As we advance into October the road from Santa Fe to Taos starts to glow golden and Chimayo red. From the Quaking Aspens dancing in the crisp autumn breeze to the chile ristras adorning the quaint villages along the way, there is an invitational feeling to experience a journey along the historic High Road.
This past week I guided a tour with guests staying down in Santa Fe who wanted to explore with me up to Taos. Our first visit was the village of Chimayo. This pilgrimage site is known for the Santuario de Chimayo, a folk art Catholic church built in 1813-1816. When I was a little girl my aunts used to bring us down from the San Luis Valley to visit the Santuario and they told me, my siblings and my cousins that God blessed and replenished the tierra sagrada (sacred earth) that had special healing powers in the back room of the church. Now as an adult, I still feel the reverence when I bring people here asking for each spirit to be guided and touched by this miraculous place. When you enter the church there is a sign that now reads, the sacred dirt is replenished and blessed by the priest. The little room adjacent to the sanctuary is full of crutches, walkers and images of those who have stories of miraculous healing and for those who still pray for their lost loved ones. It is a very moving experience to walk into the room with a low ceiling where there is a hole in the floor that holds this tierra sagrada. It feels timeless, rubbing the earth in your hands offering your prayers or blessings, a personal interpretation to honor the miracles that have occurred in this historical place. Some collect the dirt and put it in a small plastic container that can be purchased at the gift shop or a ziploc bag to take with you.
After visiting the Santuario we walked over to visit the Medina family that has several generations of cultivating and harvesting Chimayo chile. The Medina’s are also artists who create beautiful work from hand-carved wooden frames, oil paintings influenced by life in Chimayo, and church pews for the Santo Nino de Atocha Church completed in 1856. We visited Sharon Candelario (a native Medina from Chimayo) who uses traditional canning tin that has been blackened and then etched with a nail. Each piece is beautifully designed and unique. This style of traditional tin work dates back to the 1800’s, but Black Etched Tin is the Candelario’s Trade Mark and she is such a passionate artist who is all about the enjoyment process of her artwork. She gave us a detailed demonstration at their family shop where she pounded her instrumental nail into sacred hearts on hand drawn designs created one of a kind art pieces.
Then we visited with Sharon’s brother Carlitos who is a master chef and loves to share chile tastings in a pistachio shell and a pinch of salt. He names his most famous blends the #1 and #2 and says you will be much happier in your life with both of his blends in the kitchen! Carlitos shares with my group that the female chile plant is always the hottest and chuckles saying how this is true in real life! Watching the faces of my guests as they delight in the Medina’s joyful stories of creativity I think to myself how enriching this is for visitors from the East Coast. They have never experienced anything like this before, nor have they ever tried dry chile blends in the shell of a pistachio nut while chasing each salted taste with the nut itself learning how to apply this to their own kitchen practices. Carlitos smile is unforgettable, the lines on his face tell stories and he never tires of sharing his customs and traditions especially when the Gypsy Kings are playing in the background. I’ve been visiting this family now for nearly a decade and the genuine offering they continue to give across these years are overwhelming. Either the spice of the chile or this magical moment I can feel my eyes get teared up as I snap a photo to capture this memory to send to my guests later on. I realize how blessed I am to be woven into this setting and share it with so many different visitors from all types of backgrounds. There are so many layers of history, culture and tradition but we only have a day so it’s time to head off to our next spot along the Rio Grande corridor to wine taste at Vivac Winery in Dixon.
“Vivác” is a Spanish term meaning “high-altitude refuge”. Vivac is the only winery making wine from 100% New Mexican grown grapes. The Padbergs treat their wines with the utmost care; hand-harvesting and hand-sorting grapes, and even using a gentle bladder pump and gravity feed so as not to bruise the wines. Only high-quality French oak barriques and stainless steel barrels are used for aging. After bottling, these unfiltered, unrefined wines rest for 12 months before they are sold. Every wine-making step is done meticulously by hand.
Vivác Winery is the story of two brothers Jesse and Chris Padberg, along with their wives, Michele and Liliana Padberg, respectively that have a heart and passion for two great things, New Mexico and wine. These brothers found inspiration in France and Italy, and were especially drawn in by the Old World wine culture, where wine-making is a dance between art and science. In November of 1998 Jesse and Chris embarked on a partnered mission “to make the best wine possible and have a good time doing it!” After 18 years in the making, this family has definitely achieved their mission and share it with us when we arrive to meet Michele Padberg, wife of Jesse and the Director of Marketing and Publicity greeting us with a gorgeous outdoor setting in the vineyard with a selection of wines and inviting Riedel glasses for my guests tasting.
While Michele shared the story of their origin and the complexity on the pallet, I set up a gourmet picnic lunch beneath the grape vines covered terrace to pair along with both reds and whites. Vivac prides itself of making wines to pair with food, so I intentionally chose nicoise olives, garlic and herb cheese spread, kalamata bread sticks, fresh green salad with Spanish olive oil and honey balsamic oil, a fresh vegetable platter, grilled sliced chicken, varietal salamis and a homemade cold pasta salad with black beans, green chile, garlic oil and cilantro. We had Turkish figs, dolmas and to finish local gourmet chocolate truffles that can be purchased right there at Vivac. It was decadent, savory, sweet and absolutely delicious!
We went on to explore the Rio Grande Valley up into the riverside artist colony of Pilar. Climbing up to the Taos Mesa that offers expansive open vistas of the wild sagebrush leading to the rise of the Taos Mountains. With the Taos Gorge Bridge in the distance, we walked along the Rim Trail out to a spectacular viewing point that exposes the geological rift giving birth to the Rio Grande. Filling our senses, we find ourselves sharing the unique colorful dances that are woven into the buttes, plateaus, messa and mountain ranges in the Land of Enchantment. As the Autumn Equinox has passed, we find the sun lower on the horizon elongating the shadows and we become enchanted by another magical Taos sunset as we end our evening with dinner out at one of my favorite local restaurants, El Meze!