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Expanding ‘liquid tourism’

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Whenever he travels and tells people he makes wine in New Mexico, Jasper Riddle always gets the same response.

“Oh, Santa Fe?”

It’s somewhere everyone knows, he said. But like most of the state’s wine growers, he has been producing and selling wine in small mountain towns, not the state’s bigger cities.

But his answer can soon change. His winery, Noisy Water, currently making a name for itself in tourist towns down south, was approved earlier this month to open its first northern New Mexico tasting room in Santa Fe.

Noisy Water began out of Ruidoso in 2010, and has since expanded to several tasting rooms and one taproom pouring local beers there and in Cloudcroft. It also added an Alto production facility in 2016, which includes a 6,000-square-foot barn for weddings and other major events. The company produces 20,000 cases of wine, or nearly 250,000 bottles, annually.

The Santa Fe tasting room will be at 219 W. San Francisco St., a short walk from the Plaza and a few doors down from the Lensic Performing Arts Center. According to Riddle, the location will offer guests a chance to sit and buy wine by the glass, taste four different wines for $10 or purchase cases to take with them.

The company hopes to open its doors by Dec. 1.

“We want Santa Fe to shape what our identity is going to be,” Riddle said of the new space, saying the business model can change as Noisy Water sees what kind of space the city wants.

“As much as our model is a tasting room … if the folks in Santa Fe want to hang out, enjoy our space and use it as a wine bar, we’re not opposed to that.”

Monique Randall, a general manager for Noisy Water Winery, stocks shelves at the winery’s new Santa Fe taproom. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The business – whatever you want to call it – will operate seven days a week, opening at 10 a.m., with closing times to be determined. If the Lensic has a late show or if there’s a large event downtown, Noisy Water won’t shut its doors.

“Our philosophy in Ruidoso is keep our doors open as long as people are here moving around,” he said. “As long as there’s traffic, we’ll want to be open.”

Riddle, who grew up in Ruidoso and bought Noisy Waters’ controlling share from his parents at age 24 after working for NBC Sports and coaching college football, said Santa Fe was a natural fit for the company trying to expand its platform.

Inside the 1,500-square-foot space, which he said could comfortably fit about 50 to 60 people, the look is what Riddle calls “modern meets old school.” Wine barrels make up part of the wooden tasting bar’s base and other accents make it seem like it’s still in a mountain town. “People coming to New Mexico want to see this,” he said. “People want to come to the Old West, and see the piece of the Old West.”

Noisy Water Winery’s offerings range from classic to fanciful. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Of the 40 to 50 wines the company produces each year, about 20 to 30 will be available in Santa Fe at any given time, with about a dozen mainstays and the rest rotating. Noisy Water’s wines, which range from $17 to $80 a bottle, intentionally run a wide spectrum, according to Riddle. On one end are more fun offerings meant to eliminate wine tasting’s intimidating stigma or attract out-of-towners looking to bring home a unique bottle. The other is reserve wines for a more experienced palette.

The winery creates bottles like “Tighty Whitey White” pinot grigio with hints of honey and peach, and a red chile and chocolate wine, while also offering award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots.

“We can hit both groups,” he said.

Outside of wine, the location also will sell artisan craft cheese, including New Mexico-made blocks infused with green chile and ghost pepper, as well as olive oils, vinegars and salsas, to provide what Riddle called complementary “experience-based” offerings.

The ability to pander both to the tourist wanting to buy the souvenir chile wine and the seasoned taster makes Noisy Water a good fit for Santa Fe, said Christopher Goblet, director of the New Mexico Wine, the state’s winegrower’s association.

Goblet said Noisy Water is making one of the first forays into what has helped push the state’s once “niche” craft brewery industry into the mainstream: bringing it out of rural areas where it’s made and into the urban hotspots. He expects to see this model grow over time with the many winemakers who operate far from big cities.

“There’s nothing that replaces that experience among the vines … but to reach the mass market, we need to bring the wine to the people,” said Goblet.

Riddle agreed, saying the Santa Fe tasting room is a chance to show smaller businesses not yet ready to expand how this model can work. Not to mention, it puts Noisy Water in a place to help better establish a culture of what Riddle calls “liquid tourism” across the city and state.

“I’d love to see in 10 years that you have 30 taprooms, 10 wineries and (Santa Fe) has this vibrant taste, feel experience coming out of your Plaza,” he said.

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