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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   November 2009


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Taking Root

The Mimbres Valley, long known for its orchards and farms, now boasts an award-winning winery.

By Pat Young / Photos by Gene Daniels

 


Down a dirt road shadowed by the hills above the Mimbres River, visitors to La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery are first rewarded with the sight of long rows of grape vines on a picturesque homestead studded with historic buildings.

winery
Volunteers lend a hand with pressing the grapes: Paul Montoya (left) and Bill Risdon (right) with David Gurul (center).

Visitors are then greeted by the smiling, gracious owners and operators of the winery, David and Esperanza Gurul. They offer wine tastings served up with a little history from the long, shady, vine-embellished veranda of a beautifully restored ranch home. This is frequently overseen by two cats, Gilligan and Moe, plus a "watch dog" named Sheba.

Esperanza's grandfather, Don Antonio De La O, homesteaded 640 acres here in 1906, developing a farm, orchard and cattle ranch. Esperanza inherited the home, outbuildings and 40 acres of the homestead near Sherman from her mother, Antonia. The road to their winery, De La O Road, just a quarter-mile up the Royal John Mine Road off Hwy. 61, was named in honor of her grandfather. Her mother, who lived long enough to see the vineyard take root, suggested its name, La Esperanza Vineyard, in honor of her daughter.

Winemaking began as a hobby for the Guruls. Even before retiring as an atomic energy engineer with the Department of Energy in Los Alamos in 2002, David had turned his abundant energy to planting grape vines in the Mimbres Valley. In 1998 he and Esperanza tested 10 varieties of grapes to see what would grow best here. David explains that it takes five or six years to get good mature wine grapes for producing quality wine.

In 2000 they planted another 1,000 vines, and currently tend 2,800 grape vines on approximately three acres. Varieties that proved to thrive at their vineyard include Riesling, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. They also have two hybrid varieties, Golden Muscat and St. Vincent.

In 2008 they harvested 8,400 pounds of wine grapes and produced 550 gallons of wine. They also sell jellies made from their grapes.



By the time they acquired all the permits necessary to open their winery to the public, the Guruls already had several awards to their credit. In 2006 their Golden Muscat earned a silver medal at the New Mexico State Fair, and their chardonnay, a bronze metal. Their 2008 Chardonnay took Best in Show at the State Fair.

"Little by little," David says, La Esperanza has grown from a hobby to a small "boutique" winery. They use only wine grapes they grow themselves to produce wine.

They started out plucking and crushing wine grapes by hand, moving up to a small press and then to a larger commercial press. They began in a 15-by-15-foot room, expanding to a temperature-controlled space with food-grade 55-gallon plastic drums for primary fermentation and 80-160-gallon stainless-steel drums for secondary fermentation. Red wines are aged a year, white wines about six months. All of the wine is filtered before bottling and stored at least a month before selling.

Four white wines currently available — while supplies last — include Riesling, White Zinfandel, Golden Muscat and a ros called "Born in Space," named as a tribute to those, like Esperanza, who were born in Santa Rita on land that has long since disappeared as the mine there expanded.

In November their red wines will be ready (think upcoming holidays). These will include Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Red Zinfandel.



As the Guruls carefully oversee the winemaking process, they have also been busy restoring historic buildings on the property. The adobe ranch home and the nearby adobe building that houses the winery gleam with modern updates and careful restoration. Nearby, the original 13-by-26-foot log cabin sits waiting its turn. David says he also wants to restore some of the old equipment stored in the original homestead buildings.

They are understandably proud of their endeavors. Many visitors have exclaimed over the vineyard and winery, even describing it as "Tuscany in the Mimbres."

"We are trying to make a small, friendly winery where quality, not quantity, is important," David says. "This is a legacy we are leaving."

Indeed, their son, Paul, who has completed two courses, "Wine and Grape Growing" and "Wine Making," has joined the family business. They also have two daughters, one in Seattle, the other in Albuquerque.

Both David and Esperanza feel that the vineyard is a continuation of the orchard and farm Don Antonio began over 100 years ago. Esperanza says, "I think my grandparents and mother would be very happy and proud of what we are doing."

She goes on to say that when they first arrived at the homestead, a white bird unlike other birds they had seen followed David everywhere, keeping an eye on him. They called it Don Antonio.

"We decided it was grandfather watching us," she explains.

The bird eventually disappeared. Perhaps "Don Antonio" was satisfied with the legacy.



La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. Group tours are available on other days by appointment. Three wine tastings of the winemaker's choice are available free, with five additional tastings for $5. Bottles range in price from $10-$15 for whites and $10-$20 for reds, tax included. More information about the winery is available by calling (505) 259-9523.



Pat Young is a retired journalist who lives in the mountains near San Lorenzo.

 

 

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