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New Mexico State Fair showcases best work of state's winemakers

ALBUQUERQUE - Winemakers across New Mexico are getting a lot of exposure for their growing industry during the New Mexico State Fair in a competition that drew about 250 entries.

Tim and Clarissa McGinn show some of the wines they produced at Arena Blanca Winery that earned top awards in the New Mexico State Fair winemaking competition. (NMSU Agricultural Communications photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

Best of show awards for commercial wineries went to Tim and Tom McGinn of Arena Blanca Winery in Alamogordo, Jerry Burd of Black Mesa Winery in Velarde, Keith Johnstone of Corrales Winery, Paolo D'Andrea of Luna Rossa Winery in Deming and Mark Matheson of Santa Fe Vineyards.

Best of show awards for noncommercial winemakers went to Jack Walker of Eagle Nest Cellars and Jill Walton La Pointe of La Pointe Winery.

"We had a lot of participation from around the state," said Bernd Maier, viticulture specialist for New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Maier helped coordinate the event and served as a judge. He noted that the annual New Mexico State Fair can be a proving ground for beginning wineries as well as a source of pride for established winemakers.

"The State Fair Competition may be a first test for a lot of wineries to see where they are with the quality of their wines," Maier said. For established winemakers, "this adds a status. For the customer, seeing a winemaker's success at the State Fair gives them the assurance that they are buying a quality wine."

Maier said vineyard acreage in New Mexico increased by more than 12 percent this year, with about 1,100 acres under cultivation.

Participation in the annual competition was up by about 50 wines from last year. Winemakers compete in commercial and amateur classes, and they may enter a variety of wines in different categories.

In addition to best of show, wines are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals. Leading medal winner in the commercial competition was Luna Rossa Winery with four golds, seven silvers and four bronzes. In the noncommercial competition, Robert Jaramillo of Jaramillo Vineyards received three golds and three silvers.

Many winemakers will gather again for the Southwest Regional Vine and Wine Educational Conference set for Feb. 29-March 1, 2008, in Albuquerque, where growers will hear from experts on a variety of topics. While planning is still under way for the 2008 conference, last year's conference topics ranged from fermentation to insect pests, wine tasting and marketing.

For complete State Fair winemaking competition results, visit the New Mexico Vine & Wine Society's Web site at http://www.vineandwine.org