Expressing New Mexico at Sheehan Winery

By Michele Padberg Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Pump-over at Sheehan Winery. Pump-overs rigorously extract flavor from the grape skins and make for rich reds.

Hiding between Bridge Boulevard and Central Avenue in Albuquerque is Sheehan Winery. This area of the city just west of the Rio Grande is one that, although a local myself, I didn’t know existed, and it’s home to a pretty little neighborhood full of charm. Normally when you think winery, you imagine a building resembling a castle, but Sheehan Winery is, like Sean Sheehan’s wines, nothing like you would assume.

Starting with a biology and chemistry major’s lofty dream, quite literally in his backyard, Sheehan has created one of New Mexico’s top-rated wineries, winning Best in Show three years in a row at the New Mexico State Fair Wine Competition. His 2020 Aglianico was awarded 90 points from Wine & Spirits Magazine. Successes aside, the blond-haired, blue-eyed young winemaker is sweetness epitomized. The morning I showed up, crush was in full swing, and sweat beaded on Sheehan’s forehead, but a genuine smile graced his face. Crush is the name winemakers have given to the harvest season because they actually crush the grapes, but it is also the busiest time of the year and they are working around the clock. I arrived on a hot September afternoon to find cabernet sauvignon grapes, sourced from vineyards in Deming, being processed. Sheehan’s equipment was giving him a hard time, but he graciously answered my questions while cranking gears, changing hoses, and checking as grapes jammed up the pump. This experience would have had me yelling profanities; Sheehan, however, eyes twinkling through it all, showed me what patience looks like. He gave generously of his time, explaining that while people think winemakers are sipping wine all day, “the truth is that if you aren’t part mechanic, part janitor, part church tent revivalist, and part air traffic controller, it’s not going to work.”

Left: Sean Sheehan preparing hoses for pump-over.
Right: Barrel sampling.

This backyard winery, made up of only a couple of small buildings, has expanded since its founding in 2015, but is still physically small despite the fact that Sheehan is making upward of six thousand cases of wine per year. Even with vineyards located in Corrales, Bosque Farms, and the South Valley, Sheehan, like most other winemakers in the state, sources a lot of grapes from southern New Mexico. Currently totaling twelve acres of private vineyards, Sheehan Winery is looking to increase its acreage by taking over the management of tiny backyard vineyard plots throughout the Albuquerque area. It is a fitting idea that Sheehan’s backyard winery should accumulate backyard vineyards as people retire or sell homes. His entire operation has grown, especially since the pandemic, and he now has two tasting rooms, one in Red River and the other in Old Town Albuquerque. Private tastings and wine club events are still available at the winery, but the focus is shifting to the tasting rooms. A slew of events are happening at the stunning Old Town location—yoga, New Mexico United watch parties, and winemaker-hosted wine classes are a few ways to entertain yourself with a delicious glass of Sheehan wine in hand.

The Old Town Tasting Room is located in a newly developed group of shops adjacent to Old Town Plaza. Eclectic trinkets, tasty treats, contemporary art, and even a brewery and another winery coexist in this beautiful setting. Sheehan’s Tasting Room is elegant and spacious, with patio seating on the courtyard and incredible photography by Colin Sillerud hanging on the walls inside. Upstairs is the Wine Club lounge and event space. The wine list boasts so many choices, it really is hard to pick. Sheehan doesn’t want his wines to mimic another region but to represent New Mexico. He strives to create wines that are unique and approachable while highlighting the essence of the grape varieties.

The 2022 Cinsault Rose, with its pretty, floral notes mingling with red berry and a dry finish, was particularly interesting to me since so many New Mexico rosés tend to be sweeter than I like. The earthy mourvèdre and the syrah, with its characteristic hints of baking herbs—think notes of anise or licorice—were also quite remarkable and tasted exactly like the fruit off the vine; now, that is varietal correctness to the tenth degree! The lengthy list has everything from crisp whites to rich reds to interesting blends (usually with Celtic names reflecting Sheehan’s heritage). If sweet wines are your thing, don’t miss the unique 2021 Fiona White Port. A high-alcohol infused dessert wine, Fiona doesn’t come across hot, but rather it is integrated, delicate, and beautiful.

Left: Sheehan at one of his South Valley vineyards.

Born in Albuquerque, Sheehan grew up thinking he would be a doctor. While attending the University of New Mexico to achieve this goal, he caught the wine bug and switched gears. Working with the bygone Tierra Encantada Winery, he was inspired to believe in the potential of New Mexico wine. His passion was ignited through his work on blending trials, honing the skill of bringing a wine to new levels through testing the addition of other varietal wines at different percentages and in different combinations. With his wife, Elyce Sheehan (a doctor herself), he put his chemistry and biology training to good work crafting his friendly wines, and started Sheehan Winery. Sheehan talks about his desire to be inclusive with his creations, to welcome all to the table, and to make people happy—a genuine goal for this good-natured man. And it doesn’t stop there: he and his wife are dedicated philanthropists, traveling around the world to donate their skills to help those in need. His partnership with New Mexico United supports the players’ scholarship fund, and donations from his bottle sales help bring affordable health care to locals through St. Anthony’s Alliance.

Sheehan wines are a labor of love. The labels themselves are modern renditions of photos snapped from some of Sheehan’s travels, and each bottle is numbered and hand dipped in wax to seal the top, reminders that what you hold is one of its kind. His self-proclaimed “technicolor” wines are a true expression of New Mexico. An example of this is the release of five different merlots made with fruit from five different vineyards, showing how place and time can be expressed in a varietal wine. Despite his impressive wine club membership and long lines at his booths at New Mexico wine festivals, Sheehan says he is still trying to get the word out that his winery exists. The beautiful Old Town Tasting Room won’t be a secret for long; the charming nook beckons from the busy street, and Sheehan’s wonderful wines will entrance you. While you can certainly order a glass or bottle from the menu, I recommend a tasting. Options include the preselected Taste of New Mexico five-wine flight and the Choose Your Own Adventure flight, which allows you to select six wines that interest you.

As Sheehan Winery approaches its ten-year anniversary in 2025, I asked Sheehan what he saw for the next ten years. “My hope for our winery is that we continue to make better and better wine through experimentation with new techniques, better equipment, more attentive farming, and through building an ecosystem that allows us to be more present with the wine through its maturation process,” he said. “Ideally in ten years, we’re a similar size as far as number of cases/bottles produced, but we are able to do it in a way that is easier on the minds and backs of the people who help us do it.”

“In ten years,” he continued, “I hope to be having time to eat lunch every day, and making space and time for my boys (now three and six years old) to explore the idea of working in the winery, and decide if it’s something that ignites their passions. Ultimately, I want to smooth out the rough edges not only of our wines but also our days and weeks and months, such that the process of producing ever-better wines is joyful and exciting.”

Especially as we settle into the reflective seasons of fall and winter, I think this is a goal we can all relate to, and reach for.

1544 Cerro Vista SW, Albuquerque, 505-280-3104,

Michele Padberg
+ other stories

Michele Padberg is an advanced sommelier, international wine judge, and co-owner of Vivác Winery. She has taught master classes, hosted VIP tasting experiences, and lectured at the American Wine Society National Conferences, the University of Upper Alsace in France, and the Association of Wine Educators in the UK. Co-author of the e-book The New Normal in the Wine World, Padberg also wrote for Sommeliers International magazine from 2019 to 2022 and has covered wine for a number of newspapers and blogs. She loves to travel and explore new wine regions, often with her family in tow. Find her at