Unless you live in Placitas, New Mexico, you are a tourist when you go there. Placitas, a bit north of Albuquerque, is a Spanish land-grant village started around 1765, though the Anasazi were farming its lava-based fields at least 800 years ago and probably before that. Today it is quaint mix of multi-million-dollar homes and curious hippie-era structures both of which are surrounded by orchards and some of which shelter a few vineyards.
Yes, vineyards in the high desert. But don’t think Napa or even Creek Bend in Monroe County, Indiana. These vines trail around Jim Fish’s eclectic home and art studio and provide grapes for the fruit that makes Anasazi Fields Winery unique. Of course there’s something unique about every winery, but this winery’s uniqueness is really unique.
As Assistant Manager Gerard Rollins puts it, ” we make dry non-grape wines.” He would have been content to let things stand there as he pulled out bottle after bottle for us to sample. But after having tasted some two dozen non-grape sweet wines at the Indiana Wine Fair a week or so ago, I was not going to let that explanation stand. I was quite accustomed to peach and apple and cherry and plum and apricot and raspberry wines being unctuous and beautiful with ice cream and rich desserts, and I had even dissed my English friends’ contention that if it isn’t made from grapes, it’s not wine.
But stone fruit and berries, cherries and apples making dry wines? Clear brandies in the Rhine Valley, yes, but dry wines? At Azanasi Fields they even ferment wild cherries (choke cherries back in Indiana) into wine. Gerard poured a couple of their best sellers: A New Mexico Blanco Seco, a blend of Chardonnay and Apricot, and a New Mexico Rojo Seco, a blend of Syrah from their own grapes and Wild Cherry. He stressed that the Chardonnay was harvested in 2009, the Apricots in 2002, the Wild Cherry in 2008. “These wines have extra-ordinary longetivity,” he said, and proved it a few minutes later with a pouring of some “library” wines, including a 2000 Apple Wine and a 1996 Lilith Peach Wine.
Gerard explained that all their wines are produced by slow, cool “sugar-starved fermentation of the whole fruit.” It can take months to separate the wine from the fruit after which it is then aged in oak. There is no doubting the age. Colors are deep, chocolaty and/or rusty, the flavor suggestive of Sherry and Madeira, the finish lingering. As we talked, a young couple asked for a taste of American Cranberry Wine, which caused Gerard to admit they do not grow cranberries in their orchards. “We get them from Ocean Spray.”
He wasn’t surprised that this was my first experience with dry non-grape or fruit wines. “We are unique,” he said, “but when Jim started the winery in 1995, he did it so that all this good fruit wouldn’t go to waste.” When we left, he was explaining to some other visitors how they add fresh whole fruit to fermenting wine to assure continuing contact with pips and skins. “It helps the wines to age,” he told them.
I felt I had completed my devotion to National Wine Tourism Day.