The Wine of Albuquerque's Casa Rondena
Thinking of an arid, mountainous state as a home for outstanding wines doesn’t seem to make sense but New Mexico is home to a growing number of wineries, most small or medium sized. And, actually, this is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the country. There are nearly 50 wineries scattered about the state and last spring, we visited the lovely Casa Rondena Winery is northwest Albuquerque.
According to the New Mexico Wine Growers Association, “The first grapevines planted in ... New Mexico were brought in 1629 by missionaries and were a variety of Vitis vinifera, commonly called the “mission grape.” By 1880, New Mexico was the fifth largest wine producer in the U.S. Prohibition, however, ended the legal making of wine and it wasn’t until nearly 50 years later when the New Mexico wine industry was revitalized. Today the state produces 350,000 gallons of wine a year.
Casa Rondena is one of the premier New Mexico wineries. Owner John Calvin bought the scenic property in 1997, living in its one existing building for several years as the winery burgeoned; today it serves as the tasting room. A mere $5 results in delicious samples from each of the current offerings, usually six or seven. What started as a very small enterprise, producing a few more than 200 cases a year, has grown to an impressive annual production of 6000 cases.
Riesling and Gewürztraminer grapes are grown on the property for the winery’s Serenade. But, as is the case for most wineries, most of the grapes are purchased; Casa Rondena buys theirs from the southern New Mexico Deming area. The Meritage Red and the Viognier are the most popular. Vicky Carson, director of marketing and public relations for the winery describes them thusly: the “Viognier is a dry white wine with bright melon flavors and lingering apricot on the finish. The Meritage is a classic Bordeaux-style table wine with a blend of 50 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Franc and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.”
I can personally vouch for both as being excellent. I have been to many wineries, met many charming owners and toured facilities and basically, it is all the same process. But Casa Rondena is, by far, the most beautiful winery I’ve seen: green tiled roofs, lovingly tended grapevines, charming balconies from second stories and a signature bell tower, a spectacular gift from Calvin to his wife on their wedding day. Not surprisingly, more than 50 weddings are held here each yea
If a wedding isn’t in your near future, perhaps you’d enjoy some of the other fun things they offer such as picnics, concerts, wine dinners, ‘Murder Mystery’ dinners, cooking competitions and art shows. One of the most popular events is Dancing With Wine, a class series offers everything from the East Coast Swing to the Tango to the Waltz. The wine makes it all the more fun. Casa Rondena also participates in the annual Albuquerque Fine Wine and Art Auction, held each year in June.
(This story was originally published on 08/12/09)