The biddies dive into the story behind Gruet – an American-made champagne-method sparkling wine, and the state with the longest winemaking history in the United States: New Mexico. Need lots of bubbles for your New Years’ Eve party? Look no further!

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Sources:

Gruet Winery

New Mexico Magazine

Forbes

Wine Business

New Mexico True, A Journey Through the Ages

Wine Enthusiast, New Mexico’s Deep Winemaking History

Wine Searcher, New Mexico Wine

Study Notes On Gruet:

*Please note these are the literal notes we created to record the podcast and sections may be copied and pasted from our sources above.

Gruet Background

  • Popular for its crisp and refreshing brut-style sparkling wines
  • Iconic American success story
  • Credited with putting New Mexico on the wine map
  • Produces around 275,000 cases of sparkling wine each year
  • Distributed in 49 states; easy to find
  • Label ranges from $15-$50

New Mexico Wine

  • New Mexico is the oldest wine country in America by about 200 years; can even be viewed as the “cradle of US wine viticulture”
  • Wine was originally developed in the area for religious ceremonies
  • The Spaniards settled this rich country in the late 1500s and as devoted Catholics, attended church frequently
    • Part of communion is the blood of Christ, or wine but there was a major wine shortage in New Mexico
  • A Spanish law put into place in 1595 to protect the country’s thriving agricultural industry prohibited Spanish grapes to be exported and planted in foreign soil
  • Monks were forced to use small amounts of imported Spanish wine that were 18% alcohol and 10% sugar so became desperate for a local source of more palatable wine
    • On top of that, the wine was stored in heavy stoneware jugs resembling those of Roman times that were green glazed and leached lead into the interiors
    • Prolonged exposure to heat during the journey and the acidity of the wine exacerbated the leaching
  • In 1629, obedience to the Spanish ban came to an end
    • Fray Garcia de Zuniga and Antonio de Arteaga smuggled vines out of their home country and planted New Mexico’s first grapes in a field just south of modern-day Socorro
    • This variety was the Mission grape and is still grown in New Mexico
  • After that wine culture in New Mexico exploded and churches all over the region began planting and cultivating their own vineyards
  • THE CHALLENGES
    • The relationship between spanish settlers and native southwestern tribes was on edge
    • Battles between them destroyed a large number of vineyards
    • Coupled with bitterly harsh winters, it threatened the prosperity of the grapes
  • New Mexico became a US territory in 1853 and the industry by this point had recovered
  • Vineyards were planted from the northernmost reaches near Colorado all the way to the southern border near Las Cruces and El Paso
  • In 1868 – Jesuit priests settled in New Mexico bringing their Italian winemaking techniques to the state and even founding their own winery
  • With Spanish and Italian techniques combined, the wine became very popular and production increased
    • Over the next decade, it increased nearly tenfold and by 1880, New mexico had more than two times the grapevine acreage of New York
    • Ranked fifth in the nation for wine
  • NEXT CHALLENGES
    • Prohibition was instated across the nation in 1920 crippling New Mexico’s wine sales except for the small amount of medical alcohol that could be locally produced and sold
    • 1943 – The Rio Grande experienced the largest flood of the century and many vineyards were drowned
  • THE COMEBACK
    • Grapes from the first set of vines are still produced today
    • 1977 – the first small commercial winery opened its doors in La Union called La Vin(with tilde)a and is now the longest continuously operated vineyard in the state
    • In the same year, La Chiripada Winery opened with its first vintage occurring in 1981
    • With wine production returning, the competition to buy up viable land began – between 1982 and 1983, more than 2000 acres of vineyards were planted around Las Cruces alone with thousands more being planted up north
  • MODERN DAY
    • Home to more than 40 wineries and vineyards that produce more than tens of thousands of gallons annually
      • Maybe more than 60 
      • Almost 1 million cases produced annually
      • Approximate vineyard acres: 400-6700 feet
        • Grapes do benefit from some of the highest elevations in the country 
        • Sandy soils allow for excellent drainage
        • Surrounding desert environment has benefits too
    • Wines are made from both vinifera varieties and hybrids
      • Keep varieties are Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvginon, Riesling, and Zinfandel
  • NEW MEXICO AVAS:
    • Middle rio Grande Valley, Mimbres Valley, Mesilla Valley (shared with Texas)
  • WINERIES
    • Amaro Winery, Black Mesa, Luna Rossa, Noisy Water and of course… Gruet TAKE IT AWAY KARA

Gruet Creation

  • Gilbert Gruet, founder of Gruet Winery, was born in Bethon, France in 1931. 
  • He grew up in a poor family, and began working at a young age. 
  • In 1952, Gilbert Gruet, along with his wife Danielle, dreamt of producing fine quality Champagne. 
  • Gilbert followed his heart and in 1967 created the U.V.C.B. (Union Vinicole des Coteaux de Bethon), a co-op in the village of Bethon.
    • Learned how to make wine in exchange for help building another winery
  • Why New Mexico
    • Gilbert heard about other Champagne makers staking claims in the United States.
    • In the early 1980s he took the family on “recon vacations”. 
    • Noticing an already-tapped California, he focused on the Southwest, where he was intrigued by a few Alsatian winemakers experimenting in New Mexico. 
    • Delighted by the low cost of land, Gilbert decided to make New Mexico the US winemaking outpost for Gruet.
    • After hearing of vineyards planted there as early as the 1600s, and learning about the specific climate and soil conditions of the region, the Gruet Family knew they had found what they were looking for. 
  • In 1984, Gilbert Gruet – whose Champagne house (Gruet et Fils) has produced fine Champagnes in Bethon, France since 1952 – made the decision to plant an experimental vineyard in Engle, NM.
    • Near Truth or Consequences NM; Toy Box Killer and Game Show Name
  • The plantings were exclusively Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. 
  • Two of his four children, Laurent and Nathalie Gruet then relocated to New Mexico to begin their American winemaking adventure.
  • New Mexico has some of the oldest wine making history in the US, three centuries old
  • Purchased by Precept Wine of Seattle in 2015

Grapes

  • Gruet gets about a third of its fruit from New Mexico, but it still buys grapes from California and Washington State, too.
  • After a couple of years of negotiation, Laurent Gruet consulted with the pueblo on siting the Tamaya Vineyard, an expansion of the tribe’s agricultural projects. (Santa Ana also runs a nursery.)
    • One of the few Native-owned vineyards in the country, it sells its grapes exclusively to Gruet.
    • The first vines planted in 2014 were chardonnay and pinot noir, the two famous grape varieties that go into nearly everything Gruet produces
    • “I convinced them to add pinot meunier because we’re at over 5,000 feet in altitude,” Gruet says, explaining that the later-budding pinot meunier is less vulnerable to spring frosts.

Comparing to Champagnes

  • Laurent on blind tasting competitions: “Three times I brought some Blanc de Blanc vintage there and we had a blind tasting with winemakers. Of course they love their wine. But here were 13 Champagnes with one Gruet in there. One time my wine came second, the other time it came third out of all these grand crus.”