In 1629, Fray Garcîa de Zuñiga and Antonio de Arteaga smuggled Spanish Mission grapes into what is now New Mexico State—in direct violation of Spanish law—and planted vines just south of modern-day Socorro.
Winemaking thrived here for centuries, but the auspicious beginning was followed by a series of severe setbacks: A massive flood of the Rio Grande in 1864 and that old bugaboo Prohibition essentially killed commercial winemaking until the late 1970s, explains Christopher Goblet, executive director of the New Mexico Wine & Grape Growers Association.
Mimbres Valley is one of three American Viticultural Areas in New Mexico, and it is by far the largest, spread across 636,800 acres at 4,000–6,000 feet above sea level in the southwestern corner of the state. The AVA is defined by the Mimbres River, between the towns of Silver City and Deming and stretches all the way to the U.S.-Mexico border, hemmed in by the Mogollon Mountains to the north and the Florida Mountains to the east.
But, as large as the AVA is, planted acreage is small.
“We love the Mimbres Valley’s terroir,” says Carrie Gurule, assistant winemaker at Gruet Winery. “The grower we work with has about 100 acres of deep, alluvial soils resting on an aquifer. When I think of the vineyard, two words come to mind: agua bendita.” Holy water.
“Thanks to that groundwater, the wind and the sun, we get small, concentrated, thick-skinned grapes, and a really vibrant canopy that protects the grapes. When the agua bendita comes, that’s when the magic happens. That water from the sky provides just enough relief to really allow those grapes to ripen to perfection and pop,” Gurule says.
Gruet, the largest of the two wineries that reside within the AVA, produces about 300,000 cases of primarily classic method sparkling wine a year, using grapes sourced from New Mexico, Washington and California. But their Gruet Blanc de Blancs is 100% Mimbres Valley Chardonnay.
The winery works with the D’Andrea family of growers, as does just about every winery intent on the Mimbres Valley terroir. Paolo D’Andrea, a fourth-generation winegrower and native of Friuli, Italy, arrived in Deming in 1986 to teach workers how to grow and graft vines at the region’s largest vineyard.
“The vineyard was not in great shape when my father arrived,” says Marco D’Andrea, representing the fifth generation of winegrowers in the family. “But my father loved the work. When all of the other Italians who came with him to share their expertise left, he stayed.”
His father hired laborers and poured everything he had into elevating the vineyards and discovering how to use the heat of the day, the coolness of the night, copious water, elevation and wind to the best advantage. Over the years, D’Andrea and his son purchased portions of the vineyards themselves, and launched their own brand, Luna Rossa Winery.
“We have about 52 grape varieties across 170 acres, including classics for sparkling wine like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon in the state and Italian grapes that love the sun, like Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera,” says Marco. “We also have a nursery, where we graft and plant varieties for other winemakers on request.”
The future of the Mimbres Valley may just live up to its lofty past.
“We received $1 million from the state legislature to replant vineyards across the state,” says Goblet. “We have already planted 75, and we plan to plant another 200 acres, much of it in the Mimbres Valley. We’ll be working closely with the D’Andreas, because they are such talented grafters.”
Quick Facts on the Mimbres Valley AVA
- Date AVA Established: December 1985
- Total Acreage: 636,800 acres (995 square miles)
- Planted Acreage: 250 acres (another 150+ planned for 2023)
- Most Planted Red Wine Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
- Most Planted White Wine Grape: Chardonnay
- Climate: Arid continental Number of Wineries: 2
This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!