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After Randy McMillan and his wife, Carol, purchased the defunct subdivision now known as Mesilla Vineyard Estates south of Las Cruces in 2012, the longtime Las Cruces real estate broker “planted 10 acres of vineyard to bring ambience and life back to the property,” he said.
The McMillans later built a new home and it is now surrounded by more than 20 acres of vineyards. They began selling grapes to New Mexico wineries and “making some good homemade wine” in his garage, McMillan said. The McMillans took winemaking classes at New Mexico State University and had always been regular visitors to vineyards in the Napa Valley in northern California.
“We love wine and the Wine Country,” Carol said.
While enjoying the view of the Organ Mountains from the rooftop patio of their home, they would “dream about having a winery someday.”
Then, longtime owner Phillip Gordon Steel decided to sell Rio Grande Winery, and contacted Randy at NAI First Valley Reality in 2019.
The McMillans decided to buy the 23-acre property, located about 3.5 miles south of Mesilla. They partnered on the venture with three other local couples: Chris and Carrie Lang; Bob and Sharon Martinez; and Richard and Alyson McDonald.
“It was just perfect,” Carol McMillan said.
Randy oversees the vineyard. Carol is the designer. Chris Lang handles the marketing. Richard McDonald, who is Bob Martinez’s son-in-law, is a professional winemaker, and Martinez is a longtime real-estate customer of McMillan’s and now a partner in the winery.
The deal closed on the winery just as Covid-19 hit, which meant the winery couldn’t sell wine by the glass because of state public health orders, but it continued to sell bottles of wine and to produce 15 to 17 wine varietals, including Mission wine (a variety that dates back about 500 years), Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec.
“We knew what we were getting into,” Randy McMillan said. “We stayed open.”
McDonald has guided the winery’s development of seven of its own varietals, Carol said, including Desert Nights Rosé and Land of Mañana Moscato.
Carol stayed busy throughout the pandemic working with contractors to remodel the property, adding an outdoor fountain, new patio furniture, a larger outdoor dance floor, sod and other landscaping, brand-new bathrooms and even privacy curtains (great for surprise parties) and a large outdoor sofa that helps create “a living patio (that) can move around to fit whatever function you need,” she said.
The new owners have also converted the former winemaker’s residence next door into The Clubhouse, a wedding venue with the same spectacular view of the Organs as the winery tasting room and patio, plus a large indoor entertainment space with room for live musicians, private dressing rooms and even a children’s room.
The Clubhouse is “a different venue with a totally different feel,” Carol said.
Steel “left us with very good bones. All we had to do was dress it up,” she said.
Carol described the winery’s employees as “the best staff in town,” including event planner Sarah Boothe, winery manager Ariana Herrera and vineyard manager Nicolas Ruiz, whom Randy McMillan said has tripled Rio Grande’s grape production in a year.
The winery has live music on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, has plans to continue special events on Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and other holidays, and plans to add sip and paint nights, regular movie nights, open mic and possibly father/daughter date night.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of really cool things out here,” Carol said.
When it is time to harvest the grapes, the winery will invite its customers (coming from as far away as Phoenix) “to help us pick our grapes,” Randy McMillan said. The winery will host “harvest parties” on six consecutive Saturdays beginning in mid-August, with 30 to 40 participants picking grapes, and learning how to crush them doing a “Lucy Stomp” (remember that episode of “I Love Lucy”?) and how they are made into wine.
Rio Grande Winery is located at 5321 N. Highway 28. You will see the signs on the left-hand side of New Mexico Highway 28 as you travel south. Turn just before you get to the large pink house on the left.
The winery is open 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; noon to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Call 575-201-3744 and email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.riograndewinery.com.