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At ABQ festival, ‘Wine is this fun, cool thing’

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Kayla Stabley, left, carries a red umbrella, while waiting in a line to sample wines at the Albuquerque Wine Festival on Saturday, along with Carol Bouloy, front right, and Renata Fecteau, center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wine has a reputation for being high society’s exclusive drink of choice.

New Mexico, on the other hand, is rugged and earthy, a place where a button-up shirt and bolo tie count as formal.

The two are meeting head-on at this weekend’s 18th annual Albuquerque Wine Festival, which features wines grown with New Mexico grapes.

For many of New Mexico’s winegrowers, the goal has been to tone down the stuffiness often associated with the drink.

“The breweries have done a really good job of making it fun,” said Sean Sheehan, owner of Albuquerque-based Sheehan Winery. “A lot of people are intimidated by wine.”

Leanne Lauzonis, center, chats with her daughter Savannah Lauzonis, and a group of friends at the Albuquerque Wine Festival at Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque on Saturday. Leanne was celebrating her birthday with family and friends at the festival. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Sheehan said, to change that perception, he tries to use relatable language in speaking with tasters and potential customers. “I want everyone to think that wine is this fun, cool thing,” Sheehan said.

Perhaps no winery there has taken that idea more to heart than Ponderosa Valley Winery, which sells wines nicknamed, “Hot Tub Wine,” a white blend, and “Get Lucky Tonight,” a late harvest Riesling popular with the ladies.

Cary Staeden, brother of Ponderosa Valley’s owner Mary Street, wore a blue, tie-dyed shirt as he explained that, in the winery’s nearly three decades in business, it has always taken a casual approach.

“If you’re going to have a boutique winery, you’ve got to relate to the people,” he said.

Southwest Wines, which owns and makes a variety of wines, chose to bring three of its brands to the festival, hoping to snag everyone, from the connoisseur to the casual wine drinker.

A group of friends, including Jon McNulty, left, and Ryan Ramirez, right, raise their wine glasses in a toast during the Albuquerque Wine Festival on Saturday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

D.H. Lescombes represented its “top tier” wines, supplier representative Josh King said, while its Soleil Mimosa offered a tasty, sugary treat.

“For us, we’re all about putting New Mexico on the map,” King said. “It’s the oldest wine-growing region in the United States; we were here 100 years before California.”

For Jeff and Pam Zide of Rio Rancho, who brought a small wagon along to carry their many purchases, the festival was all about what tastes good.

“It has nothing to do with the price,” he said. “If we like it, we buy it.”

What the Zides liked on Saturday included Noisy Water Winery’s “Jo Mamma Very Berry Good,” a sweet red, and “Jo Mamma’s White,” a table wine.

“This is a good way to get to know your local vineyards,” Pam Zide said.

The Albuquerque Wine Festival runs through Monday.

Servers, including Omar Gonzales, right, and Erica Doolittle, second from right, fill wine glasses at Ponderosa Valley Winery’s tent during the Albuquerque Wine Festival on Saturday. Organizer Dean Strober said he expected from 11,000 to 13,000 people to attend the three-day event. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

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