Vara is a conduit for continual creativity for these acclaimed winemakers and distillers who have shown they know how to color inside the lines, and now want to take the traditional and express it in a new, exciting, and most importantly, delicious way. Vara launched locally in 2016 and opened distribution in 2022 with a diversified portfolio of wine, sparkling wine, vermút, cordials and spirits.
History & Heritage
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the vara was “a standard of length with not so standard history.” Physically, it was an oak stave used to measure timber which varied from region to region and became significant to agrarian land measurement in all of New Spain until the United States annexed all or part of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado from Mexico as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. “At Vara, we are breaking standard expectations of wine and spirits. We are drawing parallel lines in the deviation and free spirit of the vara measurement, which was so prevalent in the early history of New Mexico. Like the Vara unit of measurement, we are going beyond the standard,” says founder Xavier Zamarripa.
The very first Vitis vinifera vines were successfully planted in what is now known as New Mexico in 1629, 140 years before being planted in California. First brought to the region by Spaniards, the vines were planted and cultivated at missions along the Camino Real in the Rio Grande Valley. The grape Listán Prieto has been grown and harvested in New Mexico without interruption for nearly 400 years.
Vara’s position is rooted in this historic wine trail that traces viticultural pathways between Spain, New Mexico and California through its exclusive use of Spanish and Mediterranean varieties to make its wines, and Spanish meets high-desert influence for its spirits. Vara’s heritage project is Viña Cardinal (named for the primary vine in the Americas), a rosé aperitif wine produced from 100% heirloom Listán Prieto grapes sourced from New Mexico and fortified with grape spirit.
The Road to Vara—Assembling an Artisan Collective
Vara was first conceptualized by artist Xavier Zamarripa and wine industry veteran Doug Diefenthaler. The two assembled a group of notables who would bring both experience and open minds to the radical idea of crossing borders and cultures, sourcing and blending Spanish, Californian and New Mexican varieties. Bob Lindquist and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, known for their dedication to Rhône varietals (Qupé) as well as Spanish varietals (Verdad Wine Cellars) from the Central Coast of California, are partners and head winemakers. Famed winemaker Laurent Gruet, who put New Mexico on the map for wine production with his traditional method sparkling wines, became an investor in 2019 before leaving his namesake winery to join the team as sparkling winemaker in 2020. Scott Feuille was brought on to collaborate as Vara Spirits’ head distiller in 2020. Feuille had previously launched his own whiskey brand, Taylor Garrett, partnering on that venture with Vara in 2019. After tasting his whiskeys, the team at Vara was so impressed by Scott’s raw talent and innovative accelerated aging techniques they asked him to join their growing circle of artisans and distill their products. Also in 2020, after being introduced to Vara by working in the tasting room, Djuna Benjamin was brought on in production working her way to Assistant Winemaker/Distiller, where her background in mixology and biology has played an essential role in developing the botanical blends for Both the Vara High Desert Gin and the Vara brandies. Winery executive Kathryn Lindstrom joined the Vara team as CEO in early 2022.
Vineyard Sources and Winemaking
Vara’s wines are sourced from thoughtfully selected vineyards Spain, California, New Mexico and beyond. In Spain, Vara works with a cadre of exceptional and carefully selected estates in Campo de Borja, Alt Emporda, Ribera del Duero and Montsant. In California, Vara focuses on Central Coast vineyards where Bob Lindquist and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist have access to small gem, high-quality vineyards in Edna Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles. For the American sparkling wine, Laurent Gruet has gathered the best of the best cool coastal vineyards from the San Joaquin Delta to Santa Barbara. The heirloom, Listán Prieto, is harvested from the Mission Hills vineyard in Mesquite, New Mexico to make Vara’s heritage aperitif, Viña Cardinal. In line with the winery’s philosophy of honoring the historical connection of Spain to the American wine experience, the Spanish varieties and Californian vineyards combine to produce intriguing and boundary-breaking blends that tell a story of both places.
Nodding to the agrarian history of the vara measurement, Vara’s winemaking starts in the vineyard. The Vara team ensures that it successfully monitors and communicates to its grower partners the importance of farming for healthy, balanced and expressive fruit. The fruit is hand harvested to provide the boutique producer focus on details that are ultimately reflected in the winemaking. All Spanish wines are small lots shipped after fermentation to New Mexico for elevage. Each wine is carefully selected and elevated through choices of aging techniques and blending. Vara’s winemakers honor the traditional benchmarks of production and respect the protocols and processes that achieve those spectacular results, while always looking to curate a dynamic and complex blending with an innovative twist on classic techniques that go above and beyond in quality, no matter the source or blend. The most important feature of the wines is that they are first and foremost intentional—balanced, structured, with fresh acidity—made to be enjoyed over a good meal with good friends.
Vara produces three tiers of still wine. The Cardinal line includes six varietal wines focused on the traditional Spanish grapes including Viura (SRP $27), Garnacha Rosato (SRP $27), and the nationally distributed Garnacha (SRP $28), Tempranillo (SRP $30) and Albariño (SRP $30). The Cardinal line also includes Vara’s heritage project, Viña Cardinal (SRP $32 500ml) which is an aperitif wine made in the historical style entirely from New Mexico grown heirloom Listán Prieto grapes from the Mission Ridge Vineyard in Mesquite, NM. The wine is pressed and fermented off the skins and fortified with brandy.
