(DEMING, NM) — Just in time for summertime cook-outs and celebrations, The Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago has released its ratings from the World Wine Championships, “U.S. Summertime Whites.” It seems like a natural fit that wines grown and crafted by St. Clair Winery in the heat of the desert southwest would be perfect to enjoy during sunny, summer days. It turns out the contest judges agreed and awarded five medals, along with point ratings, to the local New Mexico winery, including a Gold Medal and 90 point rating for their Malvasia Bianca.
“Ninety points is considered an exceptional wine,” explained Florent Lescombes, Proprietor at St. Clair Winery. “We’re so proud to be able to craft such high quality wines locally here in New Mexico.”
“So many of our aromatic white wines grow with such character and expression,” said Matt Kahl, Winemaker at St. Clair Winery. “There’s something special about growing wine grapes in the desert, the way the temperature, sunshine and soil help to build their flavor. Our winemaking techniques focus on carefully preserving that natural beauty in each varietal.”
Along with the Malvasia Bianca, St. Clair also brought home silver medals for their Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio and their D.H. Lescombes Sauvignon Blanc. Winning national awards isn’t a new thing for St. Clair Winery. In 2009 and 2011, they won the Sweepstakes Award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, awarded to the best red and white of the entire competition.
“It’s great to be recognized,” Lescombes added. “It solidifies what we already believe to be true.”
The Beverage Testing Institute uses a dedicated and controlled tasting lab at their Chicago location. They were founded in 1981 with the objective of producing fair and impartial wine reviews for consumers.
St. Clair Malvasia Bianca is available – along with many other award-winning varieties – from St. Clair Winery’s website at www.stclairwinery.com, and at St. Clair Winery locations in Deming, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Farmington. It is also sold at various grocery stores, liquor stores and wine shops around New Mexico. Open since 1984, St. Clair Winery also recently announced they were a food-grade certified facility. Open 7 days a week, the Deming location can be reached at 575.546.1179.
While New Mexicans have been raising a glass of St. Clair wine over the past couple of years, the staff at the winery have been raising the bar on quality.
St. Clair just received food-grade certification from ASI, a national industry group that has standards above those of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, making them the first winery in New Mexico and the Southwest to attain the designation, said Daniel Gonzales, creative director for St. Clair Winery.
“We are going to produce a higher quality of wine, respond to customer needs, and more efficiently track what goes into the product,” Gonzales said. “It also opens up a lot of doors for us.”
National stores like Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Costco use the certification when deciding whether to carry brands in their markets, Gonzales said.
The two-year process involved analyzing the standards including everything from streamlining processes to documenting every step of the production, from procedures in the field to the time bottles are uncorked at customer’s tables, said Macaryo Argott, the company’s production manager. The initial challenge came in changing employees mindset and getting everyone to buy into the new process.
“This winery has been here a long time and it was a trial to get the old timers to jump on board. Then getting to the nitty gritty, picking up brooms and dustpans and cleaning and understanding why we were doing it.” Argott said.
General manufacturing practices, tracking product from field to glass, documenting with paperwork every step of the way and using only approved vendors were just some of the steps along the way, he said.
Ziedney Valenzona was hired to fill a newly-created quality control manager position and is in charge of monitoring standards, daily walk-through inspections, water safety supply testing and machinery cleanliness.
Landing the first such designation in the region is a point of pride to be shared by all New Mexicans, given the state’s status as the first wine-growing region in what is now the United States.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Valenzona said. “It’s not only built teamwork here but building a future for the company. They are doing great but they want to do better.”
This isn’t a new school of thought for the Lescombes family, who has a six-generation history of wine making. Hervé Lescombes started his vineyard in New Mexico in 1981, driven by his determined sense of adventure and his desire to make wine with less restriction than what was allowed in France.
“The government in France would tell you how many vines and even what varietals you were allowed to grow,” Lescombes said. “I wanted the freedom to do better and do more with what I had.”
Wineries are not mandated to be certified since wine is not regulated as a food product by the FDA.
“It is a choice we made to better ourselves for our customers,” said Florent Lescombes, vice president. “We just want to strive to be the best we can.”
St. Clair joins only a handful of wineries in the U.S. to achieve such a certification.
“Not only did the team work hard towards the certification,” Valenzona said, “but we are committed to maintaining the standards to always offer the best quality wines to our customers.”
It’s that time of the year again, when we remember what we’re thankful for. Here at GAYOT, we are most certainly thankful for great American wine. Our Top 10 Thanksgiving Wines hail from eight states — California to Colorado, New Mexico to New York — and come in a variety of styles. These exceptional wines showcase both the diversity of the American wine-growing culture and the impressive offerings that can be found the nation over. Best of all, the wines we have selected all pair wonderfully with different parts of the Thanksgiving meal. So give yourself a little more room on your belt and get ready to find the perfect bottle for everyone’s favorite November holiday.
