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On a hillside, in the valley of the Gallinas River, in 1906, Don Antonio DeLaO built a little adobe home, 13 feet by 13 feet. His wife and child joined him in the little home, and they began a new life. The little home expanded as the family grew and in 1916, a new, bigger, home grew nearby for the family.
“In the old days if you requested a section of land you could get a section of land,” David Gurule said. “You had to go to Doña Ana County to pick it up. [Don Antonio’s] was unique. He only got 640 acres, 160 here, and 5 miles up was the rest of it.”
Don Antonio was a rancher and a farmer. He wanted land by the river, but the Mimbres had all been claimed so he settled for the Gallinas.
All the little family had was a cistern of water 16 feet deep, but they soon put a well at the top of the property, reaching 160 feet into the ground.
“You can imagine, pounding, welding, pounding, welding – like that – to 160 feet,” Guruele said and swept his arm over the land. “This was all basically orchard, gardening.”
Today, that same land is covered in lush and healthy grape vines. Esperanza Gurule, David’s wife, is the inheritor of this piece of her family’s legacy. And the Gurules’ business, La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery, is making a healthy profit and providing the area with its flavorful bounty.
On Aug. 3 the business is celebrating its 10th year by opening its doors and inviting guests to a wine festival. There will be live music, delicious food and a grape stomping contest. The music starts at 11 a.m. with Brandon Perrault & Friends. They will be followed at 3 p.m. by the Illusion Band.
It was in 1999 that the Gurules actually started thinking about grapes and, after investigating extensively, planted their first 100 grapes in 10 different varieties. David had to see what would grow best at that elevation, with the soil and drainage available.
“Somebody asked, ‘Why don’t you plant 2,000,’” he said. So, in 2000, David put in 1,000 plants and in 2001, he put in another 1,000.
“So, a lot of these plants went in years ago,” he said. “The vineyard, in a sense, has been here 20 years but we went commercial in 2009.”
By 2008 they were selling grapes to home-based winemakers and decided it was time to do something themselves.
“It’s a big commitment to get a winery,” David said. “The process with New Mexico usually takes over a year. The first crop to harvest and sell was 2008 and we officially opened in 2009, on the first weekend in August.”
In 2009, La Esperanza started with 200 cases of wine. Today they are selling 1,000. David has no interest in expanding further; he is retired from his job as an atomic energy engineer at Los Alamos National Labs and wants to keep life relatively simple.
A walk through the vineyard
It’s June and David’s tour begins at the little house built by Don Antonio which has stood firm since 1906. It is surrounded by a single Thompson seedless grape vine. He gently grasps a bunch of young grapes.
“This is a cluster of Thompson seedless right here,” he said. “It is early in the year, they are berry setting right now. I think Don Antonio is helping me get it all the way down.”
From one side of the building an old adobe wall stretches out along the road and lizards are sunning and climbing along it. David pointed out the lizards.
“That’s the lizard on the wine bottle,” he said.
Also near the old adobe are remnants of the old orchards. Apricot trees lean over it like old men. David said if he gets apricots, he knows he’s going to get chardonnay, which comes out early like the apricots and they freeze. Some years he doesn’t get apricots, or chardonnay, at all.
In late July the grapes begin to ripen, David said.
“The greens turn greener and the green turns purple,” He explained, gently handling the grapes. “So, the chardonnay is going to turn just greener and these are already berry set. These are merlot right there. They will turn purple-purple and get as big as marbles. For some reason this year these guys are growing really, really, long. That’s a pretty big cluster for merlot.”
He moves on to the next row.
“Pinot Noir are a tight-tight-tight little cluster,” he said. “There space in between the grapes, if it rains the air can’t get through. Then we get some rot.”
Everything is handpicked in this orchard, he said.
Moving comfortably between the vines, David shows off the Syrah, the golden Muscat and the St. Vincent grapes.
The mission grapes are the original grapes in New Mexico brought by the Jesuits when the Franciscan friars got tired of going back to Spain every few years for sacramental wine.
David calls it an “old-timer plant” and said the cluster will grow to almost a foot long and as big as golf balls. The premature grapes are spaced apart in the cluster because “the cluster knows it’s going to have a big berry.”
The mission grapes can still be used for wine, and some make jelly with them. La Esperanza sells them to others who do those things.
Making wine: What happens inside
The production area wakes up in late August or September, David said.
“Pretend you are a grape,” he said. “You are at 26 percent sugar, so we go pick you. We look at your taste, your character, your aroma.”
The grapes come into the building and into a crusher “destemmer,” then to a press. David recently returned from California where he bought a new bladder press he’ll readily show off.
“So, we don’t really need to stomp the grapes; only virgins are allowed to stomp them, and we don’t have any virgins left,” he said.
Then the juice goes into a tank to ferment. Reds ferment at least a year, whites for half a year. When it’s ready, it’s filtered and bottled.
“Filters are 1 micron, your hair is about 20,” David said. “Then we go to a corker. When we say we handcraft our wine, we do it one bottle at a time.”
La Esperanza grows six varieties of grapes for their wines, the rest they buy. Part of his flavor secret is the high elevation.
“My grapes are in the Chardonnay, Golden Muscat, Syrah, Merlot and ‘Born in Space,’” he said. “The rest of them I buy the grapes down in Deming and I make the wine. So here we make 13 different types of wine. Each wine and wine person and environment are different, so they taste different.”
The tasting room
All 13 wines are available in La Esperanza’s tasting room. If it is hot out, guests can sit in the cool pleasant room as they try the various wines. If it’s gentle out, the wide porch and welcoming wooden deck chairs are perfect for looking over the vineyards as you sip.
“’Born in Space’ is our specialty wine,” David said as he poured a glass. “It’s semi-sweet, with a rose color and good with spicy food. You don’t want a dry wine with spicy food. It’s better once it breathes a bit. Taste that hint of cherry at the end?”
The vineyard and tasting room are open weekends and by request. The winery is located at 100 DeLaO Road, Sherman, New Mexico. Call 505-259-9523 or visit laesperanzavineyardandwinery.com.
In addition, La Esperanza wines are available at restaurants Revel, Adobe Springs and Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery in Silver City; Bullocks Shur-Save Supermarket in Truth or Consequences; Peppers Supermarket in Deming; Toucan Market in Las Cruces; and at upcoming wine festivals in Las Cruces and Albuquerque.
Elva K. Österreich may be reached at Elva@lascrucesbulletin.com.