Southern New Mexico vineyards doing better than most during drought


POSTED: Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 9:51pm

UPDATED: Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 9:55pm

The severe drought in the Southwest shows no end in sight, but some Borderland farmers are doing their best to fight the lack of rain.

Considering the drought, New Mexico's grapes are doing okay because they don't need as much water compared to other crops. But, that doesn't mean the grapes at wineries are completely out of danger.

For wine enthusiasts, the local vineyards in Southern New Mexico are the ideal place to go to taste one of a kind wine.

"The riesling here is totally different than the ones up in Illinois or Missouri. It's the variety," said Terry Power.

But, the current drought is creating some problems for the wineries. According to the National Weather Service, so far 2014 has been 20 percent dryer than average.

"Last year we got three inches of water," said Ken Stark, owner of La Vina Winery in La Union.

He says grapes are doing better than most crops in the area, only because they don't require as much water.

"But I think everyone in the valley has seen some reduction in yield just because we don't get as much water from the river as we used to."

Almost all of the water Stark uses comes from his well, which creates a new problem. The underground water is salty and too much of it can end up killing the grape vines.

"Every time it goes through the soil it gets a little bit saltier,” Stark said. “It gets less watery. So we really do need to have more recharge."

So the vineyard takes advantage of the runoff from Elephant Butte Reservoir.

As soon as the vineyard gets fresh water from the river they waste no time completely flooding this field trying to get rid of the salt that had built up from the well water.

"The river works for us just like rain," said Stark.

While the states prolonged drought has been a struggle for farmers to get through, people are happy to still have descent harvests.

"If we were all the same, it wouldn't matter where the wine was distilled at or where it was made at," said Earnest Carlile.

Stark said La Vina Winery, and others, will continue to produce quality wine - with or without the extra water.

"We continue to fight the battle with what we got," added Stark.

He also said his well was built in the 1950's and is about 200 feet deep. New wells can go down nearly 1,000 feet and reach fresh water supplies. But building one can cost $100,000 or more.

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