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Tasting rooms, taprooms OK’d for Old Town

(Travis Garner/Albuquerque Journal File)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Tourists who descend upon Old Town may soon be able to head home with a bottle of local wine or a growler of New Mexico-made beer.

An ordinance change adopted by the Albuquerque City Council will allow tasting rooms and taprooms in the historic district, something the state’s wine industry is cheering as it looks to grow its national profile.

“We really need to have a destination to invite out-of-state guests to come experience New Mexico wine, and we believe that Old Town provides that perfect gateway,” New Mexico Wine Executive Director Christopher Goblet told the City Council Wednesday night.

Existing rules for the historic district allow tasting rooms and taprooms only as accessories to restaurants. But the ordinance update – passed by the council 8-1 and now headed to Mayor Tim Keller’s desk – would allow such establishments even when they are not tethered to an eatery.

That means licensed New Mexico breweries, wineries and distilleries can set up shop in Old Town, selling their local products by the glass or packaged for off-site consumption.

“Taprooms, and especially wineries, are a very different demographic and different kind of crowd; they’re very mellow,” Councilor Don Harris said. “I think this will just fit in well and really be good for Old Town, and draw the kind of people there that we’d like to see.”

Only Councilor Cynthia Borrego voted against the changes after saying she had a letter from a property owner who opposed them, though she did not divulge who wrote it.

“I’m just a little confused, I guess,” she said. “It seems that there’s support, but then there seems to be some nonsupport.”

The update to the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance sponsored by Councilor Isaac Benton also relaxed some restrictions for business signage in Old Town. It permits each establishment to have three signs instead of two – and possibly more, depending on the type of business and location.

Benton said a task force of Old Town stakeholders provided input for the update and that the tweaks are meant to help the district thrive without sacrificing its historic character.

“We just thought (taprooms and tasting rooms) would bring a little bit of business to Old Town, a little bit of vitality,” Benton said in an interview. “It’s certainly not the kind of thing to create a Saturday night ruckus or anything like that.”

Old Town restaurateur Marie Coleman said she liked the idea.

“I’m excited about it,” the Church Street Cafe owner told the council. “I think it’s something Old Town needs to have, something that would be different to offer our tourists and our guests.”

Goblet said in an interview that tasting rooms represent a historic and “symbiotic” use in the district, and that three wineries have already shown interest in setting up there.

“We think our wineries will play nice with the art galleries and tourist shops that are already there,” he said.

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