…Meet Sean Sheehan
I’m sure I have mentioned on more than one occasion that my early experience with New Mexico wines was not so bueno! I had lived here for seven or eight years and attended many wine festivals before I actually tasted what I considered to be a REALLY GOOD wine—I mean, no question, great wine. The wine was Chambourcin and was produced by a little backyard, boutique winery called SHEEHAN. I don’t remember the year—probably 2016—but it was the very first time Sheehan Winery had a tent at the wine festival in Las Cruces. From the very first sip, I knew that there was hope for the wine industry in New Mexico. (And, as you know from reading this blog, I was right!)
I first met Sean Sheehan, medical-student-turned-winemaker, when he hosted a little tour of one of his many vineyards and then had everyone come to his backyard to taste wine. Seriously. Sean started Sheehan winery in his backyard and, guess what? It’s still in his backyard! It’s much bigger now and tasting opportunities have grown from standing around a table outside the garage to a beautiful space in Old Town Albuquerque and another in Red River, but for his die-hard members, there’s still an occasional backyard tasting.
On my recent trip to Albuquerque, I stopped in at the Old Town Tasting Room and had a sip-down and chat with an incredible young woman, Ann Stecker. Ann is the assistant winemaker, tasting room manager, and Jill-of-all-trades for Sheehan winery. Her story is amazing, and I can’t wait to highlight her in an upcoming blog about women in wine.
Ann is well-spoken and passionate about Sheehan winery—and not just because she works for them, but because she has caught and embraced Sean Sheehan’s vision for the industry. On the day I visited, Ann talked about the Sheehan philosophy of winemaking, their unique perspective of New Mexico terroir, and the value of staying #NewMexicoTrue and giving back to the community.
When it comes to winemaking, less is more. Sean and Ann identify as “clean winemakers who want to represent what New Mexico wine can taste like.” They are dedicated to making natural wines using only New Mexico grapes that they grow themselves or purchase from smaller vineyards. Once the grapes are harvested and crushed, they go immediately into a climate-controlled tank for fermenting. From there, the wine is moved into French oak barrels for maturation. It is not uncommon for winemakers to manipulate the terroir right out of a bottle of wine, but not Sean! From harvest to crushing to fermentation and maturation to bottling, Sean and Ann try to touch the wine as little as possible. The thought is that the more they interfere with the wine, the less of New Mexico there is in the bottle.
On New Mexico Terroir
If you want to make great wine, you have to grow great grapes, and that comes down to terroir. So, what exactly is terroir? At a very basic level, terroir is the combination of soils, the flowers and vegetation of an area, the sun, and the climate. But, it’s so much more. It’s the particular longitude and latitude of the vineyard, the way the sun hits the vines, the direction and speed of the wind, the rain (or lack there of), and the critters that inhabit the land. Terroir can also be a reflection of human presence. Sean takes all of that into consideration when he plants a new varietal or harvests grapes from a vine that was planted before he was born. When you taste a Sheehan wine, Sean and Ann want you to taste the sun, high altitude, dry climate, and soil of New Mexico. Their goal is to preserve and highlight as many elements of the terroir as possible by growing great grapes.
On Giving Back to the Community
Sean Sheehan has a heart that is #NewMexicoTrue. He’s passionate about being a New Mexican and doing what he can to improve the lives of New Mexicans. For Sean, that means only using grapes that he has grown or that he has purchased from other small New Mexico vineyards. It also means collaborating with Jasper Riddle at Noisy Water Winery to share ideas and help bring revenue to New Mexico communities. I found Sean in his backyard crushing blueberries to help a distiller friend. For Sheehan, it also means donating a portion of the proceeds from every bottle to support healthcare and economic development projects through a partnership with St. Anthony Alliance.
Sean and Ann are all about New Mexico wines—and I don’t mean just their wine. When asked about New Mexico wine, in general, Ann said, “All the wines of New Mexico are good in their own way.” The only reason that is not a patronizing statement is because 1) It’s true! And 2) because she went on to list some of her favorite wines from other wineries she has visited since moving to New Mexico.
My Favorite Sheehan Wines
Honestly, I don’t favor one of the Sheehan wines over another, but my readers know I typically favor a dry over sweet and red over white. I only tried a couple of wines in the tasting room and both were fabulous. I’m a big fan of Sheehan wines and I am careful to make sure there’s always one or two bottles available in my wine fridge. So here are my Sheehan go to wines:
Cinsault Rosé: Sean’s Cinsault grapes are grown in the Las Cruces area which makes it extra tasty for me. This wine was a Gold Medal winner at the 2019 NM State Wine Competition. It is a coral color with red fruit dominant aromas and flavors. There is a hint of spice that I have come to find in many New Mexico wines. Cinsault Rosé is a refreshing summer-into-fall wine.
Ollpheist: I love this wine because it’s a bottle with a story and that’s at the core of what Wine of Enchantment is about. Olpheist is made from Baco Noir and Leon Millot grapes. The grapes are grown in South Valley Albuquerque. The story goes that the 40-year-old vineyard is farmed by an 80 year old man who planted the vineyard so the love of his life would leave Europe and come to New Mexico and marry him. They’re still married over 40 years later! If you can only have one wine to get you through a cold winter, this would be the one. It’s red fruit flavors are complimented by warm spicy aromas and flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper. Oh, and the name? Olpheist means “monster” in Gaelic and the wine earned its name from the grape duo that many grape growers consider to be real monsters to deal with.
Chambourcin: Sean has two Chambourcins and you can’t go wrong with either one. The same goes for his Cabernet Sauvignon.
As for white wines, I haven’t tried as many, recently, as I should have because I’m so enamored with the red varietals. The white I’ve had most often is actually semi-sweet, but I really enjoy the Malvasia Bianca. I feel very confident in recommending any Sheehan white wines to my white-wine loving friends
Tasting Room Info
The Old Town Albuquerque Tasting Room is located at 303 Romero Street, Suite 110, Albuquerque, NM. It is open 7 days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. You are welcome to call if you have any questions. They can be reached at 505-508-1221
The Red River Tasting Room is located at 417 Main Street in Red River, NM. It is open on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from noon – 7:00 p.m.
The Sheehan wine club is approaching 1000 members! There is no cost to join but you are committed to purchasing the number of bottles you sign up for. Your shipment is curated by Sean and the wine selection is shipped to your home or business every quarter (January, April, July, and October). There are several member perks that include private tastings in Sean’s backyard, discounts on wine, merchandise, and food in the Old Town Tasting Room. Tastings are free for members and there is a private VIP member lounge in the tasting room.
I feel there is so much that I have left unsaid about Sheehan winery, but if you get the opportunity, you really should stop by the tasting room in Old Town Albuquerque or in Red River. The tasting rooms are an extension of the Sheehan philosophy. They are unpretentious and make you feel like you are having a glass of wine in your friend’s living room.
Sean Sheehan represents a new era of winemaking in New Mexico. His philosophy and methods are shared by several young winemakers who have compatible visions for what the New Mexico wine industry can—and will—become. Sean is a family man and from what I can tell, he has a great work-family life balance. He makes time to help out friends and talk to wine bloggers, and he never seems to be in a hurry (typical New Mexican).
I totally agree with Ann’s assessment that “all New Mexico wine is good in its own way.” I hope you will take time to visit a Sheehan Winery tasting room or pick up a bottle of Sheehan wine and enjoy the impeccable taste of the Sheehan way.
Until next time…
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