Family-owned vineyard will open in Blanco

Leigh Black Irvin

FARMINGTON — A new San Juan County vineyard is close to being completed, and its owners hope to open it to the public toward the end of this year.

Timothy Martinez talks about the type of grapevines growing at his family's vineyard in Blanco on Wednesday.

Rio Suave Vineyards, located on County Road 4556 in Blanco, is co-owned and managed by Timmy Martinez and his son, Timothy Martinez. The father-son team planted 85 grapevines in Timmy’s front yard about seven years ago and has expanded the vineyard to two additional acres with 1,200 grapevines in a nearby field.

The older Martinez said the idea to start a vineyard began about 12 years ago, when he and his wife, Anita, inherited a 20-acre portion of her parents' ranch.

“They were growing alfalfa and had cows on it. We knew we couldn’t make a living doing that, so we started thinking about different ideas,” he said.

They, along with Timothy, started touring various vineyards and learning about the winery business.

“We learned it’s a tough but rewarding business and learned that we should start small, so we started the little vineyard in the front,” Timmy said.

Timmy Martinez shows off his vineyard Wednesday at his home in Blanco.

Timothy said he and his father started experimenting with different types of grapes to see which would grow best. They ran into issues when deer began eating all of the vines, so they placed an 8-foot fence around them, and that took care of the problem.

Although the vineyard has produced a dry, red wine made solely from a hybrid grape called chancellor grown in the vineyard, for the past two years, the Martinezes have made small batches of other wines by mixing their grapes with those purchased from Jaramillo Vineyards, located in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley. Timothy explained that many of the grapes they want to use to make different types of wine won’t grow in this region.

“A lot of the merlots, cabernets and chardonnay grapes need a longer growing season. The hybrid grapes we’re growing here have a shorter growing season and can thrive in lower temperatures.”

Both men described the process to open a vineyard as daunting, as federal, county and state licensing requires an inordinate amount of paperwork.

Timmy Martinez displays a bottle of Rio Suave Vineyards wine Wednesday at his home in Blanco.

“The process took at least a year,” Timothy said. “We had a lot of hoops to jump through, but we only have two more small steps to take with the state. Hopefully, this year, we’ll be able to get a young wine out by the end of the year and start selling it. My plan is to take a baco noir grape we’re growing now and blend it with something else, like a nice cabernet or pinot grigio grape.”

Rio Suave Vineyard is located only about a half mile from the region’s most well-known vineyard, Wines of the San Juan, though they’re about a 12-mile drive away from each other because there is no direct road between them.

Owners of the older, more established winery were glad to provide assistance and advice to the father-son team, Timothy said.

“They helped us a lot, and showed us how to bottle and press the wine. They also helped us with all the forms we needed to fill out,” he said, adding that he worked for Wines of the San Juan about a year and a half ago.

His father agreed that the help they received from Wines of the San Juan was invaluable.

“I told them up front I would like to come and help them for free, but told them we wanted to learn about the business so we could open our own winery, and they said, ‘Sure!’” he said. “We’re definitely building a community here — the more people who come to their winery, the more they’ll come visit us and vice versa. We’ll help each other.”

Timothy Martinez, left, and his father Timmy Martinez talk about their plans to open the Rio Suave Vineyards on Wednesday at their home in Blanco.

Like Wines of the San Juan, the Martinez family plans to offer a wine-tasting area, a patio and possibly also a park on the part of their property that borders the San Juan River. The older vintner said he wants to take advantage of the scenic views of the bluffs when deciding where to place those areas.

Timothy, who lives next door to his parents, currently works for the Ska Brewing Company in Durango, Colo.,, but spends much of his free time working in the vineyard, and attending conferences and classes to learn more about the wine-making business. He hopes to eventually work at his own vineyard full time.

Timmy said that while establishing Rio Suave Vineyard was a lot of work, it’s been a labor of love.

“We have my brother-in-law, our kids, our grandkids, other family members pitching in around here,” said Timmy. “It’s really nice that the whole family can get involved.”

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.