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Winery opens its first tasting room in the N. Valley

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Like grapes on a vine, the local wine scene in Albuquerque is slowly ripening.

The newest addition to a growing lineup of venues is Vara Wines, which opened its first tasting room this week at 315 Alameda NE. The retail space will sell the liquid assets made by the New Mexico-based wine purveyor and will have a tasting bar for samples a couple of days a week or by appointment. Shoppers can order wines by the glass, too, sign up for its wine club or book the facility for private events, according to business partners Doug Diefenthaler and Xavier Zamarripa.

For now, Vara’s wines are sourced from Spain and California, including red, white and sparkling vintages.

Also operating tasting rooms in the metro area are Gruet Winery, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, Milagro Vineyards in Corrales and Casa RondeƱa Winery in Los Ranchos.

“We get to harvest a certain amount of tonnage” from four California Central Coast vineyards as well as the Alt Pendes district of Spain, explained Diefenthaler, pouring a glass of bubbly, also known as Cava Metodo Tradicional, for a guest at the tasting room’s grand opening Thursday.

Eventually, Vara is looking to grow its own grapes and bottle its own vintages in Albuquerque at a permanent winery and distillery. The business will also include a bed and breakfast, welcome center, tasting room and vineyard in the North Valley, said Diefenthaler. The enterprise, which will be built on 11 acres on Fourth Street near Sandia Lakes, is about 18 months from opening, he said.

The owners are in talks with several local architectural firms and still working on financing for what they say will be $15 million in construction costs.

Meanwhile, the leased 6,000-square-foot tasting room and production area just west of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Park is Vara’s window on the world. Its wines are also on the shelves of specialty wine stores and on the menus of fine-dining restaurants in New Mexico.

“This opening marks a milestone for us because we’ve been in the New Mexico market for a few years, but we now have a location where people can come out Friday through Sunday and really experience the wines and learn about Vara,” said Zamarripa.

What they’ll learn is that Vara vintages aced three silver medals for their Tinto Especial, Garnacha Rosado and their Silverhead Brut Cava during the 37th annual San Francisco International Wine Competition.

The first vines were smuggled into New Mexico by Franciscan monks in 1629, a heritage Vara hopes to continue as an “artisanal producer of small batch wines” at its future six-acre vineyard said Diefenthaler. Plans also include producing a Spanish-style brandy as well as other liquors and liqueurs.