Thursday, March 09, 2006

Luna Rossa Winery: Nebbiolo in New Mexico

I must now back up from Arizona, where I am now, and cover one last New Mexico stop I waited to post until I got my Wine Blogging Wednesday post in on a Rhone producer.

So the story begins: an adventurous Northern Italian son decides to leave the family wine business and pursue the glorious promise of a rich future in...Deming, New Mexico.

Er, that's an odd choice, you might think. Nothing against New Mexico, but we're talking Friuli here, one of the lovliest grape producing areas in Italy. But somehow, Paulo D'Andra has managed to become one of the most important growers in the Land of Enchantment. He and his wife own a tasting room and fourteen acres of vines, and in addition, he is the manager of New Mexico Vineyards, Inc., a three-hundred acre spread which sources fruit to 14 other vineyards in New Mexico and Texas. They've sold about 3500 cases out of their own winery, a lot of which supplies several wine festivals in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. He also sells rootstock and consults for newbie growers of both wine and table grapes.

There are, as you might guess, a laundry list of varietals, being a big production sourcer. Your Chard, your Cab, your Shiraz, your Refosco, your Nebbiolo, your Sauzao...

Whoa-whoa-whoa, hold up: Refosco? Nebbiolo?!? WTF?

You're an Italian in New Mexico. How did that happen?

I moved to this area about twenty years ago. I was hired by a Swiss corporation to come here and teach the Mexican labor how to prune the vines. It was something new for this area at that time, so I came with eight friends to teach the labor...the contract was only just to stay for a month and a half, but it's already been twenty years. My family, we have been in the wine business for four generations now, just north of Venice. I was fresh from college, and I have two older brothers in the family business, so...I said I want to do something different, so I took the advantage to come here, to have experience in another part of the world. I liked it here, so I decided to stay.

What are the challenges of growing grapes here?

Ah, there are several. It's too dry, there are a lot of differences day to night in temperature...the problem they have in this area, it was the eighties, '82 or '83, this corporation, they start to put vineyards down here, they didn't know exactly what was going on here. They bought a bunch of land because it was cheap, labor was cheap, and they thought everything was like Europe, you buy something cheap and the rest goes by itself. They didn't realize that here not everybody drinks wine, so they had problems with the marketing. They had problems here with the vineyards, too, because, it's not as easy to grow grapes here as in California or my part of Italy. We're on the edge, where you can grow grapes, here.

Brand Spankin' New Tasting Room

You make a lot of your money from sourcing fruit. Who's your primary customer base for your own winery?

You know, this tasting room has only been open for eight months, so it's hard to say...people are traveling on the highway and they see the sign and want to know what the New Mexico wines are like.

I'm learning that small wineries often have to make sweet wines. Besides those, what style of wine do you, personally, like to make?

Of course, being from Italy, I like the Italian style wine, and it looks like they sell pretty good. We have one, we named it 'Nini', a blend of four different Italian varietals, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Sangiovese...

Okay, grow Nebbiolo here?


It grows here?

(Laughs) Yes.

It grows well here?


I thought the Nebbiolo grape was something that only grew well in Piedmont.

Well, I don't know that I can make a Nebbiolo as good as one from Piemonte, but I can grow it, and it does well.

The terroir of New Mexico. And yeah, those are tumbleweeds.

Last question: what does the word terroir mean to you?

Uh, a lot of things (laughs). First, I don't know if you have the terroir here, or not. We'll have to find out. You made a comment a moment ago, said that with the small winery, they're going to check for the sweet wines. It's not too much about the small winery, it's more about what the people like. In the Southwest, for some reason, they like the sweet wines. If you ask me personally, do I like the sweet wines, no. So, it's not much about me personally, what I like. I like dry wines, but I have to make the sweet wines because they pay my bills. Otherwise, it goes out of business. But there are some, like the Malvasia Bianca, that I like.

About terroir...I think that we can produce something here that is unique, especially for the red wines. Part because of the temperatures, part because of the soil, and part because of the good water we have here. The water we have here, that comes up from the ground, is magnificent.
And I think we have the potential to make good, good wines.


Luncheon after the tour. Those are New Mexican chilis rellenos, baby. Drool away.

As if sharing a secret stash, Paulo theived up a couple of samples of his straight Nebbiolo. "It has good flavor," he said, "but the color isn't very good." As it is now, he mostly uses this Nebby to bump up the mix for his Nini cuvee. After tasting it, I told him he should bottle it on it's own. He shrugged. "I might. But I don't know how much I would sell." While it wasn't as intense a wine as Barolos or Nebby blends, it still had those signature aromatics. I thought, for middle-of-the-damn-desert, it was pretty fine stuff.

Among my favorites in the tasting room included the Nini blend, the Gewurtraminer, the sweet Malvasia Bianca, and the Symphony (that wacky UC Davis cross of Muscat and white Grenache).

Much thanks to Paulo and his wife for their hospitality.

I'm still in Arizona, and planning to hit the Sonoita/Elgin winet trails next.


Blogger jerry said...

You know, you could send a bottle of the Nini and one of those Rhone-style smackers from Colibri back here for safe keeping... Both of these wineries sound pretty cool. It must be friggin' beautiful there! Keep on rockin', wine woman!
Oh yeah, how did the business cards turn out?

10:22 PM  
Blogger Rick Dobbs said...

I'm surprised that more vintners aren't chasing after New Mexico, it's such a massive untapped resource with a lot of varied climates.

And no better reason to be in Deming than the Deming Duck Races!

10:17 AM  
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