Arizona is not usually a state that you normally associate with wine. Given that Arizona is one of the 50 states producing US wine then this makes me curious to explore Arizona wine. A visit to the Sedona area was the perfect opportunity to check out some Arizona’s wineries and tasting rooms. The Spanish missionaries first produced Arizona wines, like the other southwestern states, as sacramental wine. Since the mid-70’s Arizona winemakers have worked hard to produce good Arizona wines. The first success stories came from southeast Arizona vineyards. In recent years winemakers in Northern Arizona are attempting to do the same. Both Snooth and Wine-seacher provide a brief history and overview of Arizona wines. Dan Sorenson describes the recent history and speculates on the future of the Arizona wine industry.
Arizona vineyards are located in the high desert. The elevation of these vineyards ranges between 3800 ft. to 6000 ft. The hot days and cool nights at this elevation result in good grape growing conditions. There are three main regions where Arizona vineyards are found. These regions are 1) the Sonoita/Elgin area in southern Arizona, the only designated AVA (Sonoita AVA), 2) the Willcox area in Cochise County, and 3) the Verde Valley near Sedona.
Excitement over Arizona wines
It is no doubt Arizona’s wine regions have been buzzing with excitement in recent years. When you research Arizona wines there are certain wine stories and names that emerge. Here are two stories that I encountered while researching the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
Story #1: Dan Sorenson notes “But it wasn’t until Callaghan Vineyards of Elgin scored a rave review from famed wine critic Robert Parker that people outside Arizona—and soon outside the United States—began to take Arizona wine making seriously. Indeed, if southern Arizona’s wine potential ever became official, it was when Parker, of The Wine Advocate, blessed a 1993 bottle of Callaghan Vineyards’ Buena Suerte Cuvee with a score of 92. Suddenly, Arizona wine became more than a liquid gift shop gimmick peddled to tourists from a shelf next to the scorpion bolo ties and stuffed jackalopes.”
Story #2: Two other names surface when discussing the wine scene in Arizona. These names are Eric Glomski (winemaker) at Page Spring Cellars and Maynard James Keenan (winemaker and rock musician) at Caduceus Cellars (see story). Together they also founded Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. Mike Rosenberg and Joe Roberts have described some wines produced by Page Springs Cellars and Caduceus Cellars. Eric Glomski’s name surfaces again in connection with one of two award wining 2010 Syrahs. It was Page Springs Cellars, Colibri Vineyards, Syrah Clone 174 and the Burning Tree Cellars, Colibri Vineyards, Syrah) that were awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator (see Richard Ruelas article).
I encountered some of this excitement while on the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
The Verde Valley Wine Trail
Before visiting Arizona wineries and tasting rooms on the Verde Valley Wine Trail I consulted Verde Valley wineries and vineyards and the Northern Arizona Wine Trail. For suggestions on wineries and tasting rooms to visit you might also see Sedona area wine tours and a beginner’s guide. Other sources include: 1) Edie Jarolim’s article on some of the recent happenings in Arizona’s wine regions, and 2) Richard Ruelas list of Arizona wineries.
On the Verde Valley wine Trail I visited Cottonwood, Clarksville and Jerome and Cornville. The Cottonwood, Clarksville and Jerome tasting rooms included:
- Arizona Stronghold Vineyards,
- Burning Tree Cellars,
- Pillsbury Wine Company,
- Forty Eight Wineworks,
- Caduceus Cellars and
- Cellar 333.
In Cornville I visited three wineries.
- Javelina Leap Winery
- Oak Creek Vineyards
- Page Spring Cellars
Overall some the Arizona wines that I tasted on the Verde Valley Wine Trail were quite good. Most of these wines were produced from grapes grown in southern Arizona. While wine tasting in northern Arizona it was not a surprise to find wineries that are using grapes grown in southern Arizona vineyards. It was however, a surprise to discover that in some cases wines are made with 100% California grapes. It was indeed odd when some insisted these wines were Arizona wines because the wines were made in Arizona. In fact this is at odds with the Arizona Wine Growers Association (AWGA). The AWGA states “state law requires that wine must have 75% Arizona grown grapes to be marketed as an Arizona Wine“.
My northern Arizona wine country visit offered insights into some of the excitement about Arizona wines. A future article I will share further insights gained from my southern Arizona wine country experiences. I invite you to join me in my travels in Arizona and elsewhere in search of the best in Spaswinefood. You may also visit my travel column at the Examiner.
© Sharon Parsons
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