Newly open this week in the expansive building off West San Francisco Street (which housed Skylight for three years until its closure last year), Hervé Wine Bar is radically changing up the concept for the space. Before Skylight, there was Milagro 139; both were nightclubs oriented towards a late-night crowd that lit up the large interior with dance music. But Southwest Wines, the largest producer of wine in New Mexico, has a different mission in mind—now wine barrels and flower beds line the outside corridor, and the entranceway boasts a retail space outfitted to look like the interior of a wine cellar. The side bar and former stage area have been transformed into an airy atrium replete with hanging baskets of greenery, wrought-iron tables and weathered leather chairs sitting atop the exposed brick floor.
It is at once both shop and wine bar, singular in its mission to exclusively feature the wines of DH Lescombes, the upper-tier label of St. Clair Winery. "We've never been in Santa Fe before," says Ryan Gage, wine program coordinator. "We felt this would be a great opportunity to showcase our higher-end wine and also feature entirely New Mexican products."
The name Hervé itself is nod to the DH Lescombes brand, a combination of Hervé and Danielle Lescombes, a French-Algerian couple who emigrated from Burgundy in 1981 to New Mexico. The Lescombes produced their first vintage at St. Clair Winery in 1984; Danielle died in 2008 and Hervé retired to Deming. In addition to the usual suspects of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, Lescombes also makes wines from outlier Old-World European varieties. There are whites made from sémillon and chenin blanc, and reds of mourvèdre, syrah and petit verdot. The winery believes these grapes are well-suited to growing in the New Mexican climate and pair better with New Mexican foods than some of the more famous international grapes. I admire the effort, since the disconnect between growing what's profitable and what's right for the region is a problem endemic to all wine regions, not just New Mexico.
These make up the entirety of the wine list behind the bar, which features 15 offerings, including three sparkling and three dessert. Beers on tap include a rotating selection of local brews from Bose Brothers, Boxing Bear and Tractor, with other brands to come. Assistant manager Chris Milligan, formerly of the Hotel St. Francis' Secreto Lounge, crafted the program, diverging from his former focus on craft cocktails—but not his commitment to building restaurants with an emphasis on local products. "It was time to go in a different direction," Milligan explains, "but I still am pushing local, and organic when I can; all I want is to showcase what New Mexico has to offer."
Hervé also offers small plates like hummus, charcuterie and bruschetta, among others, but the focus is on beer and wine. This makes it a bit of an anomaly in Santa Fe, since New Mexico doesn't offer a license for wine bars besides either a full liquor or restaurant, which places pressure on food sales. Hervé, however, has a winemaker's license; "like a brewer's, but for wine," Milligan says. "It's what allows us to do what we do. The only way to have a wine bar in New Mexico is to actually be a winery." It's an interesting caveat, and hopefully it contributes to Santa Fe's role in the growing wine culture of the state.
The menu is a pivot point between the restaurant and retail space, showcasing the chocolate, ice cream, cheese and charcuterie available in both. There is an emphasis on products that are certified New Mexico True which, according to the New Mexican Board of Tourism, requires that it "must be 100 percent made, grown and/or born and raised in New Mexico."
This complements the wines themselves, sourced from the Grands Domaines Vineyard in southwest New Mexico, between Lordsburg and Deming. In addition, jellies from Santa Fe Seasons, spreads from Old Pecos Foods, pecans from Heart of the Desert and Frolicking Deer Farms lavender honey find a home at Hervé.
The menu and cold-case features cheese from the Old Windmill Dairy and Coonridge Organic Goat Cheese, meats from M'tucci's Market in Albuquerque and gelato from Van Rixel Bros. Chocolate and coffee are sourced from Cacao Santa Fe. It's a dizzying array of carefully curated items, since general manager Marilyn Littson scoured the Santa Fe Farmer's Market for products she felt deserved the platform that a shop in downtown Santa Fe has to offer.
"I sourced people that are 'New Mexico True' and believe in it," Littson says. "They are artisans; I want the best of the best that people might not know about." I appreciate her efforts, the showcasing of small, local craftspeople provides an elegant counterbalance to the Lescombes' winemaking empire that is a uniquely New Mexican success.
Hervé Wine Bar
139 W San Francisco St., 795-7075
11 am-9 pm Sunday-Thursday
11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday