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A new venture serves Santa Fe wine from the heart

July 29, 2009, 12:00 am

By Ari LeVaux

If Erica Hart could have grapes growing out of her ears, she would. As it is, she and her husband Richard, the owners and proprietors of the newly opened Vino del Corazón Wine Room, have grapes growing practically everywhere else: their back yard, her sister’s land, a rented two-acre plot in Bernalillo and her brother’s ex-wife’s land in Tijeras.

The couple leapt headlong into their vintner adventure, selling their house to finance the operation. Starting a winery and tasting room isn’t cheap. The grape vines they planted will take years to mature and, in the meantime, crops of grapes for their first years’ vintage were contracted with St. Clair Vineyard in Deming. In addition to federal and state licensing fees, legal fees and wine-making costs, they paid rent for a year on their tasting room before they were able to open. That’s a lot of wine they need to sell just to break even, but when asked if she is nervous about starting the business, Erica laughs.

“I’m too excited to be scared,” she says. “I know a lot of people say it’s a bad time to start a business, but I was too scared not to do this. I didn’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not doing it. If I tried it and it didn’t work out, I’d be OK with that—but I couldn’t be OK with not trying.”

For $10, guests enjoy a wine tasting that includes generous samples of New Mexico wines from either the Vino del Corazón label or from Anderson Valley Vineyards in Los Ranchos, where Erica was a manager for four years. The wine tasting also includes a 16-ounce crystal wineglass with the Vino del Corazón logo. A cheese, nut and chocolate plate ($10) is also available. Those purchasing wine by the glass ($6-$7) are welcome to bring takeout from area restaurants to eat with their wine.

The cabernet and Santa Fe Siesta Red were quick favorites. Both are dangerously drinkable and better than expected from New Mexico, hardly a wine-making nexus. In addition to the five varieties—Siesta Red, merlot, chardonnay, Beso Blush and cabernet sauvignon—there’s also a bottle of cabernet grape juice for the underage crowd.

Maroon is a dominant color in the wine room’s art and furnishings, including—wisely—the couches (“They’re Scotchguarded too,” Erica says). Woven faux grape vines hang from the ceilings, and the walls are hung with paintings of vineyard scenes and a Roman spring harvest, as well as a surreal print of a tango dance upon a piano. Near the wine-tasting bar is a large wooden heart on a pedestal that a visitor gave Erica a week after the July 3 opening. “The heart is from an old church in Ecuador,” she says. “It has a lot of prayer in it.”

The heart is an appropriate symbol for the Harts’ venture. On their labels, against a Technicolor New Mexican sunset, is an image of two intertwined hearts. Their motto is “Wines from the Heart,” and they mean it.

So far, following their hearts seems to be working. Although the weekday scheduled closing time is 5 pm, “we haven’t gotten out of here before 8 yet,” Erica says. A crew of regulars has already formed, including some state legislators from across the river.

In a state where winegrowers are scarce, Erica is a team player in her small peer group. When a Santa Fe Vineyards tasting room around the corner from Vino del Corazón recently closed, Erica was disappointed. Convinced that a rising tide of local fine wines will float all boats, she says she’d have welcomed the camaraderie. “We could have done a little wine-tasting trail between our wine rooms,” she laments.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, there will soon be entertainment along the lines of low-key jazz, lounge music, flute and classical guitar. “So people can enjoy the ambiance, have conversation and hear music too,” she says.

And of course, sip on some fine local wine.

Vino del Corazón Wine Room
Noon to 5 pm Wednesday and Thursday
Noon to 9 pm Friday and Saturday
2 to 6 pm Sunday
235 Don Gaspar Ave., Ste. 6
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