My most creative ideas and best future plans have been made while contemplating life over a bottle of wine on the patio of any number of New Mexico’s beautiful wineries. Ask Jesse Padberg of Vivác Winery how much more creative one could be while drinking a bottle of wine in the midst of a French vineyard! Whether it was the wine, the view or both, that’s exactly how the idea for Vivác Winery was born.
Vivác, one of New Mexico’s northernmost wineries, is located in Dixon, just south of Taos. “Vivác” is a Spanish term meaning “high-altitude refuge” and there could not be a more accurate description. Located on the family farm where they were born, Jesse and his brother, Chris, along with their wives work every aspect of the Vivác business. From working the vineyards, to making the wine, to bottling, labeling, marketing, and selling, the Padberg family is engaged in presenting the best of New World wines inspired by Old World culture. Everyone in the family understands that winemaking is a delicate dance between science and art, and once you taste Vivác wines you know you’re Dancing with the Stars!
Jesse and Chris work in the vineyards and the winery to make the magic. Wives, Michele and Liliana provide the face of Vivác wines. They focus on branding, wine club distribution, events, and all things business. Jesse, Chris, Michele, and Liliana are the 4 pillars of Vivác Winery, and together they have made Vivác a nationally recognized and international award-winning winery.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Jesse Padberg, winemaker, and Leslie, an extremely knowledgeable tasting room host, when I visited them in November 2022. It was there that I discovered just how unique Vivác is and what sets them apart from other wineries in New Mexico and beyond. I don’t mean the wine that’s in the bottle—of course it is outstanding—but I mean how the wine gets to the bottle.
The Padbergs are very intentional about every decision they make. Winemaking is expensive and many winemakers have to look for places to cut costs. The Padbergs don’t generally cut costs in the most obvious places. They make decisions that many winemakers can’t or won’t make because they don’t seem financially feasible. For example, the Padbergs know that good wine starts with good grapes, so they never stop researching the best varietals and hybrids for their cold, high-altitude climate. For grapes they can’t grow, they buy the highest quality of grapes they can from New Mexico Vineyards in Deming. The Padbergs have 3 estate vineyards with dedicated research plots so they can test and grow the best, hardiest, tastiest grapes they can. The Padberg boys never stop learning, experimenting, and changing things up to get better and better.
When it comes to winemaking, the grapes are hand-harvested and hand-sorted—a time-consuming step that is rarely used by winemakers. Grapes are gently pressed and lightly filtered to keep the flavors bright and fresh. Each bottle is hand-bottled which is another time-consuming step and the Padberg’s cork the wine with real cork that is completely TCA free. At a time when many winemakers are finding it necessary to switch to screw-top caps, Jesse Padberg told me that he has looked intently into screw-top bottling and he doesn’t see that change happening for Vivác wines any time soon—if ever.
Another unique aspect of Vivác Winery is the guiding philosophy of the four Padbergs. They are firm believers that the quality of their wine is inherently linked to their quality of life. For that reason, the Padbergs insist on a work-life balance. While it may seem that their work is their life and their life is their work, there is a balance. The Padberg’s make time to work in the vineyards and the winery, but they also make time to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor and actively participate in their community. The Padberg’s are passionate about being part of their community and giving back the community wherever they can.
When I asked Jesse about the future of Vivác Vineyard, he said they plan to get better at maintaining a work-life balance by letting the business grow organically. They make decisions about growth as things fall into place.
On the day I visited, I asked for a tasting of Estate wines. Leslie, the tasting room manager, was very generous in encouraging me to also try a number of the award-winning wines, and the best-sellers. I recommend every single wine I tasted, and I’d say it would be a good bet that the ones I did not taste are just as stellar as the ones I did taste. The wines listed here are in the order they were presented to me and I’ve included a few of my tasting notes.
