Laurent Gruet, son of the founder and head winemaker of Gruet Winery, takes great pride in his sparkling and still wine production. (Photo credit: John Stedronsky)

In the blink of an eye the holiday season is upon us once again; a time for gathering with family and friends and celebrating all of our many blessings. With this in mind I would like to introduce you to a producer right here in the southwest that specializes in crafting sparkling wines that are perfect for this time of the year.

Most people wouldn’t consider Albuquerque, New Mexico as a likely spot for high quality, sparkling wine. But just off Interstate 25 in a commercial area a few miles from the center of the city, lies one of the premier sparkling wine production facilities in the country. And while the Gruet winery has been producing sparkling wine made in the traditional method in New Mexico since 1987 their history is traced back to the very hub of sparkling wine production - the Champagne region of France. Founded in 1967, Gruet et Fils has been growing Chardonnay and engaging in the production of Champagne in the town of Bethon, within the Côte des Blancs.

While traveling through New Mexico and after evaluating the climate and soil conditions Gilbert Gruet, the patriarch of the family, saw the potential for expanding his business into the states. Dispatching two of his children, Laurent and Nathalie to the area to oversee the development, Gilbert started modestly, planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards in the southern part of the state. The operation grew steadily and gained a national reputation. Gruet opened their current facility in 1993 and this year will produce 275 thousand cases of sparkling and still wines.

I had an opportunity to speak with Laurent at the winery last month. He retains the position of head winemaker at Gruet and the passion and pride he has for his wines and the company were obvious. Laurent insists that when it comes to sparkling wine production Gruet will always follow the Champagne protocol “because it is the right thing to do.” Methode Champenoise is the traditional and labor intensive method of producing sparkling wine in that the secondary fermentation occurs in each individual bottle. This method produces distinct aromas, flavors and textures significantly different from other sparkling wine processes. Gruet produces a full range of sparkling wines, from subtly sweet to bone dry. The winery routinely garners praise from the national wine press, with their non-vintage Blanc de Noirs cracking Wine Spectators top 100 wines of the world back in 2011. Still wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are also produced, but the distribution of these wines is limited and not typically available in Arizona.

One of Gruet’s more recent projects is a collaborative agricultural venture with the nearby Santa Ana Pueblo. Laurent has developed a business relationship with the pueblo, advising them on vineyard farming practices and purchasing their grapes for wine production. This initiative has created jobs and helped boost the economy within the pueblo, while providing Gruet with an additional source for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The good news for Saddlebrooke residents is the Gruet’s non-vintage sparkling wines are widely available in the Tucson area and can be purchased for under $15 a bottle. I recommend trying the Blanc de Noirs; a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This wine has a fine mousse, with crisp acidity and complex flavors; an incredible value for any holiday table. For a more color and red berry notes the Brute Rose’ is a great choice as well.

Gruet is a story of French roots and American dreams, a perfect blend for lovers of fine wine. You can learn more about the history of this company, its wines and tasting rooms at gruetwinery.com.

Salute!

Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England and is available to answer your wine questions at tjo1913@gmail.com