By Cameron Weber · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
A resounding sense of experimentation greeted Jens Deichman when he arrived to New Mexico’s vineyards in the 1980s. Deichman, the current president of the Middle Rio Grande Chapter of the New Mexico Vine & Wine Society, describes that period as a “second adolescence” for the state’s wine industry. The first wine production boom came in the early twentieth century, but Prohibition drove the wine market underground and devastating floods in the 1930s and 1940s destroyed many of the remaining vineyards. The resurgence of wine production that Deichman witnessed in the 1980s was driven by two major developments. First, new French and French-American hybrid vines displayed much-needed cold hardiness compared with traditional Vitis vinifera vines, and, second, European investors poured funding into large vineyards, speculating that New Mexico wines would soon compete with the well-established California and European industries. Alas, severe weather and root disease again prevented such an unqualified success story for New Mexico’s wine industry. The wine business in New Mexico is growing again, but the growers and vintners who remain face the risks with greater diversity and ingenuity.
Even the amateurs growing fifteen, ten, or even just two acres and selling grapes to winemakers or wineries, Deichman says, have economic benefits to New Mexico and should be counted as part of the state’s growing wine industry. As the owner of a homebrewing and winemaking supply shop, Deichman is host to locals who want to push the limits of the craft. “I get everyone from the novice who’s excited to begin to the Northern New Mexico person whose family has actually been doing this for generations—and not just grapes but with chokecherry and plum—to the Sandia Lab person who follows strict technique. And everyone has a good time with it!”
Traditional fruit wines made from stone fruits, such as chokecherry, plum, and apricot, reflect an adaptation by early colonists to cold climates. These trees will yield where grapes cannot, and yield in quantities that make fresh consumption of the fruit impossible—rotten fruit is a sorely missed opportunity. A handful of New Mexico winemakers, such as Jim Fish of Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas, continue this wilder tradition of winemaking. Fish, who began as a laboratory chemist, refutes excessive control of the fermentation process. He has been selling wines made with fruits other than grapes for twenty-one years. Like another refined craft of a rural corner of America, Appalachian moonshine, fine fruit wines are just coming to light in commercial markets.
“We are certainly different, both in the wines we make and how we make it,” says Fish. The fruit used for Anasazi Fields’ fruit wines are mostly from unsprayed trees near Placitas. A whole-fruit fermentation at cool temperatures allows for a prolonged primary fermentation, when the fruit sugars are converted to alcohol by yeast. “Because of that really long fermentation, we get complex acids, much bigger organic molecules that don’t tend to evaporate, so the wine is complex, very stable, and totally different from what you’re used to.” Fruit wines are typically made to be very sweet, but Anasazi Fields uses the Old World method of fermenting the wine until it is dry, which leads to a complexity, but also a sharpness, that is softened by aging the wines for years. “We have a 1996 peach wine that we just released this year that sat on oak in a stainless steel tank for nineteen years.”
I quietly wonder if Jim Fish’s wines will become a marker of New Mexico pushing the limits of what is possible in commercial winemaking, and I simultaneously worry that these techniques might be lost. “We are rustic. We just try to let people experience the landscape in the wine,” he adds, along with an invitation for people to bring a picnic to the winery to pair the wine with food. The image reinforces a hope I hold for New Mexico’s future: that the patchwork of success in New Mexico’s wine industry includes the close, place-based knowledge of small wineries and vineyards, and that their success works to protect our land and water resources.
Anasazi Fields Winery, 26 Cam De Los Pueblitos, Placitas
Victor’s Home Brew, 2436 San Mateo Place NE, Albuquerque 505-883-0000, www.victorshomebrew.com