Reaching new heights

La Chiripada Winery & Vineyard recently won gold for its Cabernet Reserve and silver for its Vintners Reserve red blend at the 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition. (Courtesy of La Chiripada Winery &Amp; Vineyard)

New Mexico’s oldest winery continues to stay current with new wines and new accolades.

La Chiripada Winery & Vineyard was awarded gold for its Cabernet Reserve and silver for its Vintners Reserve red blend at the 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition in November. The winery participated in the competition for the first time in 2018 and won a silver medal for its port.

“Our cabernet, it’s always been one of our more popular wines,” said Nathan Johnson, La Chiripada’s primary winemaker. “We age it in oak for two years. This year, we did something different. We blended a little bit of our other premium grapes. We blended 10% tempranillo and 10% petit sirah just to give it an extra boost in the structure and complexity, and we built in a little more fruit quality as well.”

La Chiripada’s Vintners Reserve red blend has a nice “sensual spice” on the nose with dark cherries and a toasted oak finish. The wine is aged for 24 months in American and Hungarian oak. Johnson suggests pairing it with a New Mexico staple food, carne adovada.

“The Vintners (Reserve red blend), that’s our own blend, and we tend to switch it up every year,” he said. “This year, we did a bit of an experimentation experimenting with multiple wines to get the best blend that we could. What we came out with in the end is it’s 50% ruby cabernet, 40% tempranillo and 10% sangiovese. So sangiovese, it just brightens it up. It lightens up those two bigger reds and brings a nice balance in there.”

Over the years, the winery has won awards at other international competitions, including the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. Its biggest year at the competition was 2013 when it won Double Gold for its Viognier, gold for its Cabernet Reserve 2013, its Petite Sirah 2012 and its New Mexico Port 2013.

Johnson has been experimenting with a couple of wines that he will be releasing again because of to their popularity. They are the winery’s dry riesling and its Rosé del Bosque, a dry rosé. He also has plans to create a new wine in 2020.

“The dry riesling is a lively wine that dances on the tongue and finishes brightly on the top of the palate,” Johnson said. “Delicate pineapple teases the senses while it shows true riesling character. We recommend to pair with Thai food. Our Rosé del Bosque has hints of strawberry, wild herbs, fig and sweet orange. This rosé is lively on the palate with bold acidity and a lingering finish. It pairs well with Asian food.”

La Chiripada wines are made with 100% New Mexico grapes. The winery grows about 40% of its grapes and gets the remaining 60% from New Mexico Vineyards, the largest vineyard in New Mexico.

“What’s cool is we’ve got such a great climate for growing grapes here,” Johnson said. “We’ve got these extremes. We’ve got really cold winters and really hot summers, and you end up having these vines that have to work really hard, so they either have to dig really deep into the soil to get water, and digging so deep through that, they end up picking more minerality and having more complexities in the fruit itself, and we have our vineyard here in Dixon, which is at 6,000 feet, so that’s pretty exciting that we can grow grapes at this high altitude, let alone high-quality grapes. We are limited to what we can grow here, but we have experimented, and we’ve found a selection of French hybrids that do well here.”

Before Johnson took over winemaking duties at La Chiripada, the wines were created by his father, Patrick Johnson, and uncle, Michael Johnson, who founded the winery in 1977. Nathan Johnson and his wife, Kerryn, picked up and left their careers in New Zealand where Johnson had been living for 15 years to take over the winery in 2018. Patrick Johnson suffered a massive heart attack, and Michael Johnson’s health also was declining. Nathan Johnson picked up the torch and is the winery’s primary winemaker, with his father and uncle continuing to provide guidance.

“It’s been nice to be able to relieve the stress for them and help transition into running the winery between my wife and I,” Nathan Johnson said. “It was something that had to be done. Otherwise, we don’t know what would have happened to the business.”

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