My wife and I have traveled many times to northern New Mexico – Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and surrounding areas – and every time I have been impressed with the degree to which Native American culture is embedded throughout the state. Last month, I spent three days as a guest of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa becoming familiar with the resort’s amenities – including, of course, its extensive wine program – and visiting nearby wineries. The visit brought home to me even more the intersection of European and Native cultures in this amazing land.

The enchanting property is located on the banks of the Rio Grande River in view of the Sandia Mountains on land settled by the Tamayame (ancestors of today’s Pueblo of Santa Ana tribe) in the late 1500s after living for centuries in various areas to the north. Today, the Santa Ana Pueblo lands cover over 70,000 acres east and west of the Río Grande, about 24 miles north of Albuquerque, with the Tamaya Resort the pinnacle of the tribe’s many enterprises.


Around 1600, Raymond Vigil and Sheila Romero’s Spanish ancestors arrived in the area during the height of the Spanish colonial period. Four Hundred years later, Raymond and Sheila established Casa Abril Vineyards and Winery in 2001 as a retirement project on this land homesteaded by Raymond’s grandparents just about 15 miles north of the Santa Ana Pueblo.








I was fascinated as I tasted with Raymond and listed to him explain that they “chose a different route to grape growing.” He said all of the grapes are grown on the family property. So the wines are what are known in the wine world as estate grown and produced. And Raymond noted, “the family property” covers 350 acres with 28 households, all Romero or Vigil family members and many of whom are involved in the winery.


Truly a family business, daughter and winemaker Jamie Jordan (who surprise! lives in Parker, Colorado) crafts a variety of wines – around 2200 cases – but emphasizes malbec and Spanish varieties, particularly tempranillo and albariño.

Back to the Tamaya Resort. I had been invited with a group of writers to learn about the resort as a great destination for special occasions like weddings and anniversaries (not to mention conventions and a weekend away from it all). And it certainly is. The Tamaya has all the amenities you would expect from a world-class resort (and more): five restaurants, three pools, walking and bike trails, and even horseback riding (the resort supports a rescue horse stable), hot air ballooning and countless family activities, not to mention museum quality art throughout. And I can personally vouch for the luxurious spa and salon and world-class Twin Warriors golf course.


We also were shown the various outdoor and indoor wedding venues. In addition to a large ballroom, outdoor options include the Sunrise Amphitheater and the House of Hummingbird. Each was impressive in its own right, though my favorite was the Cottonwoods Gazebo and Pavilion.

Of course, special occasions are even more special when there is wine involved. And the Tamaya has an impressive wine program, led by the extensive list at the fine dining restaurant Corn Maiden. I also was impressed with the selections available for receptions and other large parties. During my visit, I enjoyed Rodney Strong Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Chamisal Central Coast Chardonnay, Canoe Ridge “The Expedition,” Franciscan Chardonnay, Baron Rothschild Bordeaux Blanc, and Mollydooker “The Boxer.” All are a cut above the usual mass market selections for such events

And expect the selections to get even better under the direction of new beverage manager David Samuel who told me he will emphasize “wines that stand up to the quality (and pepper and spice) of the food.” And, by the way, I found the food at the Tamaya elevated compared to most hotels, with the focus on seasonal, local ingredients.

If wine makes a special occasion even more special, that is especially true of sparkling wine. The Tamaya also has a good list of bubbly, including fine choices from California, Champagne and Prosecco. But I would suggest you choose New Mexico’s Gruet Winery.


And you can even take a field trip to Gruet, which is only 12 miles south. Many of you may be surprised to learn New Mexico is home to one of the best sparkling wine producers in the country. But Gruet has garnered critical acclaim for over 30 years.

Gilbert and Danielle Gruet founded New Mexico’s most famous winery, in 1984. They grew up and were making wine in Champagne but were looking to establish a winery in the new world. They had occasion to visit the vineyards in southern New Mexico; when saw the climate and soil conditions, and learned vineyards have been planted there since the 1600s (remember those colonizing Spanish), they knew they had found the place  where they wanted to grow grapes.

Gilbert’s Méthode Champenoise, produced at the winery in Albuquerque, immediately gained critical and consumer praise. As the winery has grown (currently 2 million bottles!) it has stayed a family owned enterprise. Gilbert’s son, Laurent now is Head Winemaker
, daughter Nathalie is President, and Nathalie’s son Sofian Himeur is Assistant Winemaker.


They now source grapes from three vineyards in New Mexico: the original Gruet Vineyard near Truth or Consequences purchased in 1983; the Luna Rossa Vineyard west of Las Cruces; and (interestingly given the nature of my visit) a thirty acre vineyard planted exclusively for Gruet by the Pueblo of Santa Ana.


And keep in mind, there are at least a half dozen more wineries in the area. So, even with all the activities available at the Tamaya, a day spent visiting wineries is well worth your time.


As a native Coloradan, I have always loved visiting New Mexico. While I recognize history has brought together European and Native cultures, often with tragic consequences, I always have been impressed with how in New Mexico they seem to have come together in recent times more often than not to coexist and create beautiful experiences.


Credit: Thanks to the Hyatt Tamaya Resort for supplying some of the photos for this report.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.