AZ winemakers take flight with rocker's help (The Republic | azcentral.com)
Richard Ruelas, The Republic | azcentral.com Published 3:07 p.m. MT Sept. 11, 2015 | Updated 7:33 a.m. MT Sept. 14, 2015
Acquiring the desire to make wine is much easier than acquiring the equipment to do so.
Kim Koistinen, who had both that desire and a head for numbers, had penciled out exactly how large that gap was.
Four years ago, she and her husband, along with another married couple, shared a dream of starting their own winery. The other three focused on the immediate expenses — grapes, barrels and bottles. But Koistinen took it upon herself to calculate just how much money they would need in the long term to be an independent winery.
The more numbers she crunched, the more daunting it seemed.
“I was planning it out to the point where it’s almost pointing (to) you can’t do it, so give it up,” Koistinen said.
She recalled this while standing behind the bar at the Chateau Tumbleweed tasting room, the independent winery that the four friends had dreamed about.
It was the first hour the tasting room off Highway 89A in Clarkdale had opened. It was before noon, but already one customer had come in. “Part of this doesn’t feel real,” said Kim’s husband, Jeff Hendricks, sitting on a couch waiting for the second customer of the day.
Chateau Tumbleweed was able to go from an idea to a stand-alone business, thanks in part to a wine cooperative designed to lower the financial barriers for ambitious Arizona winemakers.
The Four Eight Wineworks co-op was the brainchild of Maynard James Keenan, who released the first wines from his own Caduceus label in 2004.
Keenan entered the wine business as a second career. His first career was a lucrative one as a Grammy-winning musician. Keenan fronts the bands Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.
He was just as busy in the Arizona wine industry. Besides the Caduceus label, Keenan co-founded the Arizona Stronghold label with Eric Glomski of Page Springs Cellars. That partnership dissolved in 2014, but the effort let Keenan meet a bunch of talented young professionals who worked for Stronghold and Page Springs.
None of them were successful rock musicians or retired executives living off their nest eggs. They were, by and large, young.
None had the kind of bankroll required to start a winery — where the grapes, barrels and bottles are just part of a costly process that also requires equipment to crush fruit, let it ferment in tanks and fill and label bottles. Equipment varies, but in all it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Keenan knew that each of the winemakers he knew had the desire to strike out on their own. And he also knew the state’s industry would be better off if they did.
“We are far from saturated,” Keenan said, comparing the 94 licensed wineries in Arizona to the thousands in California. Having more quality winemakers around tends to lift up everybody’s game, he said.
“So it’s the idea of nurturing talented guys and just kind of having a small army of people going out into the universe pimping Arizona (wine), to let people know about it.
“The only way we can do that is to help each other.”
A problem solved
Keenan figured he could help by letting the winemakers use the equipment in the building where he was making his Merkin Vineyards wine, especially the expensive pieces like the press, the de-stemmer, the bottling line and holding tanks. He also has a forklift.
A cooperative arrangement seemed the best idea, Keenan said, one in which each winery takes turns on the equipment, but makes their wine themselves.
One problem: Such a rotating use in one location was not specifically allowed under Arizona state law.
That was resolved in the 2014 legislative session. A so-called omnibus bill introduced by the liquor industry resolved several issues, including allowing ceramic beer growlers, allowing wineries to distill spirits and raising production limits on microbreweries. One paragraph allowed what was called “alternating proprietorships.”
Two or more licensed wineries could share a location, under the law, with each having sole responsibility for its own winemaking.
Wines produced at the co-op are poured at the Four Eight Wineworks tasting room, located in a historic bank building in downtown Clarkdale, a town on a historic highway between Cottonwood and Jerome. The tasting room allows each winery to get their bottles to the public, generating both interest and cash flow. Without that outlet, upstart wineries sell through weekend festivals — a hit-or-miss proposition at best.
Keenan opened the tasting room in 2013, before the law was changed. His first clients made wine under Keenan’s Caduceus license. With the change in the law, which went into effect in July 2014, Four Eight now runs as a true cooperative.
It is housed in a former meat processing plant in Camp Verde. Now, growers process grapes instead. Along the walls are spots where tenants can store barrels, as well as yeasts and small-scale equipment. Boundaries are marked with bursts from a spray-paint can.
A nod to that tool is on the bottles of white and red Four Eight Wineworks wines – also poured at the tasting room – and listed as a collaboration of all member wineries.
Current tenants are Saeculum Cellars and Iniquus Cellars. Both labels’ winemakers, Michael Pierce for Saeculum and Tim White for Iniquus, had worked at Arizona Stronghold.
Keenan said there is no time limit on how long winemakers can be part of the co-op. “If we had eight guys making 1,000 cases each or less under that roof forever, great,” he said. But once wineries get to making 2,000 or 3,000 cases a year “it’s probably time to start saving your pennies and open your own place.”
Which is exactly what happened to Chateau Tumbleweed.
Getting a start
Tumbleweed had been the first tenant at Four Eight. Its winemaker is Joe Bechard, who was a winemaker at Page Springs Cellars.
