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Grape expectations: Laurent Gruet brings his winemaking skills to Vara

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Laurent Gruet brings his expertise of winemaking to Vara Winery & Distillery.

His lineage is full of wine aficionados. His father Gilbert Gruet founded G. Gruet et Fils Champagne in Bethon, France in 1957.

Laurent Gruet will focus on sparkling wine production at Vara Winery & Distillery. (Courtesy of Vara Winery & Distillery)

Born in 1965, he was raised as a Champenoise in the family business and spent his childhood working in the vineyards and winery.

“I was making wine at age 16 and came to America to develop my family’s new project in New Mexico in 1986,” Laurent Gruet said. “After my family sold Gruet NM to Precept in 2014, I remained as winemaker until this fall of 2020. So, 34 years in New Mexico to be precise.”

Gruet comes from generations of Méthode Champenoise winemaking. Simply put, Méthode Champenoise, or Método Tradicional in Spanish, is the process of producing sparkling wine where after the primary wine is made and bottled, a secondary fermentation occurs inside the bottle by adding yeast and sugar, then letting the wine age an extended period of time on the lees, also referred to as spent yeast.

“This creates the rich, creamy complexity and those tiny bubbles that we all love,” Gruet explained. “It is a completely natural process for creating this carbonation.”

The move to Vara does not mean he has completely cut ties with Gruet. He remains part of Gruet in Champagne, France, but is enthusiastic about opening a new chapter with Vara.

Gruet is excited about working with Vara winemaking team Bob and Louisa Lindquist, Vara co-founder and president Xavier Zamarripa and longtime friend Doug Diefenthaler who is Vara’s co-founder and executive vice president.

“I am going to have the chance to work with new and exciting grape varietals and with a dynamic team,” Gruet said. “This really is my opportunity to utilize my upbringing and years of experience and set a new course for myself in winemaking. One that unleashes my passion for this craft and places no limits on my expression for making great wines.”

Gruet said he is bringing to Vara his understanding of the nuances and challenges of what winemaking in New Mexico entails. He added he brings his passion and respect for this project and the legacy it represents. Gruet will focus on sparkling wine production at Vara but will take the opportunity to make some limited-production fine table wines as well.

“The most exciting benefit of being a part of Vara is that I have no limitations,” he said. “I am free to continue to grow and create with my esteemed team members.”

For Vara’s sparkling production, Gruet said he will make some wines that include the traditional grape varieties of Spanish cava, which he said is “really exciting” for him.

“Of course, I will continue to insist on creating the best possible outcome, so no limits,” he said. “I will also work with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier from here at home and quite possibly a bit from some other irresistible vineyards around the world.”

The release of Gruet’s creations will not be anytime soon but will be worth the wait.

“All fine winemaking takes time, especially sparkling wine,” he explained. “We will bottle our first sparkling wines in early 2021, they will need at least 18 months ‘en tirage’ (aging in the bottle), which will make an approximate release date of autumn of 2022. The wine will tell us when it’s ready.”

Gruet plans on broadening his horizons by using the tools he learned making wine most of his life.

“I’m not going anywhere but up,” he said. “I’m going to build on my life’s work and please myself making the most inspirational wines I can – consistently. I am looking forward to sharing my new journey with everyone, from my oldest friends to my newest, please visit me at my new home at Vara.”

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