About 400 years ago, Don Juan de Onate led a small band of Spanish colonists from New Spain (now Mexico) northward, up the trail that would later be known as El Camino Real.
Their mission: to settle the fertile valleys of the upper Rio Grande.
With the colonists came Franciscan monks who needed wine for their daily mass. Only a small sip was required – but it had to be wine.
The supplies that had been issued to each monk upon leaving the Old World were quickly depleted, and it was a thousand miles and a six-month journey by ox cart to replenish their stock of wine.
For 30 years, the monks obeyed the Spanish law that forbade the production of wine in the New World. Wine was made in Spain, shipped to Veracruz in New Spain, then hauled overland by ox cart to New Mexico. Supply trains came once every three years, and their manifests listed approximately 45 gallons of wine on each trip.
Finally, the church, along with colonial Governor Francisco Manuel de Silva Nieto (whose government was paying to import the wine), decided to resolve the problem by planting grapevines and making their own sacramental wine.
The first vines planted in what is now the state of New Mexico were brought in 1629 to Senecu, a Piro Indian pueblo south of Socorro, by Fray Graciade 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. Historians, however, think it’s a European variety from Spain called Monica. Whatever its name, it is still grown in New Mexico today.
The greatest concentration of wineries can be found around Santa Fe and Albuquerque in the northern part of the state, but there also are “wine trails” in the southeast sector of New Mexico, as well as west of Las Cruces. For further information and maps, visit www.nmwine.com.