Winding my way along the cottonwood-lined rural road toward Nambe, I am struck by the difference a little bit of water can make in a dry land. The Franciscan priests who came with the Catholic Church in the 1600s understood this difference. They settled and planted orchards and row crops along the fertile valleys of the Rio Grande and other New Mexico rivers. The Spanish Crown had forbidden the growing of wine grapes in the New World to protect their vast exports of wine, upon which the entire Spanish economy had become dependent. But in 1629 a few daring monks smuggled vines out of Spain, and by the 1800s vineyards proliferated along the slopes of the Rio Grande watershed. Today, the Mission Grapes as they were and are called, are still grown in New Mexico, and the tradition of winemaking flourishes.
Estrella del Norte Vineyard is a little green paradise tucked into a low hillside in Nambé. Turning into the property, I am greeted by grape vines trellised alongside the driveway. A bright orange Kubota tractor covered in mud tells me this is a working farm; the smell of plowed earth and spring waft through the vines.
Eileen Reinders and her husband Richard moved back to New Mexico from Colorado, leaving busy corporate lives to become vintners, but are now busier than they ever were in white-collar jobs. Estrella del Norte has won more than twenty awards for their wines in the past five years. Wine sales—including Pinot Noir, Founders Blend, and others—nearly double each year. I ask Eileen which wine I should taste. She grins and asks if I like red chile. I laugh back, “Of course! I’m a New Mexican, aren’t I?!” She passes me a taste of their unique Holy Molé blend. As I savor lingering notes of red chile, almond, and chocolate, I imagine those Franciscan monks smuggling vines across the Atlantic in their thick brown robes—I am so grateful they did.
Estrella del Norte Vineyard
106 North Shining Sun, Santa Fe; 505-455-2826,