Spotlight: Front of House

An Interview with The Wine Director at The Compound
Photos by Douglas Merriam

Kristina Hayden Bustamante, wine director at The Compound.

Twelve years living and working in Los Angeles. More than a decade in New York City. And a vacation in New Mexico! Kristina Hayden Bustamante says she knew after a few days that she’d be back. In that time, she has honed her love of wine and is now the wine director and sommelier at The Compound, the only surviving Alexander Girard–designed restaurant anywhere and a keystone of Santa Fe’s Canyon Road. “I have always felt that it is a real honor to be included so intimately in my guests’ dining experience.” In her parallel world, “On my days off,” she says, “I am absolutely obsessed with tea. I have been for many years and have toyed with the idea of studying it in depth.” 

What is your philosophy around pairing wine with food, and how does that apply at The Compound?

I wholeheartedly believe that the successful pairing of food and wine can elevate the dining experience to an entirely different level. Our menu changes seasonally and I am always looking for new and unusual wines to complement the menu. If a guest wants the full wine pairing experience, I am prepared to give that to them, but ultimately I believe in drinking what you will most enjoy. It is my job to ask the relevant questions and determine what the guest is looking for. 

Would you describe your approach in your selections as more instinctual or more intellectual? More art or science?

All of the above. I am fortunate to have a talent for analyzing and assessing wines not only for quality but for maximum enjoyability, and a big part of it is purely instinctual to me. That being said, there is a never-ending pursuit of information and exploration that comes with my job. I create and build a wine list as if I am writing down a story that I am trying to tell; it needs to be told seamlessly and without any plot holes. I have also done this for quite a while, and with age comes experience. I have been given the opportunity to taste a lot of wine in my day, and each great wine comes with a memory to be reexamined and reflected on. I suppose they are each like a piece of art.

Before coming to Santa Fe, you were a sommelier in Southern California. How is New Mexico wine culture different? What’s special about doing what you do in New Mexico? 

I would say that there is very little difference. So many of our guests, both local and from out of town, come with a very sophisticated appreciation of wine. They are well traveled and incredibly adventurous. I am also seeing a real demand for natural or biodynamically farmed wines. This is great and it keeps me on my toes. New Mexico makes some pretty stellar wines and has for a long while, and I have made a point of trying to schedule some trips to local wineries so I can really understand what is happening here. I would love to start a local wine section on our list and am really taking the time to explore so I can introduce them to my guests with the care that they deserve.

The Compound is an institution in Santa Fe. What’s it like to play such an important role in the experience of those who dine there? How do you balance the preferences of your longtime customers with people newer to the city?

Santa Fe is a special place and I cherish my longtime regular guests. Many have been coming to The Compound for decades. One of the most awesome things, though, about being back in New Mexico is seeing a subtle shift in our guest demographic. I am sure that most people have noticed the influx of young people who have come to Santa Fe during the pandemic. These new guests have changed the way our dining room looks on any given night and they have become our friends and neighbors. Sometimes they come in for the architecture and the art by Alexander Girard, but they always return for the exceptional food and the warmth they receive when they are dining here. Santa Fe is definitely having a moment and I hope that it continues. New Mexico is irresistible!

When it comes to wine, do you have a current personal favorite among vintners or regions?

As far as having a favorite vintner or region, not really. I try not to drink the same thing more than a few times, no matter how much I may love it. I would be seriously behind the eight ball if I didn’t push myself to constantly try new things and explore more obscure regions and winemakers. I am crazy about Corsica right now.