business name. In the beginning, it was one bottle at a time. “We didn’t even have shelves,” says Keith. “All the product sat on boxes. Half the space was blocked off.” Seeing the space today, it’s difficult to imagine. The first room you enter, the size of a high-school gym, has a long wall of beer coolers and a bank of microbrews, 800 of them. What doesn’t fit on the shelf is stacked on the floor. An aisle is given to bulk wine in large formats, and two more are set with aperitifs, liqueurs and spirits. “If the product is distributed in New Mexico,” says General Manager Jerome Valdez, who started working there as a teenager and has been there longer than Keith, “it’s in Kokoman. Or we can get it.”

      The real oasis is in the adjoining room, where a maze of racks, shoulder-high, is encompassed by even taller shelves lining the walls, all jam-full of wine. Stacked on top of these are crates from the châteaux of Bordeaux, their august names burned into the wood: Margaux, Latour, Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Haut-Brion. Then there are the Grand Cru Domaines of Burgundy: La Tâche, Romanée-Conti, Clos de Vougeot. All empty chests that tell the tale of treasures come and gone.  Actually, some are still there, in one of two enclosed wine cellars kept at proper temperature and humidity and protected from too much ardent fondling. But all you need do to peruse them is ask a friendly clerk.

      The rest of us walk among a select offering of 3500 wines in all price categories. There is a $10 rack, a $5 bin, a discount shelf for remainders of discontinued bottles and stacks of wines purchased in volume and priced accordingly. Or meander with a shopping cart (10% is taken off any mixed case of twelve bottles) through the regions of the world. Say you’re looking for a Pinot Noir. Oregon? Over there. California? There. Burgundy? Voilà.  Or Riesling.  German, Alsatian, Austrian, Australian. Domestic?  More than you know.

      Most customers prefer to wander on their own.  But if you’re looking for something specific, or dare chance a wine you haven’t tried, Wine Director Phil Hemberger is likely to pop up from behind a wine rack to be of assistance. Hemberger moved to New Mexico to work as a chemist at Los Alamos. “Twenty-five years ago, Kokoman was the first place I stopped on my way up to the lab,” says Phil. “Been coming here ever since.” Happily retired, he took a job there helping in the wine department a couple of days a week to increase his knowledge. (Really, to get the employee discount.) Not without some reluctance at giving up his free time, Phil stepped into the full-time position of manager. Asked if he misses mixing things in test tubes, he pauses and says, “I wasn’t that kind of chemist.” That humor and graciousness, a scientist’s efficiency and an earnest predilection toward fine achievements in all endeavors mark his new tenure.

      Free public tastings occur, without fail, every Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m., featuring a guest winemaker or distributor, frequently providing food to enhance the experience. Martine Saunier, an importer with offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and a home in France, made her annual trek in early February to appear at the Taos Winter Wine Festival and conduct an event at Kokoman. One of the holdings in Martine’s portfolio is Domaine Morey-Coffinet, a small producer in Chassagne-Montrachet, among the great communes of Côtes d’Or.

      While a “chateau” in Bordeaux denotes a house surrounded by its vineyards, in Burgundy following the French Revolution, these valuable properties were broken up into “domaines,” in some cases with only a row or two of vines, resulting in hundreds of small family wineries. Wines from these sites can be heart-stoppingly expensive, but most families bottle simple “Bourgogne” appellated wine as well, from grapes sourced from outside their own vineyards. As the 2009 Morey-Coffinet Bourgogne Rouge is sampled, it is telling to watch Keith, known for his take-no-prisoners palate, look at the color, inhale and sip. Graceful and silky, the youthful, regional wine, with classic Pinot Noir flavors of grenadine, tart cranberry and a finish of cinnamon over delivered for its modest price. Paradoxically, it was elegant and powerful, evoking a musky scent of earth and of the human body. “That is just wonderful,” says Keith putting down his glass, clearly happy with what he has discovered.

Kokoman Fine Wine & Liquor is located at 34 Cities of Gold Road off of NM 285 North. 505.455.2219 kokoman@cybermesa.com. They are open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

 Story by James Selby