Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Wine is bottled poetry.” Throughout recorded history, there is perhaps no more celebrated beverage than wine. Whether red or white, sweet or dry, wine seems to be a universal drink that bridges time, cultures, and terrain. What many area residents may not know is that grapes were once the major crop of the Mesilla Valley, and winemaking was big business.
According to Henry K. Street’s, A History of Wine in New Mexico: A 400-Year Struggle, wine was first brought to the area by Don Juan de Oñate for use in Mass by the monks that accompanied him. The monks started planting vineyards to make their own wine because of the high cost of importing sacramental wine.
In Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542–1706, Herbert Bolton writes “Priests in the Mesilla Valley were growing grapes for the production of wine almost a hundred years before grapes were ever planted in California. Agustin Rodriguez, a Franciscan friar, is credited with bringing the Mission grape, Vitis vinifera, possibly from Mexico, to southern New Mexico in 1580.”
Cruces’ first newspaper, the Rio Grande Republican, reported: “The Mesilla Valley grape has no equal in the world and wine growing is the principle industry of the people…Wells Fargo carried almost a half-million baskets of grapes at $10 each in 1894, with two hundred casks of wine per week.”
However, the early 1900s saw a major decrease in wine production along the Rio Grande, due partially to flooding and partially to the Prohibition in 1919.
Winemaking in New Mexico did not make a major comeback until the 1980s and 1990s. During that time the wine festival concept arose and helped promote New Mexico wines. La Viña Winery hosted its first wine festival in 1982. Since then, many more festivals have started across the state. To learn more about upcoming festivals, visit www.nmwine.org.
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Here are just a few of the New Mexico wineries we feature in our Tasting Room:
Black Mesa Winery
Wines of the San Juan
Noisy Water Winery
Casa Rondeña Winery
Luna Rossa Winery
La Viña Winery
Rio Grande Vineyards & Winery
and always adding to our growing list!