Small Urban Winery Blossoms off the Vine

Marvin Vierra and Mark Matheson talk while Vierra samples a glass of wine in the tasting room at Matheson Winery. Photo by Bud Cordova / NMNewsPort.

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Two gold medals, seven silver medals, four bronze medals, three best of shows. This winner is no Olympian, he’s Mark Matheson, owner and operator of Matheson Winery in Rio Rancho.

The business is the first urban winery in the state, and is unique because it has no vineyard. Instead, Matheson buys grapes from around the state.

“In California they have what is known as wine ghettos,” Matheson said, referring to urban wineries in more populated areas. “A collection of wineries, just like this, in how I am located next to a gun store, next to a paint store.”

Matheson says the location allows customers to taste and buy his wine without having to travel out to the countryside.

Another special aspect of Matheson Winery, which opened in 2005, is that the wine is a “direct to consumer” business. There is no distribution of Matheson Wines. The only place to get Matheson wine is directly from the Tasting Room or from the Winery website. The reason for this is the small scale of production at Matheson Winery.

Matheson produces around 500 cases of wine, or 6,000 bottles a year. Large scale wineries need sophisticated distribution systems, as they produce closer to 10,000 cases a year, according to Matheson.

Matheson prides himself on using solely New Mexican grapes for the creation of his wine. With New Mexican grapes, Matheson says, he is able to compete against similar wines in the New Mexico State Fair, where he has won most of his awards in wine making.

Small scale, family run

As a one-man operation,  Matheson relies on help from his family, mainly his son and a friend of his son’s that Matheson considers his son as well.

“They help out a lot in the crushing of the grapes and getting them into the fermentors. So it’s a lot of manual labor that they assist me in,” Matheson said. His son and his friend help Matheson throughout the production process.

The winery itself is a three-room suite including the tasting room, Matheson’s office and a workroom in the back with roll up doors to easily move goods in or out.

He has everything he needs for the process of turning grapes into wine — from grape press to bottler. He ferments the grapes on site in large plastic containers.

The equipment may seem primitive, yet the innovation and shift in fermentation from large French oak barrels to plastic containers prevents evaporation, a huge loss of wine, according to Matheson.

From Sonoma to Rio Rancho

Matheson has been part of winemaking in New Mexico since 1987.

Originally from California, Matheson grew up in Sonoma Valley. He first encountered the art of winemaking in college at UC-Davis. Though he was a pre-med student, he took a beginner wine making class and eventually changed his major. He graduated in 1985 with a degree in enology, the study of wines.

After working several years at wineries in California, Matheson moved to New Mexico, during the “rebirth” of the New Mexican wine industry.

“The modern New Mexico wine industry started in 1980…1982… so it was a really a brand new industry, and we were trying to figure out things,” Matheson said. “ I was kind of attracted to that.”

Matheson worked with many vineyards and wineries throughout New Mexico, before opening  his own winery in Rio Rancho.

An interconnected industry

Overall, the biggest challenge to the new wine industry of New Mexico was figuring out how to grow the grape vines for the wine, Matheson explained.

New Mexico’s altitude, wind and soil types all contribute to its own regional taste. “Our template came from California, and I think that that was a mistake,” Matheson said.

The transitional nature and the small size of the community of winemakers in New Mexico has helped create what Matheson describes as “an interconnectedness” of the growers and winemakers, and is one of the industry’s greatest strengths.

“If we had been secretive or adversarial over the decades we [as a wine industry] would not be where we are now,” Matheson said.

Looking ahead

Matheson says he wants to keep Matheson Winery small. This allows him more creative and artistic flexibility to perfect his wines.

Matheson says his plan is to  move out of the sweet wines and port segments into more of a dry red category. The sweet wine segment is so crowded, Matheson said. “And really the dry reds are my passion.”

“I am 52 and would love, really love to continue to do this until I’m 70,” Matheson said.

Looking back

The oldest wine region in the United States is not California but in fact is New Mexico, according to the History of New Mexico Wine Booklet by Henry Street.

A Franciscan and a Capuchin monk together planted the first grape vines in 1629, for the communion wine for religious mass.

By the late 1800’s New Mexico was ranked fifth in the nation as a wine producer with almost a million gallons annually, according to Street.

The wine industry remained strong for New Mexico until the 1920’s, when prohibition was the law.

Another set-back occurred in  1943 when a flood that destroyed much of the vines produced along the Rio Grande.

According to the New Mexico State University Viticulture website, the revitalization and recovery of the wine industry in New Mexico didn’t start till the 1980’s.

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Mark Matheson




Winemaker owner and operator of Matheson Winery


Enologist. Matheson has worked at St. Clair Winery in Deming, Anderson Valley Vineyards here in Albuquerque, and Santa Fe Vineyards in Nambe before opening Matheson Winery.

What do you think is the most interesting part of the innovation economy in ABQ?

The innovation economy is great has had a large the impact on the wine industry, while low tech in the innovations, the impact has been revolutionary. Most important has been the revolution of using enzymes to eliminate tannins in the wine and to produce great color.

If you weren’t doing this job what would you be doing?

I would probably own a small french cafe.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row]