St. Clair Winery NV Gewürztraminer
St. Clair winery is now operated by the sixth generation of French winemakers who originally ran Domaine de Perignon in Burgundy. The family began planting in New Mexico in 1981, and the winery has continued to grow ever since. The bouquet of their non-vintage Gewürztraminer displays aromas of lemon, honey and floral notes, with a sweet palate full of cinnamon, pear melon and more honey. It is the perfect companion to Thanksgiving dessert, with its flavors helping to bolster pumpkin pie or ambrosia salad.
LAS CRUCES SUN-NEWS >> It was in 1629 when a pair of monks first planted vines in New Mexico to tease out the sweet nectar and produce wine in what was then a simple, Spanish colony. The men of the cloth started the first vineyard in North America and marked the Land of Enchantment as the first wine-growing region in the new world.
The first grapevines planted in what is now the state of New Mexico were brought to Senecu, a Piro Indian pueblo south of Socorro, by Fray Gracia de Zuniga, a Franciscan, and Antonio de Arteaga, a Capuchin monk. San Antonio de Padua Mission, at Senecu, was located on the east bank of the Rio Grande, slightly north of the present small village of San Antonio. The cuttings brought by the missionaries were a variety of Vitis vinifera, commonly called the “mission grape.” This variety is still grown in New Mexico today. Historians think it is a European variety from Spain, called Monica.
By comparison, St. Clair Winery may seem to be a newcomer, boasting a mere 30 years trimming the vines, pressing the grapes and waiting, patiently, for the fruit to ferment to make a statewide staple.
But don’t, for a heady moment, think the New Mexico vineyard, winery and bistros that comprise the St. Clair brand haven’t made the most of toasting one of the state’s signature agricultural crops and one of our favorite refreshments.
“We are passionate about growing grapes in New Mexico,” said Hervé Lescombes, the owner and patriarch of the winemaking family that traces it’s roots in the business back many generations. “We feel that the citizens of New Mexico are one of the reasons for our success and we want to give back to them. The way we celebrate with our family is with great food and wine — we want to share that with our customers and guests.”
The senior Lescombes is the fifth generation winemaker of the Lescombes family. His grandparents, originally from Prussia, immigrated to Algeria in 1846 and made a living by operating vineyards and making wine to sell to France. Hervé and his brother followed the family tradition and became grape farmers in Burgundy, France in 1962. It was there where he met his wife, Danielle, had three children and built a successful vineyard and winery business.
He saw great opportunity in southwest New Mexico, and made the area his family’s home. The climate and terrain is similar to that of his native Algeria. In 1981, Hervé began his venture with a small vineyard that produced the harvest that would eventually be crafted into his first New Mexico vintage in 1984. The small operation soon expanded and grew to become the largest winery in New Mexico. Winemaking duties have since been turned over to Hervé’s son Florent Lescombes, who oversees the winery operations, while his oldest son, Emmanuel Lescombes, manages the vineyard.
“New Mexicans have been talking to us for years about our wine,” Florent Lescombes said. “We do our best to listen, give them what they want and in turn we make better wine and have become a better business. It’s time for us to appreciate them.”
“Cheers to another 30 years,” added Emmanuel Lescombes.
The label now boasts several locations in addition to the Las Cruces bistro at 1720 Avenida de Mesilla. The first Las Cruces bistro opened in 2007 before moving to the current location in 2012. The Albuquerque bistro opened in 2005 and another in Farmington opened in 2009. They join the original vineyard in Lordsburg and the winery and tasting room in Deming.
Squeezing the nectar from the grape was not always easy in the Land of Enchantment.
The Rio Grande and the weather were formidable adversaries of the early New Mexico vineyards. By the turn of the century, the Rio Grande had deposited enough sediment along its bed to elevate the channel above the surrounding terrain. Floods occurred frequently and the groundwater reached the surface of the soil, converting once fertile land into a swamp. Grapevines developed root-rot, and alkaline deposits coated the vines, lowering yields.
From a high of almost a million gallons a year, wine production fell to 296,000 gallons in 1890, 34,208 in 1900, and 1,684 in 1910.
The rebirth of the New Mexico wine industry began in 1978, said St. Clair spokeswoman Lori Paulson. New Mexico now has 42 wineries and tasting rooms, producing almost 700,000 gallons of wine a year. The state’s wine industry is once again well established.
