San Juan County wine makes a splash at prestigious French tasting

June 13 event featured many of Europe's top wine figures and diplomats

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The French tasting was put together by Michelle Padberg, the owner and sommelier at the Vivac Winery in Dixon.
  • Wines of the San Juan's Tempranillo, a Spanish varietal, was served at the event.
  • The wine is made from grapes grown near Deming.

FARMINGTON − New Mexico may not be regarded as America's premier wine-producing state. But it's an up-and-coming region, and it won't be long before the rest of the world knows it.

That's what Joshua Arnold, the winemaker at San Juan County's Wines of the San Juan, said is his takeaway from his winery's recent performance at a prestigious event in Strasbourg, France, that focused on New Mexico food and wine, attracting a number of Europe's top wine figures and diplomats.

"That Strasbourg tasting is proof of it," Arnold said referring to his contention that the New Mexico wine industry is about to take on a much higher profile.

More: Farmington police employees get a tour of the department's future home

It was during that June 13 event at the private residence of the American consul-general that Wines of the San Juan's Tempranillo was paired with tostadas and served to guests, the list of whom included the director of the Mondial des Vins Blanc wine competition, the editor in chief of Sommelier CZ Magazine, the Japanese consul-general, the ambassador of Luxembourg, the deputy general of the Council of Europe and the U.K. judge of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Tempranillo was exceptionally well received, according to a press release from Michelle Padberg, the owner and sommelier at the Vivac Winery in Dixon, who organized and presented the event.

Wines of the San Juan's Tempranillo, a Spanish varietal made with grapes grown near Deming, drew rave reviews at a prestigious June tasting in Strasbourg, France.

"Your Tempranillo was fantastic!" Padberg wrote to the Arnold family, which launched Wines of the San Juan in 1999 in Blanco in far eastern San Juan County. "Josh, your skills as a winemaker are undebatable. The beauty of your winery's location and obvious passion for your craft showed beautifully in the photos."

"I was super excited," he said. "Some of the top sommeliers in the world were there, and they were stoked about the versatility of the wines they tried from New Mexico."

Arnold said several wines from the around the state were featured at the event, and they all did well. But he was especially proud of how his Tempranillo fared.

Arnold noted that winemaking is one of the oldest industries in the United States, having been practiced in New Mexico since 1629, meaning it soon will celebrate its 400th anniversary.

"We're one of the oldest grape-growing regions in the country," he said.

More: COVID-19 summer wave continues in New Mexico

Head winemaker at Wines of the San Juan, Joshua Arnold, holds out a batch of still processing wine at Wines of the San Juan in Blanco, NM on Oct. 18, 2019.

And the Tempranillo, a Spanish varietal, is made from grapes grown near Deming that are well suited to New Mexico's semiarid, hot climate, he said.

"It's one of the grapes the Spanish brought over here about 400 years ago," he said. "And it has thrived in this environment."

With its widely varied elevation, climates and soils, New Mexico is capable of producing numerous styles of wines, and even distinct takes on the same wine, Arnold said, explaining that his Tempranillo is likely to taste noticeably different from a Tempranillo made near Las Cruces or the Albuquerque area.

"The wine showed baked fruit notes that handled the earthy flavors of the dish nicely while its excellent structures brought liveliness and personality to the pairing," Padberg wrote of the Wines of the San Juan Tempranillo. "Each person in attendance instantly wanted to know if Tempranillo would become THE NM Grape. This wine shows so elegantly the terroir we have to offer while demonstrating true old world style balance of fruit and natural acidity. Congratulations on a beautiful wine and a fantastic splash onto the Strasbourg scene!"

Now nearly a quarter of a century old, Wines of the San Juan in Blanco is part of a burgeoning New Mexico winemaking industry.

While he is fond of his Tempranillo, Arnold shied away from naming it his favorite or characterizing it as his winery's signature product.

"I have a lot of favorite wines," he said. "It depends on my mood, what I'm eating and what I like to pair it with."

The Strasbourg tasting was not the first time Wines of the San Juan has drawn such far-flung acclaim, he said, explaining that his wines have won numerous medals at international competitions over the years.

"But when you're put on the same stage as these huge wineries from all over the world, it is flattering," he said. " … It just make you feel like you're doing something right."

And a victory for one New Mexico wine is a victory for all New Mexico winemakers, he said, explaining that everyone involved in the industry here is part of an effort to build a collective reputation for the state.

"I want people to know the camaraderie in New Mexico is real," he said. "Everybody helps everybody out. We're all friends. We're not competitors. We're all striving to make quality wines."

Wines or the San Juan is located at 233 N.M. Highway 511 in Blanco. Call 505-801-7319 or visit winesofthesanjuan.com for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.