Vara’s Special tier wines showcases small-batch gems and includes a white blend Blanco Especial (SRP $40, launching in 2023), a red blend Tinto Especial (SRP $48), Mencia (SRP $40) and Carignan (SRP $34). The Special wines are in limited distribution by special request, as well as direct-to-consumer and through the Vara tasting room. The apex of the Vara still wine portfolio is the Zingara (SRP $90), a reserve red blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah which will be released for the first time in early 2023.
Vara also offers an exciting portfolio of sparkling wines. In late July 2022, acclaimed sparkling winemaker Laurent Gruet will release his first American sparkling wines with a Spanish influence under the Vara label with the Silverhead line which includes the Silverhead Brut (SRP $25) and Silverhead Rosado (SRP $27), both of which are in national distribution and available to consumers through the Vara tasting room and restaurant. Vara will also launch the Laurent Laurent line with a Blanc de Blancs (SRP $50) in 2023 and a special Grand Reserve bottled as magnums (SRP $90) in 2024.
After many visits to Spain each year, the Vara team was inspired to produce their own version of the traditional vermút (vermouth). Vara produces three that are rich in botanicals and flavor: Vara Vermút Seco (SRP $25) and Vara Vermút Dulce (SRP $25) are created with a proprietary blend of herbs and spices and fortified with brandy to an ABV of 16.5%. Vara Vermút Añejo Dulce (SRP $30) is produced using only New Mexico Listán Prieto fruit sourced from the Mission Ridge Vineyard in Mesquite, NM and blended with a proprietary blend of select aromatic botanicals which are gently aged.
Vara produces gin, rum and brandy as a part of its distillery program which is overseen by Head Distiller Scott Feuille and Assistant Distiller Djuna Benjamin. Vara’s distilling process begins with the best primary materials available: grapes from New Mexico, grain from the valleys of Colorado’s western slope, and molasses from the cane fields of Louisiana. First inspired by Mediterranean gins, the Vara High Desert Gin features traditional Spanish botanicals as well as herbs and aromatics from New Mexico’s high desert. Again, crossing boundaries and cultures. The rum pays homage to the Spanish influence on the rum production throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In the brandies, Vara has set its sights on producing an American brandy in the traditional styles of solera aged Brandy de Jerez.
A retired naval aviator and commercial airline pilot, Scott Feuille, sees the world from a different perspective. As Head Distiller, Scott has instilled an attention to detail, strong technical approach, and the ability to step outside convention at Vara’s Distillery. He brought to Vara his innovative aging process. Scott, along with Djuna and the production team, distill all Vara spirits (with the exception of the Fine Spanish Brandy) in Albuquerque using a 1,000-liter hand-hammered and hand-soldered copper alquitara (pot stills) from Hoga Stills of Spain. The handcrafted Rum Añejo, High Desert Gin, and Vermut Añejo all use Feuille’s all-natural accelerated oak aging technology. This purely natural physical process uses no additives or flavorings to achieve exactly the same physical and chemical reactions that occur in traditionally aged spirits after years in barrel. The breakthrough technology is far more sustainable, utilizing less than a quarter of the wood consumed with traditional cooperages. The result rivals even the best barrel-aged flavor profiles.
The flagship spirit of Vara Distillery is the High Desert Gin (SRP $40 750ml), which is produced from the highest quality, New Mexico grape spirit distilled with a proprietary blend of botanicals including juniper, coriander seed, and high desert New Mexico sage, among others. Vara also produces two rums: a Rum Blanco (SRP $35 750ml) and a Rum Añejo (SRP $40 750 ml).
Vara produces three brands, a Hollands Tradicional Artisanal Immature Brandy Paso Uno (SRP $35 1L), the Fine Spanish Brandy (SRP $50 750ml) aged for three years in Spanish Solera and six months in Spanish brandy casks and the Fine Alembic Brandy Solera Reserva ( SRP $45 750ml) aged for two years in oak casks and six months in Spanish brandy casks.
Visiting Vara Winery & Distillery
The Vara tasting room is located at 315 Alameda Blvd NE in North Albuquerque. The atmosphere is unique and diverse with an industrial modern feeling inside and a spacious patio and lawn outside to watch the awe-inspiring sunsets. The tasting room offers Vara wine and spirits tastings, as well as a host of delicious cocktails, along with hot and cold tapas, occasional live music and even the rare breakout of Flamenco dancing. Reservations are recommended and can be made via OpenTable or by calling 505.898.6280.
The Vara tasting room is open for tastings Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 am-4:00 pm and dining Wednesday through Saturday 4:00 pm-8:00 pm During tasting hours, Vara offers wine tastings as well as its full beverage selection, with guided tastings hosted Tuesday-Friday twice a day at 11:30 am and 1:30 pm Dining hours provide a small tapas menu for walk-ins and table reservations. To view the most up-to-date menu please visit: https://varawines.com/menus/
Later this summer, Vara will be opening a second tasting room called Vara Vinoteca in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The new space will feature wine and spirits tastings, dining options and a charming outdoor patio in the heart of the Santa Fe Historic Plaza.
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