LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Barbara Funkhouser plucks the blue grape from a bunch of fresh cut fruit and smashes it between her fingers. Vibrant red juice trickles down her fingertips, identifying the fruit as a ruby red grape.
A short while later, she does the same with another, nearly identical bunch. The juice oozes white.
There was a mix-up when the rows and rows of green leafy vines were planted more than five decades ago, Funkhouser says. Some white grape cuttings ended up in the red row, while red cuttings masqueraded as their white neighbors down the way. Squeezing the grapes to discover the red or white juice identifies the two.
The vineyard began in the 1950s when Funkhouser’s father planted the first grapes.
Known by his nickname “Sparks” because he was a radio and electronics man, he came west to Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. He married her mother, a farmer.
“He decided he’d try to find out about grapes, and this is what it is,” Funkhouser said, looking at the rows of vines.
For decades the family has sold the grapes to friends and the public for jellies, wines and eating, a practice Funkhouser continues to this day.
There are one thousand vines on the one-acre plot, including Zinfandel grapes,
Carignan, Cabernet, Granache, table grapes and eating grapes.
“Everything grows here,” she said. “This is a very rich valley.”
Some grapes go to vendors at the farmers market, others, like the ruby red to local wineries to enliven red wines.
The ruby grape is perfect for adding color to red wines and jellies, Funkhouser says.
“Put a little in jelly or juice or wine and it just spikes the color right up,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
The public can also pick their own grapes for 25 cents per pound.
Now retired, Funkhouser tends to the grapes with help.
The former journalist has been a key player in the Rio Grande Valley for decades. She was the first woman to serve as an editor at the El Paso Times. For three years she commuted from the Las Cruces house to El Paso, eating grapes there and back again. She was also a founding board member of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.
She lives on the family’s Fairacres land, where the grape’s gnarled branches are unrestrained by nets. “These, they just grow as they wish,” she said.
Squirrels regularly nibble on the sweet fruits, leaving bare stems behind.
“I share willingly because I don’t have an alternative,” the 83-year-old said with a smile.
Lately, fewer people have been stopping by to pick their own grapes, Funkhouser said.
“I think people are just really busy these days,” she said.