Sip On Wine At A Less-Crowded Destination In This Underrated US Wine Region

When you think of American wine regions, there are places that come to mind immediately. Perhaps the crisp white wines of Long Island, New York, are making you long for a glass and a cheese board. Maybe it's the Simi Valley, California, vintages that make your mouth water. A visit to some of these places can be a great couples getaway or a weekend away with friends. Of course, if you've even been on a wine outing in a really popular place — particularly on weekends — you know how packed they can be. Luckily, there are less popular regions where you can avoid the crowds.

There is a region in the southwest that isn't as well-known, despite the region's fascinating history of wine-making that dates back to the mid-17th century. This is a place near the border of Texas that boasts over 50 different wineries, and far fewer tourists fighting for a sample of the magical grape juice. That place is Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico. We'll tell you about the wild way that the grape vines got here in the first place and some of the wineries you should visit when you go. 

How wine production started in New Mexico

As Europeans were migrating to what would become the Southwestern United States, many Spanish clerics were working to convert the local populace to the Catholic religion. As you may be aware, the sacrament of Communion sometimes requires a sip of wine. However, Spain didn't allow wine-making in the region and prohibited the import of Spanish vines.

In 1629, some enterprising monks were frustrated by the issues and cost involved with importing wine from Spain all the way to their missions in New Spain (modern-day Mexico and the Southwestern U.S.). So, they snuck vines in (often referred to as the "mission grape"). They needed just the right area for planting in order for the vine to take root the way it would in Spain. The monks found the perfect place in the Rio Grande River Valley. 

In the late 19th century, the wine industry ramped up quite a bit, though it dwindled during Prohibition and the rise of California's wine industry. In the 1970s, winemaking began to ramp back up in the area, building to what it has become today. 

Some wineries to visit in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico

One Mesilla Valley winery you should visit is the Fort Selden Winery. It's open only on the weekends, but you can do tastings and tours. In fact, compared to a place like Solvang in California, their prices for tastings are reasonable, with six wines for $7 as of this writing. (By contrast, Lucas & Lewellen Winery in Solvang is generally $20-$25 per tasting.) Fort Selden has varietals like malbec, shiraz, tempranillo, cabernet, and more, including a port. Look into their harvest weekends in September when they invite friends, family, and volunteers to help pick the grapes and learn about the winemaking process. You can host your wedding at the winery as well. 

Stop by St. Clair winery, which has been making wine for four decades through six generations of their family. They have vines on 200 acres and make wine varietals like cabernet sauvignon, moscato, merlot, and chardonnay. In fact, it's one of the few wineries in the country that has a food-grade certification. 

One more great Mesilla Valley winery to visit is Rio Grande Winery. It's closed Mondays, but there are lots of live music and events to attend while you sip on wine. Its tagline is "Oldest Wine Region in America." This winery was founded in 2004 and has a lovely view of the mountains. You can get married here and book tours. The winery offers a pink moscato, rosé, and chardonnay, just to name a few.