You might not imagine a thriving wine industry in New Mexico, known for its high desert and rocky mesas. But the state’s sunny days and cool nights combine to produce abundant grapes for its 40-plus wineries.
One of the fastest-growing wineries is Noisy Water Winery, located in Ruidoso in the Sierra Blanca mountain range of southern New Mexico. Led by fifth-generation farmer Jasper Riddle, the business is expanding its vineyard with financing from Ag New Mexico. And if Riddle has his way, New Mexico agriculture will someday be known for wine and grapes, along with chile and pecans.
“I’m working to demonstrate that vineyards can be profitable in New Mexico,” Riddle says. “By providing a consistent outlet for other farmers’ fruit, I’m hoping to grow the overall industry in the state.”
Growing their own grapes
Riddle grew up in Ruidoso, where his family owned and operated Noisy Water Winery. After graduating from college and coaching football, he purchased controlling ownership in the winery in 2010.
At first, the winery sourced its grapes from local growers. Then in 2018, Riddle bought the oldest and largest contiguous vineyard in the state. The 250-acre property near Engle, with 75 acres under vine, became the new foundation for Noisy Water.
The vineyard produces 14 varieties of grapes, which join grapes from other New Mexico vineyards to make 40-plus wines and ciders. Crushing and processing take place at Noisy Waters’ own processing facility in Alto, 15 minutes up the mountain from Ruidoso.
The winery still buys about half the fruit it needs — 200 tons or so — from other vineyards.
Expanding the vineyard
In 2021, Ag New Mexico financed an additional 200 acres for Noisy Water. Riddle plans to establish a vineyard on the land, starting with 50 acres in 2022. The new farm includes 20 acres of pecan trees
“Our commercial bank wasn’t able to finance our project, so they referred us to Ag New Mexico,” Riddle says. “Farm Credit’s been great to work with. They offer a lot of flexibility and ease when taking on a large-scale project. They’re really a one-stop bank for agriculture.”
The lending co-op is pleased to play a role supporting in the wine and grape industry, Ag New Mexico Senior Relationship Manager Elizabeth French reports.
“We’re excited to work with Jasper,” French says, “and we look forward to the future of his business and the state’s grape industry.”
Rebuilding an industry
Wine grapes have been grown in New Mexico since the first vines were smuggled out of Spain into the area in the early 1600s. After centuries of struggle, the state’s wine industry started to take off in the 1970s and flourished in more recent years.
As vice president of the New Mexico Wine & Grape Growers Association, Riddle is a strong advocate for the industry.
“We’re working to increase the awareness of the tremendous quality of wine coming out of New Mexico, to increase grape plantings in the state, and increase profitability for farmers and wineries alike,” says Riddle, who was named 2018 New Mexico Small Business Person of the Year.
Selling 40,000 cases a year
Noisy Water sells 40,000 cases of wine a year. The wines range from dry chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons to sweeter wines, unique reds, whites and bubbly, and even a regionally unique chile wine.
Distribution includes on-site sales at the Alto production facility, two Ruidoso tasting rooms, and tasting rooms in Albuquerque, Cloudcroft and Red River. The wine is sold online and through wholesale and retail channels, including Costco and Walmart in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. Noisy Water also has an 800-member wine club.
Focusing on sustainability
Establishing a vineyard on his new land is a priority for Riddle. Part of his plan for long-term viability focuses on sustainability. While not certified as organic, Noisy Water follows sustainable and organic practices, using no chemical herbicides, fungicides, insecticides or synthetic fertilizers. To help nourish the soil, Riddle brings in goats and ducks that control unwanted vegetation.
“Financially, most farmers will see a better return on their investment in maintaining better soil health,” he says.
Whatever Noisy Waters’ future growth entails, Riddle says he’ll turn to Ag New Mexico for his financing.
“Ag New Mexico has tremendous people and solutions. I’ve already referred business to them and brought them more of my own,” he says. “When we shop for more farmland or infrastructure, they’ll be the first people we’ll call.”
— Karen Macdonald
Visit noisywaterwinery.com for more information.