He also started his journey of becoming a businessman. One early example was selling a chicken to his sister Lenora, who wanted a pet of her own. When the chicken started laying eggs to Lenora's delight, Robert claimed the eggs were his noting he had not sold the egg rights to Lenora, just the chicken.
At the age of 17, Robert was invited to visit the Naval Academy in Annapolis. The Naval Academy made a huge impression on Robert. It fit his views of bigger is better, “I can do anything” attitude and wanting to fly around the world. Jaramillo secured an appointment and spent the next four years becoming a Naval Officer. Academics were not his strongest point and one might say he got himself in trouble with other pursuits such as gambling, loaning money, perfecting his backgammon game, but eventually Robert persevered, graduated and even lettered in boxing as a lightweight champion.
After graduating from the Academy, Robert went to flight school. He didn't make “Top Gun’ though; possibly a bit too much partying for that. He did fly helicopters, fixed wing and small jets. It was at this time that Robert fell in love with traveling around the world. While stationed in Long Beach, California on shore duty, he fell in love again, this time with Barb, a registered nurse, who eventually became his wife.
After a few more years with the Navy, Robert was really becoming homesick for New Mexico and the family life he so loved. He decided to change careers and become an airline pilot. He flew a short time with Mesa Airlines, a small local commuter airline in New Mexico, before landing a job with American Airlines.
Joining American allowed Robert to fly internationally on a regular basis. These international legs became important to his present endeavor as it provided him on his non-working layovers the opportunity to taste and enjoy some of the best wines of the world, a growing interest of his. Of course this came after he exhausted all the beers of the world!
Eventually he started looking for something more fulfilling to do with his spare time. Barb also recognized when he started to do a second remodel of their home what he really wanted was a much grander project. They decided to buy a 14-acre piece of land with 4 acres in alfalfa and contracted most of the work out. After Robert read the Cadillac Desert (by Marc Reisner, a study of the economics, politics, and ecology of water in deserts of the American West.) he decided that alfalfa was killing desert farming with its high water use and low return in profits.
His choice of what to grow instead lead Robert to grapes, finding they use 1/5th the water and have a much higher profit margin, something that fit his business minded attitude. They were also difficult to grow, appealing to his attraction to “whatever is the most difficult.”
Robert’s decision was not without precedent, as there was a family history of grape growing. His grandfather, Leopoldo Jaramillo was the largest wine producer in the Middle Rio Grande Valley prior to prohibition. Robert's father Salo continued this tradition of grape growing and wine making but only on a home production scale. So, it was his father's experience and expertise that Robert relied on to help get his new project of the ground. Barb thought the first half-acre they planted was a great hobby – not realizing the “dreaming boy” was already envisioning that his pursuit was going to put New Mexico on the map for great wines.
Four years after planting these first grapes, Robert and Salo bottled their first wine. No one was expecting much, especially Barb, but when she tasted it she recognized something special and entered a few bottles in the NM State Fair wine competition. These first wines, competing against professional competition, took silver and bronze medals. This was enough incentive for Robert to push forward with the “big dream.” To do this, he now included not only his father and his wife, but would need the help of all the willing family and friends in order to plant over the next few years, some of the best wine grapes grown in the Middle Rio Grande Valley.
The current ten-acre vineyard was all lovingly planted by these friends and family, who continue to volunteer their time in pursuit of Robert’s infectious dream. Who would guess that Lenora, the sister without the egg rights, would be one of his biggest supporters.
Experts said that the Rio Grande Valley was not suited to more than hybrid grapes due to the cold winter temperatures and early spring frosts. That didn't stop Robert from traveling Italy, Spain, France, Napa and other grape growing regions to find the perfect grapes to test in the Valley.
Jaramillo Vineyards now has over 10,000 plants, have tested over 20 varieties of grapes and they believe they have come up with some of the best choices for producing great wine in the micro-climate of the Middle Rio Grande Valley. In fact, the Vineyard has the first American grape. Norton Cythiana, originally found to make great wine by Thomas Jefferson. Prior to Robert's testing of this grape, it was not grown west of Missouri. As part of the ongoing education process to inform the creation of great wines, Robert and Barb continue to travel and drink some of the best wines of the world. This pursuit of knowledge has led to perfecting their personal style of fruit forward, smooth and pleasantly finished wines in dry, off dry and the sweeter styles enjoyed by the local community.
The Jaramillo couple have also enjoyed the support and help of the small wine making community in New Mexico; an often overlooked, yet oldest grape growing area in the United States, whose heritage dates back to the arrival of vines with Spanish settlers in the 1600s.
With Jaramillo Vineyards, Robert's dreams have now resulted in some of the best wines in New Mexico. You’ll find the image of that “little boy dreamer” appears on each and every bottle of wine we produce. So come... enjoy a wine flight created by a real pilot winemaker. We know you won't be disappointed, and hope you will consider joining our family of wine enthusiasts and dreamers. For Robert and Barb Jaramillo, the sky’s the limit.
Robert and Barb