Northern New Mexico has no shortage of charming, small-town artist communities. While tourists and local day-trippers are likely well acquainted with those along the Turquoise Trail, such as Madrid or Taos’s picturesque neighbor, Arroyo Seco, Dixon is another quaint village that’s a bit more under the radar. Located just off the Low Road to Taos and tucked in the verdant Embudo Valley, it is known for its organic agricultural production and for hosting the longest-running annual art studio tour in the state. While the studio tour takes place in the fall, spring is also an ideal time for a visit, thanks to perfect weather and budding fruit trees. So on a recent Friday afternoon, I made the two-hour drive north from Albuquerque to Dixon, where I would spend the next twenty-four hours indulging in the town’s small but delightful food and drink scene.
Just after two in the afternoon, I reached the turnoff into the Embudo Valley at the nexus of State Roads 68 and 75. There, the Vivác Winery and tasting room sits atop a gentle slope overlooking their vineyard and some snow-speckled mountains in the distance. Vivác’s bright and spacious tasting room features more than twenty wines (white, red, and rosé) available by the bottle and glass, as well as local beers and hard seltzers on tap, and a delectable selection of truffles made in-house by chocolatier Liliana Zavala Padberg. I ordered a generous tasting flight consisting of their chardonnay, divino, merlot, and tempranillo and settled onto the gorgeous outdoor patio. A fan of medium-body reds, my favorite was the Vivác 2020 Tempranillo. Made from Spanish-origin grapes grown in southern New Mexico, this dry wine’s delicate, earthy notes would pair nicely with smoky and spicy New Mexican dishes or anything from the grill this summer.
Next I headed into the center of Dixon, which consists of a handful of galleries, a community center, library, thrift store, radio station, and the fantastic Dixon Cooperative Market. Owned by four hundred community members, the market has a wide assortment of quality products—including many by local farmers, makers, and artists—jammed into a small space. The produce section includes an array of organic and locally grown veggies, such as Taos’s Midori Acres microgreens. Their meat selection is more interesting than most in Albuquerque, with free-range ground elk, local heritage pork, and Beck & Bulow bison. There are also gourmet cheeses, Sage Bakehouse breads, and fresh-baked desserts from Santa Fe’s Chocolate Maven.
The deli is especially impressive and a must-stop for tourists. Breakfast burritos, fresh-baked pizza, hot dogs, and more than a dozen kinds of sandwiches are made to order. After purchasing a Dixon Deli Reuben (hot corned beef, melted swiss cheese, fresh sauerkraut, and house-made thousand island dressing, grilled on rye bread) and a bottle of sarsaparilla, I took a seat at a colorful picnic table out front. Looking around at the other patrons socializing and enjoying their lunches, I could see that the market acted as a gathering place.
According to the locals I spoke with, it is truly the heart and soul of the tiny community. “It’s a big reason we decided to move here,” recent transplant Alex Amend told me in the checkout line. During the pandemic, many residents preferred to stay isolated in town, so the market expanded and bulked up their inventory to accommodate the new demand. “The last couple years have actually been good for us [financially],” said assistant manager John Galuska. “Between providing food, employment, and sourcing from local growers [and makers], the market really supports this town in a significant way.”
Post lunch, a meandering, tree-lined dirt road took me to my lodging for the evening, the Tower Guesthouse at El Bosque Garlic Farm. Available on Airbnb, the property is owned by farmer and author Stanley Crawford, whose acclaimed 1992 memoir, A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm, was my first introduction to Dixon. The two-story tower is rustic but very comfortable, with all the necessary amenities, and is set right in the middle of the garlic fields. Guests are welcome to veggies from Crawford’s garden and fresh eggs from his friendly chickens. Beware of the geese, however. One of these hissing devil ducks chased me through the crops after I got too close.
Around six o’clock, I successfully made it past the geese and set out for the only restaurant in town, Zuly’s Cafe. It was at this point I realized I’d made a rookie mistake by reading outdated business hours online. At least during this time of year, Zuly’s closes at six, as does the co-op, leaving this tourist high and dry for supper. Well, not dry exactly, since just up the road in Rinconada the Blue Heron Brewery was still serving beer, wine, and cider. Beers on tap included their Rinconada Raspberry Rye, La Llorona Scottish Ale, and the Prieta Real Imperial Oatmeal Stout. I settled on a refreshing Oro de Rio Grande Pilsner and hardly minded drinking my dinner out on the taproom’s pleasant, latilla-fenced back patio.
After a restful night’s sleep on the farm, I finally made it to Zuly’s Cafe for breakfast. Dixon native Chalako Chilton and his wife, Zulema (Zuly), opened the cafe in 2010, much to the delight of thankful locals. They offer New Mexican / Mexican and American fare (everything from shrimp fajitas to a Philly cheesesteak sandwich), made from scratch, and with local ingredients when possible. There is also beer, wine, and an extensive coffee and ice-cream menu. Taking my cue from another patron, I ordered the breakfast enchiladas—corn tortillas filled with chorizo and cheese, doused in red chile, and served with beans, home fries, and an egg on top. A few bites into the flavorful and comforting dish, Chalako came out from the kitchen to make sure everything was to my liking: “Be honest, do you like the chorizo? It’s from a new purveyor.” I did like the crispy sausage, and that Zuly’s had the kind of personal attentiveness you get in a small town.
With my time in Dixon coming to an end, I had one last stop on my itinerary: La Chiripada Winery. Just up the road from Zuly’s, this award-winning winery’s white adobe tasting room is one of the most beautiful spaces in town, showcasing traditional Southwestern architecture and an elegant, sun-filled fine arts gallery in the back. Established in 1977 by brothers Michael and Patrick Johnson, it is northern New Mexico’s oldest operating winery and uses grapes grown at La Chiripada’s high-altitude vineyards in the Embudo Valley, as well as in southern New Mexico’s Mimbres Valley. Unlike Vivác, Chiripada does not sell flights or wines by the glass, but tastings of their twenty varieties of red, white, and dessert wines are free and guided by a knowledgeable staff. From the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve with its notes of vanilla and toasted oak to the sweet and fruity Late Harvest Riesling, there’s something for every palate. Not surprisingly, I purchased a bottle of the Tempranillo Limited Edition 2019, which has a savory quality, described to me as a “touch of leather,” and nice spicy finish. A perfect souvenir to bring a taste of Dixon home.
Candolin Cook is a PhD candidate in history at the University of New Mexico, freelance writer, editor, and former co-editor of edible New Mexico. She lives in Albuquerque, where her husband owns Vida Verde Farm, and believes in supporting local agriculture and food businesses whenever possible.