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Come along: a Northern New Mexico drive

—Maria Isabel

As Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote, “I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.” While I admit that my excitement for autumn this year might be pre-mature, I heeded Hawthorne’s words and jumped in the car in search of fall. I drove north knowing that my best chances for finding crisp cool air and a golden leaf or two would be in northern New Mexico. What I didn’t realize is that at the entrance of the Rio Grande canyon, just north of Espanola on the way to Taos, via Highway 68, I’d discover a culinary tour in the making. There, alongside the winding river, the red rock lined canyon and the season’s last river rafters, are three award winning wineries, a new microbrewery, and a hamburger stand that enjoys national recognition. It is there that I found the perfect start for my autumn love affair. 

I began at Black Mesa Winery, a small winery located at the southern entrance of the Rio Grande canyon whose charm and artistic character remind you that life is good. Black Mesa makes a large variety of wonderful wines, with a fantastic cabernet-merlot blend that has won numerous awards and a very popular Black Beauty chocolate flavored wine that made me realize the adventure I was embarking on was sure to be delicious and beautiful.

I stopped early for lunch at a laidback BBQ and burger stand about 10 minutes north of Black Mesa. The outdoor rustic seating appealed to my search for the crisp fall air and to my surprise, this roadside food stand is actually a popular and highly rated culinary gem. Affectionately named Sugars, after the owner’s pet bulldog, I was discovered that this little restaurant is not only a hit with locals, but is also featured favorite in Bon Appetite magazine.

Completely content with my Sunday afternoon lunch, I continued north to Vivác, the newest winery in the Embudo Valley whose goal is to specialize in dry red wines. Recently recognized in Wine Enthusiasts, Vivác has a beautiful little tasting room that is easily accessible from Highway 68 and offers two very enticing attractions, good red wine and homemade decadent chocolates.

Moving farther north, I drove a few more minutes to a brand new brewery called Blue Heron Brewing Co. Here the friendly owner let me try a few of their latest brews, which are excellent considering they have just opened, and made it apparent that brewing is just as much a passion as a job. I must admit, I’m really excited to return and visit this brewery – I think it’s a much-needed New Mexico feature. 

My final stop was at the oldest winery in northern New Mexico, La Chiripada, which literally means “stroke of good luck” in Spanish. La Chiripada’s owners have been producing award-winning wines for over 30 years and from the moment you step foot into the beautiful vineyard and winery, their love of winemaking becomes apparent. I decided to enjoy a taste of their crisp white Viognier, also appropriately featured in Wine Enthusiasts magazine this past July. I have to admit, I was completely impressed by the quality of wines that La Chiripada produces and as I walked away with a few bottles in hand, I realized just how lucky I to have experienced such an enjoyable culinary tour.

As the fall winds begin to roll into New Mexico, I plan to head back to the Rio Grande canyon in order to take in the sights, crisp fall air, and the tastes. If I’m lucky, they say I might even catch a glimpse of the grapes being harvested and crushed.





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