Gruet Winery helped put New Mexico on the map for United States wines — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
California’s Napa Valley may get a lot of the wine-enthusiast tourism, but it’s only part of the picture when looking at America’s wine scene. New Mexico is actually the oldest wine-producing region in what is now the United States.
The “Land of Enchantment” has a rich history in wine, and it continues to make a name for itself on the national wine landscape and beyond. It’s home to some of the nation’s top wineries, such as Gruet Winery in Albuquerque. In fact, Gruet led the rekindling of the modern wine scene in New Mexico.
The Early Days
When Spanish friars first arrived in New Mexico in 1540, they shipped their sacramental wine from Spain. At the time, the exporting of grape cuttings was not permitted.
Finally, in the 1600s, friars were allowed to plant imported wine cuttings. That’s when they realized that New Mexico’s climate and environment led to excellent wine. The hot days and cool nights year-round and the fertile soil around the Rio Grande were ideal. Plus, the arid climate prevented leaf rot.
In the ‘30s, New Mexico saw a slump in production. First, a series of floods erased the vineyards along the Rio Grande river. That, coupled with Prohibition, put a halt to New Mexico’s commercial wine industry.
It wasn’t until Gilbert Gruet came to New Mexico from Europe that New Mexico was re-discovered as a wine-growing haven.
The Gruet Story
France-born Gilbert Gruet started working in the wine industry as a young boy. When he got married in the ‘50s, he and his wife began dreaming about starting their own winery. First, they planted on small plots in France, but tax laws squashed their plans. They needed to find a new home for their grapes.
Years later, in 1983, the Gruets were traveling through southern New Mexico, when they ran across winemakers from Europe. They learned that New Mexico's soil was loamy, the nights were cool and the environment was welcoming to pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The Gruets, along with their two children and a family friend, Farid Himeur, decided to move there and pursue their vineyard visions.
By 1987, they put out 5,000 bottles of Gruet Brut NV and Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs NV, while sticking to the stringent Methode Champenoise sparkling wine guidelines. They shipped wine-production machinery to Albuquerque from France. The Gruet vineyard had found its home.
Gruet Winery Today
Today, the Gruet facility has expanded to a 45,000-square-foot bottling plant and tasting room, which you can see on the east side of I-25 north of Paseo del Norte.
The winery produces 100,000 cases of pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wine annually, all praised for their quality and their price, which is often less than $20 a bottle – but competitive with bottles many times that price.
Gilbert Gruet died in 1999, but his dream lives on. His children run the winery today.
The Gruet Winery produces award-winning wine in New Mexico — Photo courtesy of Steve Larese
Thanks in part to Gruet, other vintners noticed New Mexico’s wine potential, too. The 1980s brought more successful vineyards.
Today, New Mexico is home to award-winning wines that are beloved around the world. Once again, Gruet paves the way.
If You Go
The Gruet Winery tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and tours of the bottling room are available 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tastings of five wines, including the glass, cost $6. For $14, you can step up to the reserve tastings.
Gruet Winery is located at 8400 Pan American Freeway N.E., Albuquerque, NM 87113. Call 505-821-0055 or 888-857-9463 for more information. Gruet wines are distributed nationally, or you can order online.