The Friday Fermentable: The New Mexico edition, part 2

Before we embark on another edition of The Friday Fermentable, the Pharmboy and everyone at Terra Sig sends out their best wishes to actor, Robin Williams, and his family.

Mr Williams' publicist announced earlier this week that the Academy Award-winning actor and brilliant comedian has checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center following a recent lapse in his 20 years of sobriety.

The Friday Fermentable is dedicated to the responsible enjoyment of alcoholic beverages as just one facet of a richly-experienced life journey. However, we recognize that many of us share a genetic predisposition to alcohol dependence. The Pharmboy has a deep, abiding respect for those who face their genetic demons head-on and, as a longtime admirer of Mr Williams and his work, extend to him my continued admiration for his sense of responsibility for his own health and the well-being of his family.

Before we leave last week's treatment of alternative, tequila-based cocktails developed by New Mexico restauranteurs, I wanted to share another experience from the week that reminded me of another fermentable gem from The Land of Enchantment.

The reader is likely familiar with the fact that sparkling wines are Champagne-style wines made outside of a small region of France using a similar method of fermentation in the bottle (nomenclature and history here).

California has some tremendous sparkling wines that command near-Champagne prices. For the graduate student or postdoc, Washington's Domaine St. Michelle produces a number of sparklers in the $10 range that provide a nice taste of this revered beverage.

But did you know that one of the most authentic, Champagne-like operations in the US is situated in the state of New Mexico?

From the Gruet Family History at

In 1983, the Gruet family was traveling through the Southwestern part of the United States, and while in New Mexico met a group of European winemakers who had successfully planted vineyards in Engle, near the town of Truth or Consequence, 170 miles south of Albuquerque. The land was inexpensive and the opportunity golden. In 1984, Gilbert Gruet, whose Champagne house, Gruet et Fils had produced fine Champagne in Bethon, France, since 1952, made the decision to plant an experimental vineyard, exclusively planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. His children, winemaker Laurent and daughter Nathalie, and family friend Farid Himeur then relocated to the great state of New Mexico to begin their American wine making adventure.

At 4300 ft. the vineyards are some of the highest in the United States, so regardless of how hot the days might be, the temperature at night can drop as much as thirty degrees, cooling the fruit and slowing down the maturation process on an otherwise short growing season. Sandy and loamy soil, and a lack of humidity that might contribute to rot, give us a consistency of fruit year in and year out, and allow us to produce our award winning wines without the use of pesticides.

The excellent 1987 harvest allowed Laurent to produce his first two wines following the strict guidelines of a true Methode Champenoise. His Gruet Brut N.V., and his Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs N.V. Production totaled 5000 bottles. All manual machinery had been shipped from France and the wine was produced in a small rented facility in the city of Albuquerque.

In 1989, after the required minimum of two years aging on tirage, our first two sparkling wines were introduced to a very appreciative wine world. Critics and connoisseurs alike were astonished by the quality and the value. New Mexico wine was on the map!

In 2005 Gruet produced 80,000 cases of wine and distributed them to 47 states. We now produce seven different sparkling wines: Brut NV (non-vintage), Blanc de Noirs NV, Rose NV, Demi Sec NV, vintage Blanc de Blancs, vintage Grand Rose, and Laurent's latest bubbly creation -- an homage to his late, great father, and the Gruet Winery's luxury tete de cuvee -- the vintage Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve. We also produce two excellent Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs, both with a regular bottling and an unfiltered barrel select reserve bottling.

In fact, our US readers should be able to find one or two Gruet offerings at your local Whole Foods, just outside my normal limit of $10/bottle, but certainly less than $15. Not only are these strikingly beautiful and affordable wines, but they exemplify the fact that good grapes can be grown and good wines made almost anywhere, so long as there is an attention to traditional methods, painstaking detail, and a respect for the local climate.

Moreover, imagine the fun you'll have bringing a bottle of sparkling wine as a dinner party gift and espousing the beauty of its New Mexican origins.

I absolutely love the text of their retail tag (PDF here),

"There is this winery...":

That is in the middle of the desert,

That is near vineyards first planted in 1629,

That is at an altitude of 4200 ft,

That makes one of the driest Sparkling Wines in the country,

That makes one of the brightest Sparkling Wines in the country,

That is owned and operated by a French champagne family,

That has been here in the US for over 25 years,

Give up?

Gruet Winery
Albuquereque, NM, USA

Gruet is serious, but Gruet is fun.

Have fun!

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A sober Robin Williams is an unfunny Robin Williams. I don't know what role booze played in his early chemical intake, but he was hilarious when he was on coke.

Seriously though, drug abuse is a dangerous practice and should not be encouraged (even for the sake of comedy). I should be sent directly to Hell, not pass go, and not collect $200.

Hey, brother, no worries - I get the substance of your jest in that there is an amazing coincidence of the creative arts, mental illness, and substance abuse propensity.

Indeed, Robin Williams was the most hysterically funny when he was a stimulant-fueled wild man, but his most serious explorations of the deep and dark sides of the human experience (Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, and others) all came during this long period of sobriety. It's almost as though the creativity comes out differently when one is self-medicating.

Similarly, my childhood radio idol and pioneer of now-mindless bastardization of morning radio humor, Don Imus, is now a sober, former coke addict. He's still funny, but not like in the 70s. Instead, he is now this insightful political pundit simulcast on NYC radio and MSNBC and, with his wife, a childhood cancer philanthropist. When he and Howard Stern were both on WNBC-AM in the early 80s and Howard was on his way up (or down, depending how you look at it), I remember Stern joking, "Imus, you were a lot funnier when you were drinking; your [Arbitron] numbers were way better when you were a coked-up fool."

Of course, both Williams and Imus are now older men - how much of their transition is mellowing with age vs. a modified direction of one's creativity when drug-free?

If my devils are to leave me, I'm afraid my angels will take flight as well. Rilke

I admit that I ain't no angel
I admit that I ain't no saint
I'm selfish and I'm cruel and I'm blind
If I exorcise my devils
Well my angels may leave too
When they leave they're so hard to find
Tom Waits Please Call me Baby

This is the first I heard about Robin Williams!

I can't imagine how disappointing it must be to relapse after 20 years of sobriety, but it just proves the one-day-at-a-time philosophy.

My prayers and best wishes to him and his family.

"If my devils are to leave me, I'm afraid my angels will take flight as well. Rilke"

Well, the dude's also bipolar! Supposedly he was worried about the above (i.e., losing his creativity) before he went on meds, but the meds worked out fine.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 31 Aug 2006 #permalink

The vineyards are the highest in the United States, so regardless of how hot the days might be, the temperature at night can drop as much as thirty degrees, cooling the fruit and slowing down the maturation process and hence at night the growing times is very low.
New Mexico Drug Treatment