It has been nearly 400 years since Catholic monks smuggled grape vines into what is now New Mexico and cultivated them to make sacramental wine for their religious services. Prior to that, missions in the area depended on wine shipped from Spain, the only source sanctioned by the ruling Spanish government.
Wine grapes (Vitis vinifera) are not indigenous to the Western Hemisphere, so these would have been the first vineyards in the Rio Grande Valley.
Production at the original site near Socorro only lasted about 40 years, due to a variety of factors, and production in the state has fluctuated during more modern times. Today the New Mexico wine industry is expanding rapidly, according to Bernd Maier, Extension viticulture specialist in New Mexico State University's Extension Plant Sciences Department. He reports that production is expanding by 10-15 percent annually. The New Mexico Wine Growers Association website lists more than 50 wineries spread around the state. Economic impact in the state exceeds $60 million.
People passing by NMSU's Fabian Garcia Research Center might notice new wine trellises supporting leafy vines in a field near the landscape gardens. Planted in 2010, the 500 plants of this demonstration and research vineyard cover about one-third of an acre.
Maier will be conducting formal research on six varieties of wine grapes planted in that test plot, four reds and two whites: Cabernet Sauvignon, Negroamaro, Montepulciano, Durif, Picpoul Blanc and Gewurztraminer. Bordering the plot are examples of some 24 additional varieties that will provide preliminary indications of their viability in this area and will be available for demonstration purposes.
"The reason we have chosen these varieties is with respect to their acidity and their popularity here in the state," Maier said. "We concentrate here on Mediterranean varieties because of the New Mexico climate - very hot, very dry—and these plants are from an area with a similar climate—with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon. So we expect them to be acclimated to our Southwestern climate."