Hello friends. I’m pleased to offer an American classic today, and it’s not from Washington, Oregon, or California:
Yes, New Mexico, where the Gruet family of Bethon, Champagne have farmed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the high desert (and I do mean high: elevation is 4300 feet!) south of Albuquerque (location here) since 1987.
The New York Times wrote a terrific profile of the winery back in 2010. Check out that piece for the fine-grained detail, and I’ll give the Cliffs Notes version.
Gruet et Fils is a Champagne house founded in 1952 by Gilbert Gruet. During a trip to the United States in 1983, Gilbert was intrigued by the potential in New Mexico: warm days and, because of the high altitude, extremely cool nights; exactly the kind of big diurnal shifts he was looking for. Intrigued enough to purchase land, plant a vineyard in 1984, and send two of his four children to New Mexico (Laurent and Nathalie; the other two remained in Champagne to make wine there).
The 1987 harvest marked Gruet’s first vintage harvesting grapes, and in 1989, they released their first wines (about 400 cases total). Since then, they have grown consistently, spurred on by strong sales and critical acclaim, to a point where they now produce about 100,000 cases. That production level is equal to that of Gruet et Fils, which continues in Champagne.
I’ve long appreciated this wine on a couple of levels. First off, it’s always an intellectual treat, drinking an American wine that doesn’t come from one of the big-three states. But more importantly, it’s good, and it always provides excellent value-for-money. As domestic sparklers go, Gruet is tough to beat dollar for dollar. (Holding my breath now, waiting for a bolt of lightning from Domaine Ste. Michelle.)
Their flagship bottling is the non-vintage Brut. It’s a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, done using Methode Champenoise, which is obvious as soon as you sniff the leesy, yeasty, overtly autolytic nose. The lithe, 12%-alc palate contains lovely rich fruit (peach, black cherry) that interplays wonderfully with the insistent bready tones (fresh-baked brioche, dark rye). There is just enough mineral and floral nuance here to really surprise at a sub-$15 tariff.
This truly is an American classic, soon to enter its fourth decade of operations. Anyone who cares about American wine owes it to themselves to try Gruet. And like all sparkling wines, it’s better on your breakfast cereal than milk. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrived in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.