By Wolf Schneider, photos by Sergio Salvador
What do you think of when you think of Albuquerque? Certainly not 25 acres of fields and gardens, not 15 minutes from the airport. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at Los Poblanos Inn and farm in the North Valley of Abluquerque, that and 80 percent of the Inns’ land dedicated for agricultural use in perpetuity. Everything farmed here is incorporated into their lodging business. For the kitchen, there’s honey, eggs, figs, arugula, goat cheese, pomegranates, eggplant, chard, tomatoes, cardoons, apples, corn, melons, grapes, mint, beets, artichokes, squash, and herbs. For décor and guestroom amenities, the property grows acres of lavendar, roses, peonies, sunflowers, and cosmos.
Los Poblanos may be the purest paradigm of agri-tourism in the Southwest, with a concept echoing the European custom of agri-tourism. Explains Los Poblanos executive director Matt Rembe, whose family owns the property, “Agri-tourism in the U.S. means visiting a farm or ranch, while in Italy or France, it is a farm ranch stay. We sort of modeled ourselves after that experience, which often is a farm-estate with historically significant architecture and where food or wine is produced in some capacity. It really is the ultimate sensory experience to be able to sleep and wake up in beautiful buildings where food or wine is being cultivated or crafted outside your window that eventually finds its way to your dinner table.”
This land has seen fertile farming for centuries. In the 1800s, the Armijo family grew corn, wheat, alfalfa, and grapes for wine here. “The Rio Grande kept flooding and wiped out the grapes,” sighs Rembe. The Armijos were a prominent Hispanic political family who owned the original ranch house. Says Rembe, “One of the Armijos was a governor of New Mexico under Mexico, another was a famous lawman, and they were wealthy landowners.”
Ownership switched to the Simms family in the early 1900s, with Los Poblanos becoming a model experimental farm (as it is again today). It was the photographer Laura Gilpin, writing in 1932 in London’s Country Life Magazine, who first declared, “Los Poblanos is also an experimental farm, and one that is an inspiration to all the farmers in this rich fertile valley which has already been farmed for 300 years.” The Simms family used Los Poblanos as headquarters for a ranch and dairy extending into the Sandia Mountains. It was the site of the original Creamland Dairies, and home to one of the finest purebred herds of Guernsey and Holstein cows in the Southwest, plus purebred rams and Clydesdale working horses. Alfalfa, oats, corn, and barley were grown, and the greenhouse nurtured new varieties of roses and chrysanthemums.
Gilpin was a friend of John Gaw Meem’s, the famed Southwest architect who remodeled the inn around this time, and she photographed it. It was Meem’s vision that the buildings would be designed with agriculture in mind. San Ysidro, the patron saint of farmers, was depicted in a fresco by painter Peter Hurd. The fireplace mantels were carved by Gustave Baumann, the wrought-iron door handles made by Walter Gilbert. There’s New Mexico tinwork and ironwork throughout, photography by Gilpin, and WPA-period carved furniture. The seven original guest rooms were designed in classic New Mexican style with Kiva fireplaces, carved ceiling beams, and hardwood floors.
Rembe’s parents, Penny and Armin, bought the property in the 1970s. They had moved to New Mexico in the 1960s, and owned another Meem house. Living in a Meem house, they developed a passion for New Mexico art and architecture. In 1975, when the Simms decided to sell half of Los Poblanos, the Rembes bought it. Then, recalls Rembe, “When the second half came up for sale in the late 1990s, we got together as a family and made the decision to re-unite the two halves and undertake this preservation project.”
The current mission is to preserve the agricultural fields, formal gardens, and New Mexican art and architecture through sustainable practices such as farming organic produce and lavender, and running an inn. In 2010, 15 new guest rooms were built. Special events nowadays include a lavender festival, harvest dinners, wine dinners, cooking classes that focus on seasonal crops like figs and squash, wellness workshops incorporating making dandelion coffee, bird walks, aromatherapy workshops, barnyard animal care, weddings, and corporate retreats. Says Rembe, “We feel strongly about preserving the irrigation rights, the acequia ditch systems, the uninterrupted view corridors, and the progressive farming that has been done here for centuries.”
Los Poblanos’ cuisine is rooted in the region. The only way you’ll get to dine at Los Poblanos is by staying here or attending a special event. Describes Rembe, “Our food wanders the line between refined and rugged, borrowing from both haute cuisine and the foods indigenous to New Mexico’s Rio Grande River Valley. Los Poblanos often does away with menus in favor of multi-course farm feasts inspired by the day’s harvest. It is a dining experience where the cuisine and ambiance reflect the chef’s aesthetic and the farm’s long-established relationships with local farmers.”
Executive chef Jonathan Perno uses French classic techniques in preparing rustic regional cuisine.
Having worked with Wolfgang Puck at San Francisco’s Postrio, Perno learned to make house-made sausages, which he is experimenting with at Los Poblanos. Describes Rembe, “We’re preparing middle Rio Grande Valley cuisine leveraging the best, freshest ingredients of our local food shed.
The lavender fields and farm shop are available for visiting at most times. Los Poblanos specializes in growing grosso lavender because, as Rembe explains, “It gives you the most oil. Grosso can take our big temperature swings. Some people grow lavender for the flowers. We grow it for the oil. We’re pushing lavender as a potential state crop. It uses very little water. It’s hardy. It has very few pests. It has a culinary use, and it’s medicinal.” Most of the lavender grown here is sold in New Mexico, at the Los Poblanos Farm Shop, Pharmaca, and La Montanita Co-op. A small percentage is sold overseas to Japan.
Los Poblanos is also a partner in Los Poblanos Organics (LPO), a year-round CSA that delivers to almost 2,000 people in New Mexico. Food from other local LPO member farms is sometimes incorporated into Los Poblanos’ menus.
Autumn is languid here; Christmas, quietly festive. I wind up my visit with a BLT sandwich on sourdough toast made with the farm’s arugula and tomatoes, accompanied by a salad of farm-grown greens, figs, and local goat cheese—all of it fabulous. Rembe sums up, “We’re perpetuating the agricultural history through our organic farming model and using all those ingredients in our cooking for our guests. I see us as the embodiment of the Rio Grande Valley.”