ENTERING THROUGH THE hand-built arches of Casa Rondeña Winery on a sunny, spur-of-the-moment afternoon, my friend and I look at each other and ask, “How have we never been here before?”
We know we’re in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, a village nestled inside of the state’s largest city, but driving on the dirt road through rows of lush vines is like stumbling upon a desert oasis. Sunshine bounces off the blooming yellow roses and hand-painted tiles adorning the tasting room, just one of the stunning Spanish-style buildings on the property.
Its rustic door leads us into an intimate standing bar, backed by bottles of Casa Rondeña’s vintages. Picnic items—crackers, olives, hummus, fresh strawberries, salami and cheese, and local craft beers—line the other wall. When the bartender asks if we’d like the Summer (whites) or Reserve (reds) flight, we simultaneously say, “Both, please.”
We carefully carry our four-sample flights through the wood-paneled tasting room, which has a big vintage barrel, high ceilings, and a glistening chandelier. Skipping the large round tables under the covered patio, we opt for a high-top beneath a shady olive tree. Intimate benches and large tables provide a spot for any social situation. And there’s more outdoor seating, covered with sunshades and cooling misters, nestled among the vines nearby.
Our spot overlooks a small, winding pond with extravagant archways, lion-face fountains, and dragonflies chasing one another over the rippling water. We’re also privy to sights of the luxurious 1629 Club’s courtyard, a stone’s throw away, where the chef is firing up a brick pizza oven, setting the scene for a mouth-watering celebration. While the patio area across the pond is for 1629 Club members only, the other two membership levels—Founders and Club J—offer an array of perks, like monthly wine selections and invites to the fall harvest.
As we clumsily clink together two glasses of the Shining River, a refreshing white wine with hints of honeysuckle, our peaceful surroundings encourage us to let our guard down, take a few deep breaths, and talk for hours.
“It’s always been about creating beauty for the sake of creating beauty,” says owner, vintner, and architect John Calvin, whose experiences abroad influenced Casa Rondeña’s Iberian-inspired architecture and award-winning European-style wines. “Even if the winery never made any money, I still would’ve built it.”
His artistic sensibilities developed while growing up in Los Ranchos and later, while living in places like Andalusia, Spain, where he was a flamenco guitarist in his twenties. After planting the first vines with his sons in 1990 and establishing the winery in 1995, Calvin and his family lived in the green-roofed villa that is now utilized as the 1629 clubhouse.
“Spiritually, we hope to connect people with things that are greater than themselves,” he says.
While each of Casa Rondeña’s wines acts as an invitation to expand your palate and mind, the 1629 is as rich in history as it is in flavor. Named for the year that Franciscan monks planted New Mexico’s first grapes, the blend of tempranillo, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon is layered and full-bodied, with notes of plum and berries.
“Our 1629 flagship wine best expresses what I’ve wanted to accomplish since I started,” says Calvin. He credits its wonderfully dense flavors to the vines that have been growing in Los Ranchos for more than 25 years and have imparted a minerality that did not exist a decade ago. It’s a perfect marriage—the sensibilities of Spanish wines with New Mexico and its community.
“We work hard to serve our culture, protect it, and celebrate it,” Calvin says.