New Mexico was an astonishing place to visit… no amount of adjectives or Canon photographs is able to do it justice. What I observed from the plane, when I wasn’t nauseous from the bumpy descent, were vast plateaus, everywhere in the state, and virgin earth, untouched and unkempt—raw beauty. I found it surprising that a state like this could be inviting to a French vigneron who decided to lay it all down in the Land of Enchantment. On the second day of our visit to Albuquerque we were much closer to knowing some of the secrets behind the vision of the Gruet Winery.

We had it planned out fairly well.  The four of us would drive three hours southeast, not too far from our host’s home, heading into barren land, planted in vineyards. Just nature and us. Plans are fluid and fickle for travelers though, and I was called after touching down on Friday and informed that not many, if any at all, were permitted to see the actual vineyards, this by a spokesperson from the winery. Jaded from visiting too many well-manicured tasting rooms across California, I was disappointed that we flew to New Mexico to see a tasting room. I bit my lip, and accepted our emended itinerary. I relayed the plans to my group and we crossed our fingers for an insightful and illuminating tour of the winery.

Less than a ten-minute drive from our friend’s dwelling, we arrived at the winery, the inner-workings responsible for producing some of the finest sparklers within the United States.  Four in line, we spilled out of the car and filed into the tasting bar, a few minutes before the appointment. Greeted immediately, we let them know who we were—otherwise we had that look of four dudes ready to imbibe all the samples provided.

A young lady came out of the office, introducing herself as Lori Anne. She would be our guide, gauging our interest in the recommended activities she had planned (strictly tasting or touring the facility). We chose the latter and were escorted outside. We began our tour by a small row of vines that were planted in front of the winery and used as a barometer of ripeness for harvest. As we rounded the corner making our way to the loading dock, to our surprise, they were already knee-deep in juice, in the middle of a crush, and expecting more wine any minute.

We pushed inside spying the gyropalette cocked at different angles in the background, riddling off the lees (dead yeast cells) from previous vintages. In our foreground we watched the free running juice be collected after its press into large steel tanks. Continuing the tour through the bottling line, we walked through the finished cases that I was accustomed to seeing arrive on our wine shop’s loading dock back in LA.

Finishing the circuit, we had a glimpse into the history of Gruet, framed photographs tracing the line back to Gilbert Gruet and his family. Between, cousins, nephews, daughters and sons—it was a near total family affair.

The four of us sidled up to the bar and were poured through the reserve flight; those sparkling wines that had been aged on the lees, adding complexity and character. Both 2007’s, Blanc and Rosé, were nuanced but fresh, combining slight nutty flavors with bright fruit.

While we were poured the 2003 Gruet Grande Reserve, Lori Anne imparted to us a rendition of how the family had arrived in New Mexico (found here) and where Laurent—current winemaker—oversaw the family winery moving into a more determined future. The Grande Reserve was a tribute to the patriarch of the family, emanating complex aromas and flavors of golden apple, lemon zest, toasted brioche and hazelnut. The mouth feel was broad, refined and yet focused with long lasting flavors that resonated long after I swallowed the final sip—a busman’s holiday for tasting since spitting would be in order for a longer tasting. We concluded by tasting the still wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah), though I wasn’t quick to move on from the attractively priced tête de cuvée, the Grande Reserve. The Syrah was an interesting trajectory on the future state of the winery.

The vision and chutzpah to start a sparkling wine house in New Mexico twenty-five years ago, let alone a successful one, is not lost on the visitor. A privileged look at the controlled madness of harvest, was enough to keep me from kvetching, and so I nearly forgot about the planned visit to the deliberately stressed out vines in the southern reaches of the state. We thanked our host and the winery for their hospitality. The visit had gone better than expected, cementing my admiration for truly great domestic sparkling wine in a state becoming more enchanting all the time.