When you think of wine country, New Mexico is probably not on the list but wineries in Albuquerque are there for the finding. California, Washington, and even Arizona are more well known as wine producing states. But vineyards and wineries — in New Mexico? The truth of the matter is the climate in New Mexico is almost perfect for growing some types of grapes and wine making is a relatively new income producer. Although there are numerous established and up-and-coming wineries and tasting rooms in Albuquerque, three of our favorites are mentioned below.
We wrote about Casa Rondeña in an earlier article. It is a stunning vineyard and winery in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley located right in Albuquerque. Ambiance is casual yet elegant with a Mediterranean bent. Impressive grounds are spacious and well maintained. Grape vines, stately Italian Cypress and roses are mainstay, with gorgeous hanging baskets of geraniums interspersed. The calming fountain and arched gazebo in the courtyard is a relaxing place to enjoy the New Mexico weather. The interior design highlights graceful arched windows, delicate French-style doors, tiled floors with handsome area rugs, roomy leather and upholstered furniture, and ornate vigas that detail high wood-planked ceilings. For a small price, picnic items of imported cheeses and chocolates, locally homemade bread, and other light bites are available in the deli just off the tasting room.
The Gruet’s Winery is located on the frontage road right off I-25, the main north-south interstate, in Albuquerque. Although the Gruet name is fairly well known, the winery, itself, leaves something to be desired when you first drive in the parking lot. It was not what we expected. The plain white brick building is certainly non-plus, and lack of windows in the front gives the appearance that the establishment might even be closed. There are no spacious grounds, only a small area of vines on site. But (and I say that with emphasis!) don’t let first impression deter you from visiting. Once inside, this adorable boutique is quite appealing with a notably French ambiance. The baubled chandelier, gleaming tiled floors, and ornate woodwork reflect success in the wine making business. The wine tasting room became quite busy while we were there and tasters had to wait for seating. However, no one seemed to mind because the bubbly was so delicious.
Our sommalier, Justin, was excellent in that he was friendly, professional, and easy to visit with. When he wasn’t helping someone else, he enjoyed answering our questions about how the winery was started, current production statistics, and taste appeal of each wine. He explained how the wine production is unseen from the front so the winery is actually much larger than it appears. Another fact: their main vineyard is located in the southern part of the state. He also informed us that Gruet’s is the third largest producer of sparkling wines in the United States! This winery is right on the way, so a visit is well worth your time!
One of the first little eateries we like to go to years ago is the St. Claire Winery. It’s located a few blocks off the east-west I- 40 as you enter Albuquerque from the west. Take the Rio Grande Boulevard exit and head east towards Old Town. Just look for the Starbucks parking lot on the right and you can’t miss it.
The restaurant is a bistro-type place where you can order steaks and wine or authentic Mexican food and beer. It’s fitting for casual fine dining or appetizers on the patio. We’ve ordered many types of food here and everything is delicious and the service is always excellent. We enjoy sitting on the patio, next to a tinkling fountain, surrounded by hanging baskets of flowers, where live bands play on the weekend. Fireplaces provide cozy warmth in the chilly months and misters and overhead fans provide cooling relief in the summer. The place fills up fast, but it’s worth the wait for a relaxing meal and an evening of free entertainment.