Working at New Mexico Tractor Sales in Valencia County has taught me about the dedication of farmers, but the added challenges of a drought and a pandemic at the same time have shown me that the tenacity of farmers is unparalleled.
The heartbeat of the Rio Grande pumps with the flow of water and is governed by the seasons. Every drop is counted and in a year with a drought, water may be the only worry. This growing season has faced distinct challenges and I’ve learned that there is a rich agricultural history in serious jeopardy. New Mexico is known for chile, but what I didn’t know is that we have another crop that predates our statehood and has been carefully stewarded for centuries.
When I thought about wine grapes, I always thought about California or Italy. It turns out, however, that the oldest vineyards in the United States are right here in New Mexico. Growing grapes is a centuries-old tradition here. It is something that Spanish monks brought with them and has now been part of New Mexican heritage for nearly 400 years.
Paolo D’Andrea is a fourth-generation Italian winemaker and grape grower. Paolo’s son, Marco, has just graduated from the University of Udine in Friuli, which houses one of the premier wine-making schools in the world.
For Paolo and his family, growing grapes and making wine is a way of life. Some of the vines they tend are over 30 years old. Their family winery, Luna Rossa, is located in Deming, New Mexico, and creates wines that don’t just win awards here, but everywhere. Paolo also manages 150 acres of vineyards for a Swiss company, called New Mexico Vineyards. The grapes grown on that land supply over 30 wineries here in our state, but the vines don’t just produce grapes, they are part of the agricultural history of this valley stretching back thousands of years.
Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed on businesses, those vines are in danger. Paolo doesn’t own them, he simply stewards them. The Swiss company can go anywhere in the world and if wineries don’t have money to buy grapes this year, they may sell.
Wineries have been hit hard and vineyards don’t qualify for the same protections as other food producers who are also struggling. If the company sells the land, the vines will be tilled under. A heritage will be lost and will leave the winemakers of New Mexico without the grapes that are the integral part of what is – start to finish – a New Mexican product.
To add insult to injury, wineries in New Mexico were unfairly singled out during the reopening process. We are the only state that made a distinction between wineries and breweries. The New Mexico Wine Association and its members reached out to elected officials with little to no response other than being told by the Governor’s Office that excluding wineries in the phase of opening that included breweries was not a mistake. Now, they are allowed to be open, but still need help. The jobs created by the wine industry have already been decimated. Luna County, where Paolo’s winery employs 20 people full time, has been one of the hardest hit counties in New Mexico with regard to unemployment.
For New Mexico, winemaking is an industry where we get to take pride in every part of the process as happening right here. From beginning to end, bottles of New Mexico wine are a product of this amazing land and the faithful people who tend it. Our vineyards are some of the oldest and our wines perform well nationally and internationally. If anything embodies the spirit of “New Mexico True,” it’s our wine.
Visit NMWine.com to see how to help preserve the history of New Mexico Wine and secure its future by participating in Grape Aid 2020 and buy New Mexico wine!
Cathy Terranova has worked at New Mexico Tractor Sales for two years, and works with agricultural clients including in the wine industry. The executive’s desk is a guest column providing advice or information about resources available to the business community in New Mexico.