AS THE BASS GUITARIST strums the first few notes of “Wild Thing,” the din of the outdoor party at Vivác Winery quiets in anticipation of hearing the song’s legendary lyrics. Soon enough, people are singing along, toasting one another, and vibing in their own wild-thing moments. Beyond the award-winning wine, the simple pleasure of soaking in the stellar scenery—verdant vineyards flanked by the Río Embudo and the soaring sides of the Barrancos Blancos—draws both locals and visitors to this roadside hot spot.
Inside, the tasting room is buzzing too. “Can I get another riesling growler?” a burly, tattooed man in his fifties asks, as he plunks a resealable glass wine bottle on the counter. (The winery offers three wines on tap for eco-conscious refills.) A little girl in pigtails presses her nose against the glass case of house-made chocolates, then points excitedly to the one she wants, pleading with her mom to buy it. Others are queued up at the bar for a flight of wine, a pint of local draft beer, or picnic snacks, like Santa Fe Olive Oil & Balsamic Co. olives and Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory goat cheese.
The door swings open—a woman in her thirties, wearing a white-veiled bridal tiara, pops in and calls to her girlfriends in line, “Will you get me a glass of that sangiovese, the pink one, and meet me at the river?”
Located along NM 68, north of Española, Vivác Winery is one of three must-visit Embudo Valley wine tasting rooms on your way to or from Taos. “It’s a place for everybody,” says Ashley Atencio, Vivác Winery’s events manager. “Even if you don’t like wine, we have chocolate and beer. And kids love playing hide-and-seek in the vineyards. We’re open seven days a week—that should tell you something about our all-ages, family appeal.”
Started in 1998 by two Dixon farm–raised brothers, Chris and Jesse Padberg, and their wives, Liliana and Michele, while bunking up in the Padberg parents’ home, Vivác Winery is an inspirational, This Is Us–style family affair.
“We wanted to make European-style wines with higher acidity and lower sugar,” says co-founder and sommelier Michele Padberg. “But no one thought we would have customers for dry wines, since most wanted sweet wines at the time.”
In the beginning, the doubters were right. At wine festivals, usually after waiting in line under the hot sun for a sample, festival goers left disgruntled to find no sweet or flavored wines at the Vivác booth. “We started to hang signs at our booths that had a huge red ‘no’ symbol over the words ‘sweet wines,’ ” Padberg recalls. People loved it, so Vivác began selling stickers and T-shirts with the graphic. “It kind of went viral,” she says. “We quickly found a cult following for our style of wines.”
Today, Vivác is a progressive leader, demonstrating the depth and complexity that can be achieved in wines using only New Mexico–grown grapes. In fact, it holds the title as the state’s highest-rated red wine producer of all time.
“We’re serious about making the best wines in the state, but our tasting room is anything but serious,” says Padberg, who notes that more than 20 wines are available to sample on-site. “Sure, our staff can geek out with you about winemaking and flavor profiles like nobody’s business, but we’re about creating a fun, welcoming energy for all.”
Vivác, a Spanish word meaning “high-altitude refuge,” is just that—a place to relax or channel your inner rock star via weekend karaoke with a tipple or two in a picturesque setting. And did we mention those fancy craft chocolates by co-founder Lilian Padberg? It’s hard to resist an afternoon of wine and chocolate.