On a recent trip to the West Coast, I asked a sommelier at dinner if he could name New Mexico’s three American Viticultural Areas (commonly referred to as AVAs). His response was in the form of another question, “New Mexico has three AVAs?” Indeed, this little known wine fact would likely stump most Masters of Wine, but it makes for an excellent foundation for our wine tours and empowers you with a bit of wine trivia to impress your friends with.
AVA is the stateside equivalent of the European Appellation of Origin—both define a grape-growing region by geography, climate, soil conditions, history and other characteristics. Only those wines that are grown, produced and bottled inside the defined AVA boundaries are allowed to use this designation on their bottles—it’s sort of like bragging rights that a wine is guaranteed local in origin.
In last month’s issue, we began our tour of New Mexico’s wine regions by focusing on the Mesilla Valley AVA which was established in 1985 and covers 280,000 acres from El Paso to Las Cruces. This month, we focus on the Mimbres Valley AVA, the largest in size at 686,000 acres, centered around Deming and Silver City. The largest and oldest vineyards are located in this region, and grapes grown in the Mimbres Valley are used by wineries throughout the state.
Ask any resident of Lordsburg where you can find the local vineyard and you’ll likely get a quizzical look. It’s not visible from town or Interstate 10, but New Mexico’s largest vineyard, at more than 200 acres, is planted on the border of Hidalgo and Luna counties under the watchful eye of Hervé Lescombes and his two sons, Florent and Emmanuel. The vineyard is composed of two dozen varietals including those used in their limited-release Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Mourvedre, all are worth seeking out and enjoying this summer.
The best way to experience the Lordsburg vineyard, and likely meet its founder, Hervé Lescombe, is by signing up for their vineyard tour from the D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. A personalized tour ranges can last several hours and includes a visit to the vineyard in Lordsburg, the St. Clair Winery in Deming and a tasting with staff back in Las Cruces. If you’re lucky, Hervé will invite you inside his idiosyncratic hand-built home and make lunch for you and the other guests as he tells old stories of his winery in Burgundy or his home country of Algeria.
The next largest vineyard in New Mexico is owned and operated by Paolo D’Andrea and his family. Paolo arrived in New Mexico in the early ’80s to help plant the original Gruet Winery vineyard near Truth or Consequences. In the 1990s, Paolo oversaw the planting of more than 300 acres of noble grapes that include Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. But the real treat at Luna Rossa Winery is the spectacular array of Italian vinifera grown in their vineyard. There are so many different grape varieties, some you may be familiar with and others you may not know how to pronounce, like Ribolla Gialla and Aglianico (Ree-BOHL-lah JAHL-lah and ah-L’YEE’AH-nee-koh, respectively).
One of my favorite bottles in New Mexico is called Nini, after Paolo’s grandmother, which features Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbara, Sangiovese, Refosco, Montepulciano and Aglianico, and is aged 58 months in oak. For a mere $23, it’s one of the most affordable barrel-aged wines around. Another award-winning wine from Luna Rossa is their Negro Amaro, which is a grape almost exclusively grown in Apulia, the boot heel of Italy, but which also thrives in the warm Deming climate.
Paolo has started to turn over some of the winemaking responsibilities to his son Marco, who recently returned from wine academy in the Friuli area of Italy. Marco is in the process of producing a new sparkling wine made in the Prosecco style from Ribolla Gialla, a rare white grape from the Friuli region. Once released this summer, it will be the only Ribolla Gialla sparkling in America, another premier for the U.S. wine industry that New Mexico can brag about.
When planning your road trip through the Mimbres Valley AVA, the best place to overnight and grab a delicious meal will be the artsy-funky mountain town of Silver City. Historic hotels, like the Murray Hotel and Palace Hotel, offer excellent access to the main-street district, which is filled with restaurants, old theatres and galleries. When it’s time to sit down for a meal, I recommend the lively farm-to-fork restaurant Revel, or for more traditional eats, visit Diane’s Restaurant up the street. And I always make a point of visiting the Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery to wrap up the evening and catch up with owners Teresa Dahl-Bredine and David Crosley.
New Mexico is blessed with so many beautiful peaks and valleys, it’s hard to pick a favorite or visit them all, but I highly recommend making the trip to the bucolic Mimbres Valley and stopping by La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery to meet proprietors David and Esperanza Gurule. The vineyard is tucked into rolling golden hills on their 600-acre ranch, which has been in the family since 1906. The winery is open every weekend, or mid-week by appointment, and no matter when you visit, be sure to spend some time sitting on the porch admiring Esperanza’s gardens or listening to one of David’s stories. And bringing your own picnic from town is not out of the question.
If you’re looking for a reason to make your own southern New Mexico road trip come to reality this month, you’re in luck. The second annual Silver City Wine Festival takes place July 13-14 at Gough Park, one of Silver City’s many community parks. A dozen wineries from around the state, including all three mentioned in this article, will pour their wines as they enjoy live music from the gazebo. Festival tickets are $15 in advance, $25 at the gate, and can be purchased by visiting nmwine.com. This annual event is low-key, never over-crowded, and there’s plenty of space to lay out a blanket in the grass and enjoy the refreshing mountain air with a glass of Gruet bubbles or one of the many reds and whites on hand.
And if you can’t make it out of town this month, but still want to try all the wines listed in this article, you can join us here in Santa Fe at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, July 6-7, for the Santa Fe Wine Festival.