When you read the story of wine in America, you may expect to first find California, Washington, or Oregon, but the opening pages in the book will actually be about New Mexico. Wine has a long history in our state. It has been more than four centuries since the first Vitis vinifera was planted somewhere near modern-day Socorro. The vines had to be smuggled in by a couple of Spanish holy men so they could make wine for the religious ritual of communion. The mission grape was the varietal planted by these two monks in 1629, beginning a chain reaction of vine planting and cultivation all over the Land of Enchantment. This rich history is embraced completely by the new owners of Rio Grande Winery and is woven throughout the culture of the vineyard.
Just over a year ago, the winery, located on Avenida de Mesilla/Highway 28, was purchased by Randy and Carol McMillan, Chris Lang, Bob Martinez, and winemaker Richard McDonald. All the partners have their own areas of expertise and an equal passion for the wine, the land, and the community.
The setting of Rio Grande Winery showcases the beautiful valley. A field of cool grass seems to sway to country music strummed by the Neal McCowan Band and leads your eyes to the Organ Mountains that stand tall over Las Cruces. The outdoor dance floor, along with furniture upgrades and other design improvements Carol has made to the property, make Rio Grande Winery a comfortable and lively spot to escape the grind of daily life. You’ll want your night out to go on forever. “My design goal for the winery was to make it feel like a home away from home, a place to relax and unwind,” says Carol as she pets her cute pup, Chardonnay-nay.
The 2020 harvest yielded 80 tons of hand-picked grapes destined to make seven different varietals of wine. Land of Mañana Moscato is a popular white wine with a great balance of sweetness and acidity that pairs nicely with spicy foods. Desert Nights Rosé is made with the inspiration of the gorgeous desert sunsets that fill our skies. Of the three red wines featured by Rio Grande Winery, Mission is the one that continues to tell the story of those smuggled grapes first planted more than 400 years ago.
“Ultimately, we are storytellers,” Chris says with a smile on his face. “Chile and wine tell the story of New Mexico.” Chris, who also owns Organ Mountain Outfitters, has brought a fresh new look to the bottles through label design upgrades and wine names that capture the essence of Southern New Mexico.
Winemaker Richard obtained deep experience and knowledge by working in vineyards all over the world. He purposely took that route for his education to develop an understanding of different climates, terrain, and, of course, grape varietals. Richard managed the harvest in 2020 and was impressed with all the things the previous owner, Gordon Steele, had done to honor the craft of winemaking. “Gordon just picked the perfect location to build a winery and treated every step of the process with respect. We were handed a gift,” Richard remarks.
The most important part of Richard’s philosophy is that he honors the land and listens to the tales it tells to help him create the best wine possible. Rio Grande Winery will continue to involve the surrounding community, as they did by asking local volunteers to pick and stomp the grapes at harvest time, followed by preparing and sharing breakfast together.
Randy is a pillar of the Las Cruces real estate community and also owns The Fresh Chile Company. He decided to go into the wine business to fulfill a dream that he and Carol held for a long time. When the opportunity fell in his lap, he knew he had to put together the right team to make his dream come true and be prosperous. Soon after the group purchased the Rio Grande Winery, Josefina’s Old Gate in Mesilla went up for sale, creating the perfect opportunity to add another voice in the story they tell through their products.
Josefina’s Old Gate melds the world of The Fresh Chile Company and all the goodness that is Hatch chile with the wonderful wines of Rio Grande Winery. Both Josefina’s Old Gate and Rio Grande Winery often have live music to enhance the experience for the guests. “The atmosphere we want to create for our guests is a family friendly one,” Randy explains. “Usually, kids will get restless and be begging to leave a restaurant, but here at the winery, they are begging to stay longer.” Randy has a large family and loves his grandkids enjoying themselves as much as the adults when they come out to the winery.
Experiencing Rio Grande Winery is like walking into another world. From the second you pull into the vineyard, the scenery harkens back to a simpler time, and the mood continues all the way through the evening. Randy and Carol’s daughter Jenna, who usually works at the Fresh Chile Company, lends a hand at the winery when needed. Jenna and the rest of the staff are extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the different wines and give great recommendations, all the while maintaining easy smiles and a joyful presence.
The journey to Rio Grande Winery is just a short drive from Mesilla, and the experience should not be missed. Rio Grande Winery is continuing a legacy of winemaking in a region that has been doing it longer than anywhere else in the country. The story of the grapes that Richard tells through Rio Grande Winery is the story of the earth in which the vines are grown. With every sip of wine, they honor the history of our great state while creating the best experience possible for every guest that walks through the Rio Grande Winery door.
Written by Daniel Gonzales
Photos courtesy Rio Grande Winery
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com