La Luz pomegranate farm to produce wine and brandy
On roads dappled in sunlight from rows of dark pecan trees, farms dot the landscape in La Luz, New Mexico. East of those pecan trees, 60 acres of land are covered in pomegranate plants laden with fruit that will soon be used to make wine and brandy.
The Otero County Commission voted unanimously in favor of approving wholesaler and winegrower liquor licenses for New Mexico Pomegranate, LLC at a regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 26.
Owner Dan Moezzi said he plans to make wine and brandy with juice extracted from his pomegranate crop and eventually plans to create mixed brandies using fruit crops from other farmers in the area.
"We are going to make brandy from grapes, peaches or even melon, apple, all kinds of fruits and our plan is to mix them and produce mixed brandies," Moezzi said. "This is a totally brand new branch of liquor making and we are going to be partnering with a lot of farmers here."
Alamogordo family practitioner Moezzi found his way to New Mexico from the Middle East, where pomegranate trees grow in abundance.
Once established in Alamogordo, Moezzi's family purchased land formerly sown with wine grapes and began planting pomegranate trees over more than a decade.
Today, Moezzi has roughly 20,000 pomegranate trees on his land, a processing plant to separate the pomegranate juice from the seeds, membrane and rind, a large freezer for the juice, as well as a cellar he said he hopes to someday fill with barrels of fruit brandies.
Moezzi has been practicing medicine since 1996, and moved to Alamogordo in 1999.
In the early 2000s, Moezzi's family began making way for the pomegranate shrubs on land they already owned in La Luz.
"Initially my father-in-law and I cleaned the land, we had water rights and we decided that we wanted to go ahead and plant pomegranates," Moezzi said.
What began as a passion project quickly developed logistical challenges.
"We started planting a few, and then a few became a few hundred, a few hundred became a few thousand, and then I just didn't know what to do with it because it wasn't easy to sell the fruits," Moezzi said.
Sustainably growing pomegranates in the region
New Mexico Pomegranate, LLC uses two primary varieties of pomegranate: Wonderful and Granada.
Starter plants begin life in Moezzi's adjacent greenhouse before being transplanted outside into the fields. Moezzi propagates the plants by hand to ensure a bountiful crop.
Moezzi said he decided to cut out the middle man and juice the fruit himself. He reached out to the California-based POM Juice company for advice on juicing techniques but was turned away.
So he developed his own system for juicing the fruits and said he also plans to help support the local agricultural community by offering to process fruit crops for some area farmers as well.
Pomegranates are an ideal crop to grow in New Mexico because they require little water and benefit from the desert climate. States with similar climates already began capitalizing on the crop but New Mexico caught up.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service census data, Arizona was ahead of New Mexico in pomegranate production in 2012.
In Arizona, bearing and non-bearing pomegranate operations increased 19 percent from from 2012-17.
However, New Mexico quickly caught up by 2017. In that same time frame, bearing and non-bearing pomegranate operations in New Mexico increased 112 percent and surpassed Arizona's production.
Middle Eastern crops flesh out the Tularosa Basin
Pomegranate trees are a long-lived shrub tree that can grow 20 to 30 feet high. The plants can take considerable drought.
Pomegranates are grown commercially for their juicy seeds, which make up about half the weight of the whole fruit.
Sid Gordon, Otero County agricultural agent with the New Mexico State University Extension Office, said Middle Eastern crops such as pomegranates, figs and pistachios grow well in this area because they can thrive in a medium dry climate and tolerate high PH soil and water.
"We don't have a great water supply, so we don't have a lot of large farms," Gordon said.
"We've got some very good-sized pistachio growers, some pecan growers and of course we grow some alfalfa and other forage crops, but not the level like the Rio Grande valley where they have more irrigation and groundwater to work with."
Gordon said although pomegranates are being grown in New Mexico and in the Tularosa Basin, there are no large commercial pomegranate orchards in the region yet.
"We have people that will dabble in a lot of different things, they will have a small or larger backyard or a side crop," Gordon said.
"If he has the scale here, once he gets in full production, then yeah, he'll definitely be a pioneer."
Cristina Carreon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 575-437-7120 or on Twitter @Cris_carreon90.