Western Wanderings

Château Albuquerque

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So Laurent, his sister Nathalie, and associate Farid Himeur ― all then in their 20s ― began making wine. It wasn't easy. When they did release their first efforts, the reception wasn't hostile, just disbelieving. Says Laurent, "We learned not to say where the wine was from before people tasted it."

But the world came around. It helped that Laurent got support from Santa Fe restaurateurs. Santa Fe draws travelers from all over. Many of them talked up the New Mexico sparkling wine they tried on vacation.

Today Laurent sells 75,000 cases annually. Along with a half-dozen sparkling wines, the winery sells a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. Next month they plan to release a Syrah.

And Laurent has become a New Mexican. He retains an accent and looks like he should be playing for France in the World Cup, but he's married to a New Mexican. His daughter and son are, he says, mixes of American Southwest and France ― blends, like some good wines.

Laurent has toured me through the winery. Now it's time to sample. He's been informative throughout the tour, but only now does he light up. We try a 2000 blanc de blancs, then move on to a 1997 Grande Reserve. Aged for six years, it's Laurent's favorite, with a label patterned after that of his father's first release.

As Laurent pours, he talks about his father, who died six years ago. "He was the one who came here, but I was the one who stayed. He started from nothing in France. I wanted to do the same here."

We lift our glasses. A sparkling wine is the most frivolous of beverages, and like all things frivolous must be done perfectly or not at all. "This is the best in New Mexico," Laurent says, as he sips his Grande Reserve. "The best we can do. This is as good as it gets."

INFO:  Gruet Winery (12-5 Mon-Sat; $5 tasting fee; 8400 Pan American Fwy. N.E., Albuquerque; 888/857-9463)

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