By Christopher Castellanos
This Memorial Day weekend marked the 19th annual return of the Albuquerque Wine Festival. Along with a generous sun and cool winds, summer brought wine artisans from all over New Mexico and of course their one-of-a-kind award-winning wines.
People gathered to Balloon Fiesta Park, as the sun leaned back into a clear sky and whistled a tune of the soft wind that cooled off excited guests. After passing into the festival, guests were greeted by the savory smell of food trucks parked and cooking on the side of the event. Chicken, with the fire’s hot black char, and sweet smokey barbecue, danced in the air along to the music of the live bands. Wine tents quickly filled up with eager, thirsty bodies. Artisans welcomed as many people as they could, passing samples of red wine from guest to guest and quickly trading bottles of rosé for white with their fellow crafters. The high pyramid of wine boxes each stacked behind them soon came down in a rush of satisfied buyers.
As the first glass of crisp white wine turned into a fifth or sixth glass of bubbly rosé guests took a breath in one of the multiple patio areas. Where shade met smooth grass, people sat at tables to take in the event. It would have only taken a quick glance to see the cheer of everyone sharing in the joy of wine tasting, from knowledgeable regulars to people washed in the refined flavors of wine for the first time.
Approximately two dozen wineries appeared in Balloon Fiesta Park for a three-day celebration of New Mexico’s rich wine culture. Vineyards ranging as far north as Farmington, to way down south in Las Cruces, converged in Albuquerque to share and demonstrate their craft of winemaking for everyone to enjoy. The festival gifted guests with a Viva Vino! wine glass to be used to sample the many wines offered. In addition to free samples, winemakers offered special discounts on bottles and cases of their craft wines. Soft reds and tannic whites arrived at the festival in cases by the hundreds. This year, the festival estimates over 4,224 gallons of wine were passed from bottle to glass.
While the patrons of the wine fest might argue that anyone would be hard pressed to find a happier group than their colorful, sundressed selves, the event means a lot more to the winemakers. New Mexico Wine & Grape Growers Association came together to celebrate our deep history of wine in New Mexico with the people of Albuquerque. The organization was founded in 1991, but the wine arrived much sooner. The first seeds were planted in the Rio Grande Valley in 1629 by Catholic monks who had to smuggle vines out of Spain. Ever since viticulture has been one of the oldest and deepest roots in the culture of New Mexico.
Ranging in multiple locations, wine made in New Mexico stems from not only those who have an art for the beverage but those who enjoy the broad environments. The refreshing white wines are harvested in the soil, neighboring the Navajo Dam. The sweet red wines are raised in an area tucked away by the San Juan River. Despite their differences, they all prosper under the same southwest sky. The flavors brought to the festival are exclusive to New Mexico. Due to a variety of microclimate locations, the winemakers in New Mexico are allowed to grow and store the wine using techniques that are only practiced in those particular environments.
So if you missed the wine train in May don’t worry the NM Wine Festival is preparing to come to Balloon Fiesta Park Labor Day weekend from August 31 to September 2.