An edible Local Hero is an exceptional individual, business, or organization making a positive impact on New Mexico’s food systems. These honorees nurture our communities through food, service, and socially and environmentally sustainable business practices. Edible New Mexico readers nominate and vote for their favorite local chefs, growers, artisans, advocates, and other food professionals in two dozen categories—including this year’s new Innovator award. In each issue of edible, we feature interviews with a handful of the winners, allowing us to get better acquainted with them and the important work they do. Please join us in thanking these Local Heroes for being at the forefront of New Mexico’s local food movement.
An Interview with John Calvin, Owner / Winemaker
Casa Rondeña Winery was lovingly established in 1995 as a family undertaking, with the first plantings in 1990 and 1995 at the hands of vintner John Calvin and his two young sons, Ross and Clayton. The winery now boasts a tasting room, open daily; the 1629 Club, a private club with an outstanding pair of chefs and small restaurant operation; and an event space and wedding venue.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?
Casa Rondeña Winery began in my imagination––a nanosecond of inspiration––somewhere in Andalusia, when I was a twenty-something musician in the early 1970s. As a native of the Rio Grande valley, I was always fascinated by the history of the first Europeans that arrived here in 1540. I grew up in a small adobe house that my father built. I felt and saw all the influences of the Arabs and the Romans that the conquistadors brought from the Iberian peninsula.
Music also had a very powerful pull on my heart, harkening back to a simpler time, when beauty was created for its own sake, and was a driving force in all human cultures. As a young flamenco player, traveling throughout southern Spain, [I was influenced by] the music and architecture [of that area] and also by the ubiquitous wine barrels in the bodegas that dotted the countryside, along with the thousands of small vineyards and olive groves that dated back to Roman times. The wine was cheap, plentiful, and of course very local. So as an impressionable and entrepreneurial young American, the three strong columns of music, wine, and architecture became the pillars of my life dream.
I started making wine from grapes I grew in the Rio Grande valley in 1990 and began building Casa Rondeña Winery in 1994. We are about to turn twenty-five! Now in my late sixties, after a thirty-five-year career in design and building, that triad is still my platform and foundation—the heart and lungs—from which my passion lives and breathes.
What makes Casa Rondeña special?
All the wine is made and bottled and aged on the property. I am dedicated to remaining a small boutique style winery, under ten thousand cases. I am interested in making small amounts of only the highest quality wines with which I remain intimately involved. Likely expansion plans will be carried out by my descendants and their families. We are fortunate to have a beautiful place that has become a bit of a destination spot, so we are able to sell our wines at the winery, selling to just a handful of New Mexico restaurants and wine purveyors. Many thousands of wedding guests have attended weddings at the winery, and, closest to my heart, some of the world’s greatest musicians have played at the winery in a concert series we have put on over the last twenty-five years—ever enhancing the Casa Rondeña experience.
Casa Rondeña sits in a gorgeous area of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. Tell us a bit about the winery property.
I have often heard that Casa Rondeña is among the most beautiful and hospitable places in our wonderful Land of Enchantment, for which I am immensely grateful. Our pleasant, professional staff is as dedicated to creating a wonderful experience as I am to making wonderful wines. Our goal is and has always been to make the best red wines in the region and to maintain an environment that is second to none in hospitality.
The four buildings [on Casa Rondeña’s property] are made of adobe, stone, and ancient timbers. They are of a style of my own, a reflection of my love for the Roman and Islamic influence in Andalusia, along with indigenous influences, which were precursors for the built environment here in my home land. They are not Tuscan, as many like to call them, although true Tuscan architecture (not the fake schlock that tract home builders call Tuscan) was derived from the same influences. These are rather more Iberian, with a particular influence on Andalusia.
Our wine club, ever growing, is a testament to our efforts, thanks to wine club manager Hollie Stephens, with the 1629 Club as the pinnacle of the Casa Rondeña experience, thanks to club manager Ansel Lane. In our tasting room, manager Jesse Gallagher is the very definition of cheerfulness and accommodation. Josh Franco and Quin Hanrahan are indispensable help in the winery and vineyard. Paula Cox, our controller for the last fifteen years, is more of a spiritual advisor and sister than an employee.
What are you most proud of?
I set out thirty years ago to make the best wines I could, not really knowing what would happen. My goal was to make the finest dry red wines in the region. That is still my goal. Earning a living making wine was not a prerequisite, any more that creating buildings or making music. Rather, it has always been my way to simply create the finest products that I can, without compromise, and without concern for what is trendy or how the market might respond. Following this mantra, along with always telling the truth and conducting myself with humility and open-mindedness, these endeavors have had commercial success that provides jobs for the community, a good living for my extended family, and brings us all in close contact with thousands of customers that are loyal and ever-expanding in numbers. “Always do your best, always keep your word, and don’t let success cloud your vision and your goals” were the words of my father. I wish he were here today. All in all, I am most proud of hearing from visitors and customers that we have the most beautiful winery in the Southwest, and wines that are comparable to any in the world.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
Thank you all for our success. We are humbled by your patronage. We are proud of being named by thousands of voters [in contests and polls] as best wine, best winery, or best vintner for eight years running, and now the edible Local Hero Award! I appreciate the Local Hero Award, but I am now only an ever smaller part of the great cultural experience that was but a flashing spark of inspiration forty-five years ago in Andalusia. Come join us, a wonderful inspired group of passionate people await you.
Open daily, 12pm–7pm
733 Chavez NW, Albuquerque