To celebrate their 30th anniversary, St. Clair has bottled a commemorative wine called La Clairette. It is a throwback to one of the winery’s first bottles that was released at the grand opening.
They are also offering rewards for shoppers who purchase St. Clair at any one of the many statewide retailers.
And, through the month of November, the winery will be offering one-day offers on their Facebook pages and website, with 30 percent discounts on specially selected items, treats from St Clair Winery & Bistro, and other surprises.
Times have changed since the first issue of Las Cruces’ first newspaper, the Rio Grande Republican — now the Las Cruces Sun-News — which reported in May 1881: “The Mesilla Valley grape has no equal in the world and wine growing is the principle industry of the people. It seems unreasonable, but it is nevertheless true that every five acres of land in this whole valley, if put into grapes, is capable of supporting handsomely a family of five persons. The product is already famous under the name of El Paso or “native” wine. The population of Las Cruces was about 2,000 then, augmented by about a hundred families in Mesilla and Mesilla Park. The largest cash crop in the Mesilla Valley was grapes. Wells Fargo carried almost a half-million baskets of grapes at $10 each in 1894 with two hundred casks of wine per week.”
The quantity may have changed, but the quality remains and, like any fine bottle, grows better with age.
St. Clair Winery of Deming, NM, the state’s largest winery, held their annual St. Clair Winefest in early October, with proceeds benefitting Deming & Luna County Cancer Support for the fourth year in a row. The local non-profit provides a variety of support to cancer patients in the community. They also provide outreach services for general education, early detection, screening programs and general cancer awareness.
“We provide transportation assistance to cancer patients within Deming and Luna County” explains Patient Advocate, Joanna Costilla. “We have vans that we offer to transport patients to and from out-of-town appointments at no charge. We also have a voucher program that can also help defray the cost of gas for qualifying patients who drive themselves.”
They also have a fully-stocked cancer resource library and provide caps, wigs and prosthesis to many patients, free of charge. They also work as patient advocates, helping with billing negotiation for their clients.
“This is such an important program for our community as a whole,” Costilla said. “This year’s event was great! We signed up 2 new patients during the event. We would like to use a portion of the funds to purchase smocks and pillows for cancer patients. We currently have 175 active patients, and we want to do anything we can to help.”
The Winefest is themed with pink ribbons and decorations throughout their grounds and inside the wine-tasting room. A large portion of the fundraising stemmed from the Silent Auction, which is full of donated items from regional businesses, including St. Clair, all teaming up to support the cause. There will also be various awareness items on sale that will also go towards the fundraising efforts, you can expect to see items such as pink ribbon pins, as well as wristbands that have been designed with cancer awareness in mind, such as the products you can see on a website similar to SleekWristbands.com. All proceeds from donated and awareness items will be put forward as the official total raised.
“I am proud to be a part of the St. Clair Winery Team.” explains St. Clair Tasting Room Manager, Elly Read. “We are very supportive of this wonderful organization that does so much for the community. Being a cancer survivor myself, I know firsthand how supportive they are. I was overwhelmed with the attendance for this event and I hope it continues to grow year after year.”
This year’s Winefest donation was $2,665, which Elly credits to both attendance and silent auction donations.
Deming & Luna County Cancer Support can be reached at (575) 546-4780
St. Clair Winery Receives Grant to Promote Chile Wines, NM Jobs
(Deming, NM) – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development, visited St. Clair Winery in Deming on Thursday and announced a $50,000 grant to help expand production of the winery’s unique Hatch chile-infused wines and promote New Mexico’s agricultural industry.
Florent Lescombes, Vice President of St. Clair Winery, the family-owned company that produces Hatch Chile Wines, said that the popularity of the spicy wines along with the growth in the company’s full range of fine wine varieties has been a vital economic driver for Luna County and the State of New Mexico. “We use the best Hatch Valley red and green chile to make these wines, and bottle them here at our winery in Deming,” Lescombes said.
The funding was awarded through the U.S. Department of Agricultures Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grant program, which helps agricultural producers like St. Clair Winery grow their businesses and support economic growth and development in rural communities.
St. Clair Winery is a division of Southwest Wines, which offers wine under several labels, including DH Lescombes, St. Clair, Blue Teal Vineyards, and several specialty wines—including Hatch Chile Wines. Although all of the wine is produced in Deming, New Mexico, it’s also available in many New Mexico locations, including the St. Clair Winery and Bistro locations in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Farmington, as well as a tasting room at the winery in Deming. Many of the wines are now sold nationally and are also available online at www.stclairwinery.com. You can also find out more about Hatch Chile Wines at www.hatchchilewines.com.