Meet Dawn and Bryan Oakly of Mesa Vista Winery in Anthony, New Mexico. They are kinda like the new kids on the block—at least along NM 28 out of Las Cruces. They opened their Mesa Vista Tasting room only 4-1/2 years ago, and have steadily been growing their customer base and reputation among Southern New Mexico wineries. Up until he retired in February of this year, winemaking has been Bryan’s second career. Now, however, maintaining his estate vineyard and vinting his grapes has him working harder than ever.
Bryan grew up in Concord grape country in Canada. Although Concord grapes are generally not thought of as wine grapes, that didn’t stop Bryan’s entrepreneurial spirit. In high school, Bryan and a buddy decided to make some wine. I’m not sure how they figured it out because in the early 70’s he could neither Google it nor watch a YouTube video. Nonetheless, they figured it out. Now I won’t go so far as to say he sold it to his friends, so let’s call it an early version of Go Fund Me or Kickstarter. However you look at it, Bryan was able to raise enough money to go and purchase the good stuff for himself—showing early on that he had some discernment concerning taste. #WineLife
In 1977, Bryan immigrated to the United States through Detroit and took a job in manufacturing with the Ford Motor Company. In 1988 he was transferred to El Paso where he met Dawn, his charming wife to be. She was a heavy equipment operator! What?! You read correctly. A heavy equipment operator. She was really quick, though, to tell me she did have office skills. Honestly, those 2 facts are just the tip of the iceberg. Dawn is a story unto herself and she’s an amazing conversationalist. I’m not going to tell you her story—which is fascinating—because I suggest you go to Mesa Vista and ask her about it yourself.
The Mesa Vista tasting room is an off-site tasting room. That means the Oakley’s tasting room is not in the same location as the winery. The Oakley estate where they live, have the vineyard, and make wine is about 8 miles away. Is that ideal? Well, it wasn’t Bryan’s first plan. He put it this way, “It’s easier to become a United States Citizen and obtain a license to carry a firearm than it is to open a winery.” The Oakley’s had a rough start because their neighbors would not get on board with having a winery and tasting room in the neighborhood. After getting legal counsel and surviving a greater-than-necessary struggle, Bryan was able to get licensed on the condition he obtain an off-site tasting room for drinking and sales.
There are a lot of things to appreciate about the Mesa Vista tasting room. It’s very laid back and unpretentious—just like their wine. It’s a great “hangout” kind of place, and if wine isn’t your thing (which I find incomprehensible), you can have a beer from Spotted Dog Brewery. There is plenty of seating inside and outside with enough space to converse with old friends or make some new ones. I visited on a Sunday afternoon, arriving just as they were opening. After a few minutes, a customer came in and then another and another. Every person who came in, spoke to me. I don’t mean just a generic greeting like people do, I mean a real conversation—maybe short, but as if we were friends. Comfortable.
I noticed some interesting things about Mesa Vista’s tasting room that I hadn’t experienced many other places. First, it was quiet. Not silent, just quiet. The music on the radio was there to enhance the “rustic but charming” vibe. It was pleasant but didn’t get in the way. Also, on that Sunday afternoon, the people who came in were there to purchase bottles. Most of them knew exactly what they wanted, but if they didn’t, Dawn helped them decide. One person who came in was looking for a white wine that he could take home and drink at Sunday dinner, so Dawn sold him a cold bottle. I almost never see a winery/tasting room selling cold bottles for carryout. Also, every person who came in was male. Honestly, most of the time I visit a tasting room, there are couples or groups of women with an occasional man—generally drinking a beer. Having worked for several wineries over the years, I can say that I’ve sold far more bottles for carryout to women than I have to men. Lastly, the tasting room has quite a bit of retail space dedicated to small businesses in the area—including Dawn’s own Rock n’ Roll Alpaca products.
Yes! Dawn is an Alpaca farmer. I told you, go visit her. You won’t be sorry.
Mesa Vista has a good selection of wines on the menu. Some of the wines are estate wines and others are vinted from grapes grown in the Mesilla Valley. Some of Bryan’s wines are unexpected. For example, I tasted what he referred to as a semi-sweet Syrah. I love a good saliva-sucking Syrah, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect there, but I was very surprised. All of the great characteristics of the Syrah grape—the black pepper, spices, and bold flavors of black fruits were right up front but with a bit of sweetness. The wine finished with soft tannins. It was quite enjoyable.
Another unexpected surprise is the rosé-colored, but not a rosé wine—Pinot Grigio. Bryan swears that’s the color of the juice when it’s pressed off the grape. I did a little research on Pinot’s after that and discovered that he’s not wrong, it’s just unusual.
Mesa Vista recently released an Estate Red Zinfandel that completely turned me around on Red Zin—in a good way. While I may not be a fan of Red Zinfandel/Primativo, I know enough about wine to put my personal opinion aside and judge the wine on its merits. This is a very good wine! And I am a fan of it. Bryan said they sold several cases within a day or so of its release. He also told me he saved some bottles back to enter into next year’s state fair—which is a really great idea. The wine has everything it needs to age well and be a gold medal winner. Time will tell!
Other wines of note are The Last Frontier—a bronze medal winner at the 2022 state fair, and Smokin’ Hot Firefighter—a charity wine with some of the proceeds going to support local firefighters and first responders.
Bryan and Dawn have some great goals for Mesa Vista and for themselves. Now that he’s retired, Bryan is spending more time manicuring his vineyard to get it where he wants it. He is always working to improve the quality of his wines, and ultimately, he’d like to hire some staff—at least over the winter months so he and Dawn can actually pretend to be retired.
All in all, Mesa Vista is a winery to keep your eye on. If you ever do the Highway 28 wine tour through the Mesilla Valley, don’t stop before you get to Mesa Vista. It will be worth the visit.
Mesa Vista Winery Tasting Room is located at 3200 Highway 28, Anthony, New Mexico 88021. The tasting room is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 2pm – 6pm and on Saturday and Sunday 12pm – 6pm. You can call (915) 494-7248 for more information.
I ended my Sunday afternoon with a glass of 2020 Muscat. I’m trying to learn to appreciate sweeter white wines. It’s a long process, but the Mesa Vista Muscat was definitely a good choice on that Sunday afternoon. It was refreshing with the perfect acidity to balance the fruity sweetness.
Until Next Time…