There’s a new kid in town. Wine lovers cruising Highway 28 south of Mesilla along what is fast becoming a destination “wine road” have a new stop to sample locally produced fruit of the vine.
Mesa Vista Winery Tasting Room quietly opened its doors to the public on April 28 in La Union at the southernmost extension of the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail that begins at Fort Selden, north of Las Cruces. Bryan and Dawn Oakley offer more than a dozen varieties of Estate Wines made from grapes grown at their Chamberino vineyards.
Visitors can spot the small, wood-framed building housing the tasting room sitting just off Highway 28 in La Union, behind a mammoth metal barn where antique vehicles are stored. Mesa Vista celebrated its grand opening on June 23 with live music and a catered barbecue.
Mesa Vista’s wines are made and aged on the Oakleys’ four-acre homestead about 10 miles away. The first grape vines—Malbec and Pinot Grigio—were planted in 2011. The Oakleys bottled their first wine, a Cabernet-Barbera blend, in 2013. The vineyards now include nine grape varieties that cover an acre-and-a-half on land that once grew alfalfa.
What started out to be a vocation the couple could enjoy when Bryan retired, has proven to be an arduous, time-consuming endeavor that keeps them both super busy. Bryan, a Canadian who moved to El Paso 28 years ago to work as an engineer in the maquiladora industry, still commutes 100 miles to and from work in Juarez five days a week. When not pouring wine at the MVW Tasting Room, Dawn oversees the vineyards and handles ranching chores, tending to two horses and more than a dozen alpacas. She also volunteers for the Chamberino Volunteer Fire Department, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and other county programs. She jokes about living “42-hour days.”
The alpacas, which sport names like Ray Charles and Lady Gaga, supply fiber that Dawn spins into yarn to sell in her craft room, the Inspiration Center, one of three rooms that comprise the Tasting Room building.
Bryan first began making wine as a hobby, turning fruit from his El Paso Upper Valley home orchard into plum, apricot, and peach wine that he bottled for his friends, who suggested he consider winemaking as a profession. Bryan and Dawn decided to look into the New Mexico wine business, visiting a number of “mom and pop” wineries around the state. One was the Tularosa Vineyards, run by a spry 83-year-old who drove them all around town, jumping out often to pick a few grapes to share. They concluded that running a winery might afford them a really healthy lifestyle.
“We liked their attitudes and the nature of the business,” Bryan says. “The funny thing is that most of these mom-and-pop shops are run by retired professionals who have gotten into winemaking. The more people we met in the New Mexico wine community, it was apparent how much they support one another.”
Bryan and Dawn Oakley offer more than a dozen varieties of Estate Wines made from grapes grown at their Chamberino vineyards.
The Oakleys sold their El Paso property and bought four acres in Chamberino that offered a paved road for easy access and included precious water rights that are critical to occasionally flooding their vineyards to leach out excess salt. They later began seeking an ideal location for a tasting room, looking first at a former art gallery in La Mesa. Bryan says a conversation with the owner of the nearby La Vina Winery convinced him, however, that it made more economic sense to be located closer to the much larger El Paso market, so they leased the La Union/Anthony location.
“The local wine community has been so welcoming,” says Bryan, “so we took the leap.”
Mesa Vista Winery Tasting Room opens at noon Thursday through Sunday, serving a dozen varieties of white and red wine, as well as three kinds of draft beer from the Spotted Dog Brewery in Old Mesilla. The largest room houses two “wine servers” that chill whites to 42 degrees and keep reds at 70 degrees. Patrons can sit at the handcrafted pine bar that wraps around existing massive pine columns or at small tables against the wall. Large parties can sit at a large table in the adjacent Gallery, whose walls are adorned by the works of New Mexico photographers.
Although a few wines offered at Mesa Vista are made from grapes grown elsewhere in Southern New Mexico, most varieties, such as the Viognier, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec, carry the Estate designation. Five dollars will buy you a sample of five varieties. A souvenir wine glass costs $5. Taking home a bottle of your favorite won’t break the bank either at this mom-and-pop operation. Most bottles fall in the $21 to $23 price range.
All of the wine made by the Oakleys is sold at the Tasting Room, by the glass and by the bottle. They are currently harvesting roughly 6,000 pounds of grapes annually, enough to make 420 gallons, or the equivalent of 2,000 bottles. Why not be one of the first in your neighborhood to bring home a bottle bearing one of the state’s newest labels from this Southern New Mexico boutique winery?