Tuesday, March 07, 2006

La Vina Vineyards

So last post, I interviewed Victor Poulos from Zin Valle, and he mentioned "a guy he trusted who's been in the wine business" that told him to start small. That guy is just down the street from Poulos, who insisted I go talk to him. I wasn't sure I'd catch him on spur of the moment, but I did.

Ken Stark's La Vina Winery is an impressive spread, designed to host festivals, weddings and the like. Two of these---a Jazz and Blues festival in April, and a Grape Stomp in October, draw 6,000-8,000 people each. The winery produces about 3500 cases annually. Most of the vino he sells waters these events, while a bit of it sells at local liquor stores. The list of varietals reads like a Baskin Robbins menu: Chard, Dolcetto, Reisling, Semillon, Cabernet, Cinsault, Petite Sirah and Mocha Java. He sells surplus fruit to other vineyards.

Did I mention this place was big? Huge. The back grounds are a wide open area flanked by the crush pad and a long set of bars for serving lots o' folks at once. The front building appears to be adobe, but is actually a steel structure with a coating. Mr. Stark designed the building and it's rustic ironwork himself.

Interview, Ken Stark

C&D: How long has La Vina been here?

Stark: It was founded in 1977, the oldest continually operated winery in New Mexico. We bought it in '93. I came here in '92 to be winemaker for this winery...at that time, there was a doctor in El Paso that owned a larger winery...he owned both wineries, and so I came here to be the winemaker for both. The next year, he decided to get out of the wine business. So a lot of rich guys get into the wine business for two reasons: tax and ego. The tax didn't work out for him as well for him, so.

What made you decide, I'm gonna buy this winery and do this thing myself?
I'd been working for a winery since 1988, started at Anderson Valley Vineyards in Albuquerque as assistant winemaker. They lost their winemaker and I ended up being the new winemaker. My background was in ad production, my hobby was wine. So the guy offered me a job down here...made me an offer I couldn't refuse. And when he left, it was kinda natural to buy the smaller winery.

Happy Winery

How much acreage do you have, and what do you grow?
The farm's about 45 acres, with 24 in production and 23 varieties. We're the only estate bottled winery in Texas and New Mexico, so everything we make is from our own vineyard. To me, that's important. Our climate here is about a half degree warmer, in general, than Paso Robles, so we really feel like the quality of grapes should be about the same. There's always a learning curve...it's hard to find the expertise here that you'd find in California, but great wines are made in the vineyard...and with the vineyard being young, we think that the quality will get where we need it to be in the next year or two.

What did you do before you had anything at all to do with winemaking?
I was in farming and ranching. My hobbies were wine, and gourmet cooking.

What was your vision of the style of wine you wanted to make?

I like, almost like an Italian style. I like a lot of time in barrel. I like a little more acid. I like...to macerate wines fairly long.

Stark has collected equipment over the years from other wineries.

Do you have plans to expand production?
Our goal in having a vineyard is to ensure our supply, primarily. Full production at a reasonable rate. We could probably crank out 12-14 tons per acre. But to make a quality wine...it's difficult to do that at more than 4 tons per acre.

What does the word 'terroir' mean to you?
I think a lot of people use it to their advantage. I think there is terroir. When you taste a wine from a limestone soil or a chalky soil, you're gonna notice these flavors in the grapes. But if you've got twenty guys in a river valley like we've got here, on really rich soils, I don't think it matters a hell of a lot, as long as it's alluvial. It matters more what the weather is, the temperatures. I do think terroir is real...but it's only noticeable (in certain places). People like to talk about terroir because they can...borrow all that panache but the truth is, that probably only half the places that grow grapes can trace those flavors to the soil instead of the weather.


Ken led me on a tour of the grounds, after which I sampled four of his wines. My favorites were the 2003 Viognier, semi-dry with a full nose; the Dolcetto, smoky cherry with solid tannins; and the Oro Loco blend, which had surprisingly rich aromatics and a solid finish.

Whew. Off to Deming, New Mexico next. I'm hoping to catch Paulo D'Andra of Luna Rossa at his vineyards.



Anonymous Marcella said...

Hey Taj-
Sounds like you are having fun. I sure hope you are. Listen, don't know if you were planning to come through Colorado on your WWT, but there are some great Colorado wineries out on the western slope.
I like Plum Creek Cellars (scream Sangiovese!!) and Carlson Vinyards makes some great fruit wines. (Their cherry wine is excellent with smoked salmon!!!!)Turns out there is wine in Boulder, too. See Augustina's Winery for "Winechick Red" among others...
Check out these links and see if you can swing home via the western slope to check them out.



8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carlson Vinyards in Palisades has a Cherry/Chocolate formula that should be on a controlled substance list. You coat the lip of a glass in soft dark chocolate and then fill the glass with their cherry wine. Giving it to women is like giving crack to cokeheads. The addiction is instantaneous.

9:31 AM  

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