Camino Real Winery in Tomé has enchanting vino and scenery


Valencia County’s new and only wine tasting room, Camino Real Winery, is nothing to whine about.

Nestled at the base of Tomé Hill, the winery is surrounded by 2 1/2 acres of picturesque vineyard and 2,100 vines, including 400 traminette, 200 gold muscat, 300 chambourcin and 300 crimson cabernet.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-New-Bulletin-photo: Wine maker and owner of Camino Real Winery in Tomé, Jonathan Chavez, displays his white Reserve Riesling and red Late Harvest Millot in his wine tasting room.

In mid-April, when the weather gets a little warmer and the vines begin to leaf out, owner and wine maker Jonathan Chavez says he’s eager to put out tables and chairs so that guests can enjoy their wine along with the idyllic scenery, reminiscent of Northern California or Spain, but with Tomé’s landmark hill rising out of the horizon.

As the season wears on, the vineyard will become a small oasis with supple clumps of purple and yellow grapes at every turn, and then a fiery haven of golden and umber leaves towards autumn.

“It’s going to be beautiful out there,” says Chavez, who opened the winery to the public in December with his wife, Dolores, adding that this will be the establishment’s first summer in business.

But already the 400 cases of wine created from last year’s harvest are going fast. Chavez says so far 300 people have visited the winery, many from the community, but some from Albuquerque and even curious passers by visiting from as far away as Michigan.

“People in the neighborhood all think it’s the greatest thing that has ever happened,” he said. “They’ll bring people that are visiting over here to have a glass of wine.”

And with the winery’s label depicting Tomé Hill, a vineyard and people travelling the Camino Real, it’s truly something the community can take pride in.

“We’re trying to bring back the heritage, the history, because this valley used to be all grapes before the flood (in 1943),” says Chavez.

The history of wine making in the central Rio Grande valley is long, beginning with the Franciscans and Juan de Oñate in 1598, which accounts for the Oñate Gold on Chavez’s wine list.

Oñate Gold, according to the wine list, is “created from grapes traditionally crushed by the flat feet of conquistadors … don’t worry, we washed our feet.” The Oñate Gold is a mildly sweet and fruity wine and a good pair to seafood and chicken.

The history of wine in the Tomé area is said to have begun with vines imported by Father Jean Baptiste Ralliere in 1858 when he arrived from France. And, according to Henry K. Street, author of “The History of Wine in New Mexico: 400 Years of Struggle,” vineyards in the Rio Grande valley were exporting 908,000 gallons of wine by 1880.

This rich history, says Chavez, was the inspiration behind his wine label, painted by Carla Sanchez of Tomé, which depicts a caravan transporting wine along the Camino Real to missions to the north.

“A lot of people are stopping by wanting to grow grapes because of the water situation,” says Chavez, adding that grapes require much less water than other crops grown in Valencia County, such as alfalfa.

Chavez said he has been making wine for 10 years, and aside from a few courses through the New Mexico Vine and Wine Society, it has been a lot of trial and error.

By 2015 Chavez anticipates wine production to go up to 1,500 cases along with the construction of a bigger facility.

“I used to make a lot of wine out of everything,” says Chavez. “You can make wine out of everything.”

He said coming to a winery is a whole experience and can be a lot of fun, especially if you visit with friends. At the winery, you are not only able to see where and how the wine is made — from the vine to the bottle — but taste each wine to determine your favorite before purchasing.

“You get more opportunity to taste the wines before you purchase so you get one you like,” said Chavez.

Chavez says his favorite wine is the Chambourcin, which along with the Late Harvest Millot are his top selling reds. Both are drier reds, the Chambourcin rich flavored with a full finish and the Millot well-rounded and medium-bodied with a smooth finish.

Dolores’ favorite wine is the Reserve Riesling, a sweet white wine with peach and pear flavors.

Other signature Camino Real wines are the Vino de Gloria, a red wine made from the Isabella grape and named for Dolores’ mother, and the Vino de Tomé, which Chavez says compliments New Mexican food beautifully.

Camino Real Winery is located at 13 Tomé Hill Road and is open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday, and 12-5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 865-7903.

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