Arenaissance in locally produced, locally branded foods is occurring in the Four Corners region, that portion of the southwestern United States where the state boundaries of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah converge. Growers again view fruit crops, including wine grape, as a profitable specialty crop to propel a local agricultural/tourism economy. Current private grape acreage in the entire Four Corners region is ≈20 ha, but is supported by at least four boutique wineries with vineyards, and the number of small test vineyards established in the area is increasing.
Northwestern New Mexico has high-elevation geography and a climate typical of many parts of the intermountain western United States, the region is bounded by several mountain ranges with peaks greater than 2900 m and is of varied topography from mountain foothills, expansive mesas, to narrow fertile river valleys. The La Plata, Animas, and San Juan rivers provide irrigation water to small-scale valley-bottom farms in these respective valleys. Navajo Lake (63.1 km2 and fed by the upper San Juan River) provides irrigation water to the greater than 80,000 acre Navajo Agricultural Products Industry farm, a Navajo Nation commercial farm entity located on a mesa top south of Farmington, NM. Regional climate is high desert, semiarid (due to nearby mountainous rain shadow effect) with a mean annual precipitation of 8.16 inches (207.264 mm) (Smeal, 2006). Daily diurnal temperature variation is extreme, easily swinging 20 °C.
Cultivar evaluation research is an important step in determining commercial viability of grape cultivars in various mesoclimates of potential production regions. In the intermountain western United States, viticultural performance has been evaluated primarily at low-elevation sites such as Prosser, WA, elevation 270 m (Davenport et al., 2008; Keller et al., 2005; Mills et al., 2006); Summerland, BC, Canada (interior), elevation 454 m (Reynolds et al., 2004); and Parma, ID, elevation 750 m (Fallahi et al., 2005; Shellie, 2007). High-elevation trials have been reported for Reno, NV, elevation 1373 m (Evans et al., 2005) and Grand Junction, CO, elevation 1414 m (Caspari and Montano, 2012; Hamman, 1993; Hamman et al., 1998). Northwestern New Mexico geography and climate closely resembles Grand Junction, CO’s, and northwestern New Mexico growers often reference viticultural work conducted there. As a whole, these studies from low- and high-elevation sites share some similarities with northwestern New Mexico and offer some cultivar performance information for semiarid conditions.
Like Grand Junction, northwestern New Mexico has high solar irradiation, which amplifies minimum–maximum temperatures (Hamman et al., 1998). However, northwestern New Mexico is ≈300 m higher in elevation than Grand Junction. A mean temperature decline (temperature lapse rate) of 0.65 °C for every 100 m increase in elevation (Wallace and Hobbs, 2006) can be assumed and temperature lapse rates vary across high-elevation, complex terrain, leeward and windward slopes, and valley floors (Minder et al., 2010; Rolland, 2002). Given these site-specific factors, cultivar performance comparisons between sites begin to diverge.
Forgotten in sparsely circulated research reports is the Grape and Wine Production in the Four Corners Region formative work, conducted in the late 1960s and 1970s by Dutt et al. (1981) and Mielke et al. (1980) with cooperators from the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Agricultural Science Center at Farmington (ASC-Farmington). Their work was partially connected to Grand Junction’s early wine grape trials (Mielke et al., 1980). In 1968, the ASC-Farmington trialed 165 wine grape (V. vinifera), fox grape [Vitis labrusca (e.g., ‘Concord’)], muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia), and North American and French-American interspecific hybrid grape cultivars (A.E. Stewart, E.J. Gregory, and J.G. Karas, unpublished data). Blowing sand, which removed buds on young vines, zinc deficiency due to a calcareous layer in the root zone, and winterkill contributed to the demise of poor-performing cultivars (A.E. Stewart, E.J. Gregory, and J.M. Jordon, unpublished data). Poor adaptability of European wine grape cultivars compared with interspecific hybrid cultivars like Baco and Seibel 5898 was especially noted (A.E. Stewart, E.J. Gregory, and J.M. Jordon, unpublished data; J.M. Jordan and M.A. Rosales, unpublished data).
Although there has been previous grape cultivar trial work conducted at the ASC-Farmington, cultivars tested were in replicated and unreplicated plots. Moreover, no commercial wineries existed in the area when earlier research was conducted, nor was information made widely available as peer-reviewed work. Historical minimum and maximum temperature means recorded at the ASC-Farmington range from 19 to 41 °F (−7.2 to 5.0 °C) in January to 60 to 91 °F (15.8 to 32.8 °C) in July (Smeal et al., 2006), suggesting a suitable climate for wine grape production. Considering large informational gaps and renewed interest in grapes, growers are requesting up-to-date information on cultivar adaptability to northwestern New Mexico’s mesoclimates. This report describes grapevine production performance of 19 nongrafted red and white wine grape cultivars.
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