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I knew it would be good, but just how good, that was the three hundred dollar question. Would my experience at Bobcat Bite justify the steep airfare and surpass my sky-high expectations of a great hamburger? On the final leg of our journey, the three of us, separate from our host, took a pilgrimage north to Santa Fe for some burger soul-searching before heading home.

We had done a lot more than I expected to in New Mexico; we ate well and participated in everything, save for hot air ballooning, under the auspices of our local resident Bryan. On Sunday, our final day in the Southwest, we got an early start on our itinerary, hiking before the sun would overwhelm the trails. Ascending unawares to deceptively higher altitudes, the height had caused our breathing to be more strained. Increasingly affected as we pushed harder to the top, in thirty-nine minutes we had completed our course, good pace afoot, and were officially ready for breakfast.

Stopping at Weck’s on the return drive, a Southwest diner that specializes in breakfast and lunch options, with hefty portions and the green chile touch, we ate our fill. Passing mounds of potatoes (Papas) under broken yolks at adjacent four-tops, as we were lead to our table. We had arrived at a unanimous decision by the time we found our seats: Papas, for four, with slight derivations on the staple breakfast plate between us. I went with carnitas over-easy with a blend of red and green chilies—Christmas–, while others went for different options like Carne Adovada, Sloppy and Pollo. The mounds of potatoes arrived before us, feasts for our eyes, but I could hear our logical bellies collectively gasp—too much. The meat smothered hash browns were excellent but definitely too heavy for me. I walked away after finishing three quarters of the plate, having to part with the unfinished Papas for fear of going comatose and not leaving a sliver of room in my belly for the early dinner in Santa Fe.

Uncomfortably full from one of the biggest breakfasts I had ever eaten, we sluggishly readied ourselves for our departure. We bid our host adieu and thanked him wholeheartedly for the surprisingly eventful weekend, taking our rented wheels for a spin north on I 25 heading for Santa Fe. In a little over an hour we were being funneled through the downtown at 1:15 PM, touring the city without leaving the car, minding our 5:40 PM return flight back at ABQ. Clock management.

Two hours elapsed before pulling into the parking lot of Bobcat Bite, even though we thought we would never have to eat again. The hairs lifted between my pate and phalanges in sheer excitement. It had been a long time coming. I first heard of the place in 2004, on Hamburger America—a documentary showcasing a few stellar burger locations across the states. The owners looked humble and inviting, and their inimitable Green Chile Cheeseburger shone onscreen. Eight years later, I would have my first chance to sight and validate one of the unicorns of burgers that I had been chasing in my burger quest for almost an entire decade.

Under the midday monsoon we entered Bobcat Bite at about 3:15 PM–uncomfortably closer to our departure–, chalking our name (Goldy, party of Three) behind two sizeable groups (six and seven-people parties) ahead of us on the board. We waited patiently, while one of our own grew squeamish due to calculations of drive time back down to the airport. The time passed quickly, twenty-five minutes in and only the first group had been seated. We were still waiting for the seven-top to be accommodated. Growing restless, our friend’s legitimate panic was starting to carry-over. The unfortunate thought that we might have to forego the burger (MY PURPOSE FOR VACATIONING IN NEW MEXICO!!!!) was fast becoming a dismal reality. We held out, and just as soon as the sun re-entered the Santa Fe sky, setting for the seven-top was called, followed by “Goldy.” Our iPhones showed 3:55 PM and the next priority was getting our ticket fired before the seven-top. We knew what we wanted before we were seated. No dawdling! We tried to place it as we sat but that wasn’t possible according to our waitress. With urgency, we waited for her return. In what seemed like an eternity (about a minute) she found us with pen and paper and had our order in—success! While the group of seven behind us was figuring out appetizers, we had snuck in our order.

A sense of relief came over two of us, but the realist at the table knew we weren’t out of the woods. He was almost too frustrated to eat but the picture of those three open-faced cheeseburgers was enough to bring a tear to one’s eye. Between Canon and Instagram, we had documented our glorious sandwiches and were ready to eat in a hurry.

Served with potato chips, the hulking patty was the focus of this burger. The green chile and cheese were in proportion while the tomato and lettuce were off to the side. We piled high and dug into that fresh-ground 10oz. patty of sirloin and chuck. It was the three hundred dollar bite. The meat was seasoned and prepared flawlessly. They were masters of their craft. With excellent texture in the mouth the burger was divine. Each bite was better than before and the three of us looked at each other knowing full well, that this was the best burger we had ever eaten. Wolfing it down, we cashed out and ran out of the restaurant to the car at 4:17 PM.

Cutting it close, we tested our Nissan Sentra’s limits, pushing a hundred to cut some time off our hour plus drive down south to the rental car return. We meditated on the burgers to keep ourselves sane trying desperately not to look at the in-dash clock.

With five minutes before take-off to spare, we had made the gate, in a terrible rush… that was totally worth it! Jeremy, our justified worrywart, was finally relieved, while Brandon and I were comfortable with the possibility of missing the flight because we were still awestruck by our Green Chile cheeseburgers. It is a lot to pay for a hamburger, if you only count the airfare against this one experience and not all the rest of the great things we had done in New Mexico, but from the first bite, I was happy to have made the excursion to Santa Fe and eat the best burger of my life.

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.

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