2019 Abbot Merlot (an estate wine). Absolutely delicious and a good introduction to the sandy loam and rock terroir of these high-altitude grown grapes. This wine has intense dark berry flavors. It’s a little bit nutty with a hint of baking spices. The acidity and tannins are what I would expect from a Merlot, but the wine had a much bolder mouth feel and seemed like it would be more pairing-versatile than I typically experience with Merlot.
2021 Petit Verdot 1725 (an estate wine). After being blown-away by Merlot, I questioned the order in which Leslie was serving my wine. I thought surely everything after it would be just a little less amazing. Not true! The intense baked-dark berry fruit flavors were complemented by light herbal notes with hints of baking spice. Again, the fullness of the mouthfeel and bold flavors were much more intense than other Petit Verdot wines I have tasted before.
Abbott Red is a 60/40 blend of Merlot and Cab-Franc. This delicious blend really started helping me understand the unique terroir and growing conditions of grapes up in the Dixon area. The Abbott Vineyard is a little micro-climate with its own unique characteristics. It sits at 5600 feet which allows more warm climate grapes to grow. Still, the climate and soil contribute greatly the subtle differences maintained by the Vivác winemaking processes.
2019 Abbott Syrah. I love a good Syrah and I love a good Shiraz. The most fascinating part of this delicious wine was the jammy fullness of an Australian Shiraz with the peppery finish of an Old World Syrah.
Two of the most amazing wines I tasted were also award winners at the American Fine Wine Competition.
Rosé of Sangiovese (a double-gold winner) and Rosé of Cabernet (My favorite of all the wines).
Leslie told me that the 2020 Aglianico and the Gruner Veltliner were best sellers in the tasting room. I didn’t try either one of them, but I’m sure they are as good as the other Vivác wines.
OTHER NOTES OF INTEREST
CHOCOLATES EK.CHUAH & WINE PASTA NEFERTITI: The Padberg’s are an extremely talented family. The tasting room sells handmade chocolates from Liliana Padberg, a skilled chocolatier. Wine Pasta Nefertiti (go to the website and read this background story. It’s awesome!) is handmade by Maddox Padberg who started his business when he was like 8 years old!
WEBSITE: The Vivác Winery website is great! When you go to the SHOP tab and click on the wine you want to know more about, many of the wines have video tasting notes. It’s a lot of fun and you will learn a lot about the wines. Also make sure you click on the awards tabs on the wines to see where they’ve travelled and the awards they’ve earned. Each wine has a tab with winemaker notes, and tab for pairings and recipes. It’s one of the best winery websites I’ve ever been on.
WINE CLUB: There are 2 wine club options. You can have 2 bottles shipped to each month for around $60 including shipping. The bottles are curated for you, but for an additional charge, you can select your own. The other club option is to have a full case shipped out to you 3 times a year. The cost of the wine is discounted, and shipping is free. It comes to around $300 every 4 months. As with the monthly club, the case of wine is curated or you can pay more to select your own wines. There is no membership fee to join and you may cancel without penalty after the 3rd monthly shipment, or the first case shipment. Interestingly, all of the wines available through the wine club are reds. There are a lot of added benefits to being a wine club member. Just check it out on the Wine Club page.
I had a great time visiting Vivác Winery. It is quite a hike from Las Cruces to Taos (Dixon), but it was so worth it and I will definitely make it again at some point in 2023. In the meantime, I will order online and have the wine shipped. When I visited Vivác Winery, it was my first of 3 stops that day. I wish it had been my last. I would have enjoyed sitting down with a whole bottle of wine, staring out at the 360o view, contemplating life, and letting my creativity run wild.
Wine of Enchantment has an Archive Page where you can read more great articles about New Mexico wines and wineries, as well as articles from other boutique wineries in the United States. You will also find recipes, pairing helps and other wine-related trivia. I hope you’ll pour yourself a glass of wine and check them out. As always, if you visit any of the wineries you read about here, please let the winemaker or tasting room manager know. They are as excited as I am to have you learn more about them.
Until next time…