Did you know? New Mexico is the nation’s oldest wine-producing region

Thursday (May 25, 2023) is National Wine Day, and wine enthusiasts in New Mexico will be pleased to learn of the Land of Enchantment’s rich viticulture history. The state is the oldest wine-producing region in the United States.

After previous ventures to grow wine in the 1500s and 1600s in places such as Florida and Virginia proved unfruitful, Spanish settlers in New Mexico discovered that the American southwest was an ideal place to grow wine grapes.

According to Casa Rodeña Winery in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, “The first wine making in New Mexico stemmed from the need for sacramental wine in New Spain. As the Spanish Crown edict prohibited wine making here, the requisite transport of wine from Spain brought it across the ocean from Cadiz, via Verazcruz, then overland to Mexico City and finally along the Jornada del Muerte to Santa Fe.”

“Franciscan monks smuggled Monica grape vines into New Spain and searched up and down the Rio Grande River Valley for a place that would replicate the terroir (climate, altitude, soil, mineral content) and climate of central Spain. They decided on the unique terroir of the middle Rio Grande River Valley as the ideal locale to establish the first vineyards at a small mission called Senecu, south of present day Socorro. Frey Marcos de Zuñiga is considered to be among the first, if not THE first, to instigate this crime, which in 1633 resulted in the first wine produced in what is now New Mexico.”

San Miguel Mission, Socorro, Socorro County, NM. Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

“After that, wine culture in New Mexico exploded, and churches all over the region began planting and cultivating their own vineyards. By 1633, New Mexican viticulture had completely taken hold,” wrote the New Mexico Department of Tourism.

“In 1868, Jesuit priests settled in New Mexico, bringing their Italian winemaking techniques to the state, and even founding their own winery. Of course, with Spanish and Italian techniques combined, the product was bound to be popular. In the next decade, wine production increased nearly tenfold, and by 1880, New Mexico has more than two times the grapevine acreage of New York. This little state in the south was ranked fifth in the nation for wine.” 

According to estimates from the World Population Review, New Mexico produces 749,818 gallons of wine annually. 

La Viña Winery in Anthony is the state’s oldest winery, established in 1977. Mission grapes are still produced in New Mexico, with wineries such as Rio Grande Winery in Mesilla producing its “Mission” vino. 

Rio Grande Winery vineyard. Photo by John Block.

The United States is the fourth-largest wine-producing country in the world, after Italy, Spain, and France. California, Washington, and Oregon make up 90 percent of all U.S. production. California alone makes up 84 percent of that. 


5 thoughts on “Did you know? New Mexico is the nation’s oldest wine-producing region”

  1. I’m sure there are more to try, but I haven’t found one yet that I have enjoyed. I do not like that the Beer & Wine license in NM requires that only NM wine be offered. Made me wonder who in office has a winery that made this happen……

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