For the Love of Wine | Santa Fe Monthly - February 5, 2013

"The main virtue needed for making an excellent wine is patience"

Artwork by: Andre Kohn, "Good Times, Good Wines", Joe Wade Fine Art

What does one do for the love of wine? Well, in our case, my husband and I enthusiastically planted our vineyard here in Lamy believing that grapes can grow anywhere. You’ve seen the wonderful vineyards in France where rocks are firmly distributed among the vines to hold in the heat, a buffer against the extreme winter cold. You’ve viewed those travel magazine photos, which abound with precision pruned vineyards that go on for miles and miles. And you’ve probably visited vineyards in northern California where the evening fog rolls in and blankets the thirsty vines only to rush back to the ocean in the morning so the sun can do its job.

The beauty of the verdant masterpiece beckons the incurable romantic, the wine lover.

Doesn’t look like it takes much work, does it? Where are the workers in those photos? Aren’t they picking and stomping grapes? That’s fun isn’t it? What else is there to do? Don’t vines grow on their own?

Let me tell you. Grapes need love. Grapes need protection. (Not so different from the love interest sitting across from you at the Valentine dinner table with the shared bottle of wine between you.) But above all, grapes need water. They need rain.

Planting grapes in Santa Fe during the worst drought since 1897 has been a trial of love and labor. The learning curve for this experience doesn’t exist on most charts! Little or no reference has been made in the “How to Grow Grapes” books.” But there is good news. For although the vine suffers stress during times of low water levels and produces a much smaller grape, I am happy to report it also produces an unusual grape, rich with local desert flavors and aromas peculiar to our corner of New Mexico. Best of all, it makes for a strikingly excellent wine. 

We have fought the gophers, the late freezes in the spring, minus degrees below freezing in the winter, plagues of grasshoppers in the summer, birds who come in for their fill having a built in knowledge as to the second the sugar content is high, coyotes thirsty and parched gobbling mouthfuls of bunches, rabbits who love new delicate cuttings, and still we persist. When all is said and done, growing one’s grapes, making one’s own wine is indeed the ultimate love of wine. While holding that triumphal glass of Bacchus’s delight speaking to you of lust and desire, of fulfillment and renewed passion, the filled glass bespeaks the pride and satisfaction of a job well done.

I venture to say that most people have never really enjoyed what I consider to be the cream de la crème of excellent wine. Wine that is sulfate-free, wine that has not been watered down to the point of loss of body, and wine that has been properly aged.

Guilty of rushing the process are the so called “good” California wines. A good California wine is exactly that, nothing more. The goal is to get it to the consumer as fast as possible. It has been watered down to control the alcohol level and packaged to the mass market with a catchy label. What we as consumers often drink is a sharp tannin heavy wine. I’m referring to the reds, of course.

The main virtue needed for making an excellent wine is patience. As there are variables in personal relationships, there are variables in the wine making process. The patience factor can be controlled by the small producer. There is no need to rush the wine to market. However, there are no hard and fast rules that dictate how much of each type of aging a wine will need. The general purpose of aging is to let the wine “find itself.’ To let all the elements meld into the bouquet peculiar only to the vineyard. When you raise your glass this Valentine’s day I encourage you to carefully select a bottle of New Mexico wine and enjoy the vibrant tastes and aromas of your wild and beautiful state. Think love, think life, think wine.