Ask Wine Wizard

Growing Grapes In Albuquerque


Bill Mech — Clive, Iowa asks,

I’ve lived in the Upper Midwest for long enough to know what grows well here (Marquette and La Crescent are two of my favorites) and what doesn’t (Vitis vinifera of any sort). However, I’ll be retiring to Albuquerque, New Mexico soon and have no clue what grows there. Ideally, some Vitis vinifera can survive the winters. It looks like 6b or 7a are the USDA zones there, which are warmer than here, but not exactly the 8s and 9s of California. I would gladly accept any suggestions you can offer about growing backyard vines in Albuquerque?


I’m thrilled for your new move because Albuquerque is just about as far north in New Mexico as you want to be planting traditional wine grapes of Vitis vinifera. Many grape types thrive in this drier, sunnier and often higher-altitude state, and some fabulous wines (Gruet’s amazing sparkling wines are some of the best-known) are being produced there. That being said, cold-hardy natives like Concord and Niagara do best in Northern New Mexico, whereas Albuquerque and south remain temperate enough in the winter to safely grow traditional wine grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Like you said, it’s not a state that’s quite as temperate as California. Although you don’t have to worry about the rot and mildew problems like you do in the Midwest. Winterkill due to extreme cold remains a concern for points north of Albuquerque.

Since you’re right on that north/south zone border, I recommend you think about grapes and wine styles that are early-ripening, don’t need high sugars to produce a nice wine, and that do well in cooler or higher altitude climates. My top choices would probably be Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay for whites and Grenache, Cinsault or Pinot Noir for reds. These varietals make really approachable, delicious wines and don’t need to get to 27 °Brix or higher to make a stylish, satisfying product. Zinfandel, Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, are known for their heavier, more alcoholic profiles (at least in current winemaking and wine drinking trends), and many winemakers want to see higher sugars before picking. Cold weather and early fall storms may limit the possibility of achieving full ripeness for these kinds of grapes. In colder years I’ve been thankful to be a Pinot Noir grower with my grapes in the barn, unconcerned about the weather while my Cabernet Sauvignon-growing friends scowl at every coming rain cloud.

I recommend you do a little searching around and become friends with the local County Extension Office. The University of New Mexico’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has a nice viticulture outreach program backed by the resources and science of an accredited educational institution. There are also a number of local groups, societies and grower’s associations to contact, get involved with and learn from, depending on your level of interest and endeavor. Check out the New Mexico Vine and Wine Society, which is an overall supportive organization of both the commercial and home enthusiast.

Response by Alison Crowe.