Bechard moved to Arizona from Oregon to work as a reporter at a Sedona newspaper. He was covering a county meeting, and on its agenda was the approval of a winery in Cornville. Bechard said he approached the applicant, Glomski, about doing a story on the winery. That evolved into Bechard quitting journalism and getting hired at Page Springs.
His wife, Kris Pothier, worked part time at the tasting room of Page Springs.
They soon met a couple, Koistinen the number-cruncher and Hendricks, transplanted Californians who also took jobs at Page Springs: Koistinen in the office, Hendricks in the vineyard.
The four friends would often be “hanging out late at night,” Pothier said, “talking about what it would be like to make wine on our own.” That was about when Koistinen, who had made business plans for Arizona Stronghold, started crunching the numbers further.
The four could continue forging ahead, she said, but it would mean continuing their full-time jobs while devoting their off hours to this hobby, in the hopes it would eventually pay off.
“I think it would have taken three or four years like that,” she said. Had the four been able to sustain the effort, maybe they could have shown enough sales for a bank to lend them funds. “Still, you usually need 20 to 30 percent down yourself,” she said. “It would have been a long run.”
Enter Keenan with a plan to do an end-around that long run.
Keenan didn’t want winemakers like Bechard to feel they needed to move to California or another wine-growing area to gain experience and save money.
“We knew that there had to be a way to make this thing work,” Keenan said. “We wanted to have people who already had experience, already had talent and provide them with a space to get their thing going, get off the ground.”
Keenan sent Bechard to the Carlton Wine Studio in Oregon, by all accounts the first wine co-op in the country, to do some research. Eric Hamacher opened the co-op in 2002. Since then, he said, about three dozen wineries have rotated through.
“At its core, the idea of sharing equipment is extremely practical,” Hamacher said.
One lesson Keenan and Bechard grasped was how important the chemistry is among the co-op members. At Four Eight, Keenan said, existing members will get a say on new members.
“If the consensus is that guy’s not fun to work with, we don’t want him in the space,” Keenan said. “It has to be people that get along.”
Keenan said all co-op members need to come with a business plan. They need to show how they intend to keep making wine year over year, and how they plan to sell it. Keenan said he doesn’t want them to solely rely on sales from the tasting room in Clarkdale.
So far, a collegial spirit has existed at Four Eight. At harvest time, members help each other out with the labor of processing grapes. And there have been few battles over scheduling the use of equipment. A general manager runs the winery to referee disputes.
The winemakers pay a fee for use of the equipment — based on how much wine they produce — and make their own business- and winemaking decisions. Each produces a unique product.
Pothier said Chateau Tumbleweed still had expenses after joining the co-op. But they were in the mere thousands, not the hundreds of thousands.
Chateau Tumbleweed saw quick growth. It went from producing 65 cases in 2011, its first year, to a planned 1,200 cases this year. The wine also earned top honors at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest in the United States.
And it attracted attention from the Petznick family, owners of one of Arizona’s biggest and oldest agriculture
businesses. The Petznicks own the historic D.A. Ranch in Cornville, where it planted a vineyard. The family hired Bechard to make the wines for the D.A. Ranch label. The Petznicks also invested in Chateau Tumbleweed, accelerating the winery’s move toward independence.
This year, Chateau Tumbleweed bought a building along Highway 89A, a few miles from both the Four Eight tasting room and the row of tasting rooms in Old Town Cottonwood. It started moving its barrels out of the Four Eight winery and into its own space. It also had the new equipment delivered — its own tanks, de-stemmer and bottling line. It wouldn’t be needing the co-op’s anymore.
Opening day brought a crush of small details. Pothier printed out small tags to place by the display of T-shirts. Koistinen tried to figure out a price for wines by the glass, an oversight on the menu. Hendricks was on the phone with Google trying to convince them that he was indeed a co-owner and that the winery had a new phone number and address.
Bechard walked through the temperature-controlled barrel room and winery, and the outdoor pad where grapes will be brought in for initial crushing and processing.
“It will get small fast,” Bechard said. “I hope that problem comes.”
Just four years after producing their first bottle, the four are planning for an ambitious future. They might build more cold storage around back. Or an expanded tasting room. They are eyeing the parcel next door. And they are looking for land to plant their own estate vineyard.
Meanwhile, the departure of Chateau Tumbleweed left space to fill at the co-op.
The newest member will be Oddity Wine Collective. It is made up of three friends — Aaron Weiss, Bree Nation and David Baird — who met at the wine program at Yavapai College in Clarkdale. The oldest of them, Weiss, is 30.
But their spray-painted spot will be in a smaller area. Baird said the trio plan on growing the winery slowly. All three plan to keep their day jobs. For Baird, that is as the manager of the Four Eight Wineworks tasting room.
Baird said even though the three will pay a fee to use the winery equipment, he sees Keenan’s co-op as a “philanthropic idea to stimulate this industry.” Oddity plans to start small, releasing 250 cases of wine – one white and three reds – in the fall of 2016, Baird said.
“We want to strike while the iron is hot,” Baird said. “We have the opportunity to not only be on the ground floor of the co-op, but this industry itself is in its infancy. We want to get in on it while we can and make a name for ourselves.”