Tumbleweed in the news
Wine Business Monthly names Joe Bechard Winemaker of the Month in May 2022!
“Working in a wine “frontier” can get lonely sometimes. Seeking advice, finding information, making smart purchases, forming relationships with suppliers: everything is more difficult from a distance. Wine Business Monthly is one of the best resources I have to keep up on new research, products, equipment, market trends and to stay connected to the greater industry.”
ANNUAL CASE PRODUCTION: Currently 5,000 cases for Chateau
Tumbleweed (growing annually) and 1,500 cases for our partners
at D.A. Ranch Vineyards.
PLANTED ACRES: We source fruit from 10 to 12 vineyards every year.
Mostly from the Willcox AVA in southeastern AZ, but also from
here in the Verde Valley AVA when we can. We need to get to work
on a vineyard ASAP – fruit is scarce in Arizona. We’re very lucky
to have some great relationships.
CAREER BACKGROUND: I fell in love with Oregon Pinot and wine
more broadly while in journalism school at the University of
Oregon, but never planned to work in the business. When I moved
to Sedona for my first newspaper job in 2004, I discovered that
Arizona had a tiny wine industry (fewer than 10 bonded wineries
at the time). I left the newspaper before the 2005 harvest and
became a cellar rat. I spent the next 10 years working for several
wineries in the Verde Valley (most notably Page Springs Cellars
and Merkin Vineyards/Four-Eight Wineworks) before opening
Chateau Tumbleweed in 2015 with my wife and two of our best
industry friends. We are also partners with the Petznick family,
owners of D.A. Ranch Vineyard. (There are now more than 100
bonded wineries in our state.)
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL CHALLENGE? Operating
a small winery with fairly shallow pockets in an upstart wine
region brings new challenges every day! It’s humbling. Luckily wine
teaches patience, perseverance and gratitude for the little things.
We’re fortunate that we get to be ourselves and have a good time
while also making wines we’re immensely proud of.
VARIETALS THAT YOUR WINERY IS KNOWN FOR: We’ve had more than
30 different varietals pass through our doors. The experimentation
and discovery is a huge part of what draws me to Arizona wine.
We make several larger blends and a wide range of vineyard and
varietally designated wines. Picpoul Blanc, Graciano, Cabernet
Franc, Sangiovese and Mourvedre are probably some of our
favorites right now.
By Cindy Barks
Overshadowed a bit by the neighboring mountainside marvel of Jerome and the fun Old Town scene of Cottonwood, the little town of Clarkdale, Arizona, is a true under-the-radar gem. It might not get the tourism attention of some of its Verde Valley neighbors, but Clarkdale positively glows with charm and history.
A visit to Clarkdale will yield early 20th-century Americana in virtually every direction — from the lovingly preserved Craftsman-style homes to the historic train that takes passengers along the scenic Verde River Canyon to the row of vintage storefronts on Main Street.
Known as Arizona’s first master-planned community, Clarkdale got its start in the early 1900s as a “company town” for the United Verde Copper Company, the behemoth that was extracting massive amounts of precious metals from the mines of Jerome, perched high on nearby Mingus Mountain.
As a frequent visitor to Clarkdale, I have long been enchanted by the wide streets fronted by rows of houses with broad front porches, graceful gables, and colorful stucco exteriors. Add in the fascinating copper-mining history and the varied outdoor-recreation opportunities, and Clarkdale makes for a wonderful stop on a tour of the beautiful Verde Valley. And at less than two hours north of Phoenix, it also makes a great day trip destination. Here are nine reasons you’re sure to fall in love with quaint Clarkdale.
1. The Charming Historic District
Clarkdale was founded in 1912 to serve as a home base for the employees of the United Verde Copper Company’s smelter, which was located near the Verde River. From 1913 to 1953, the smelter processed the copper ore that was brought down the mountain from Jerome.
The little town in central Arizona was planned, owned, and developed by William A. Clark, a mining and banking magnate who had interests all over the United States and is known to this day as one of the wealthiest people in American history. The town was developed with meticulous care to cater to every need of the United Verde Copper Company employees.
Today, virtually every building in the original homesite of Clarkdale is a treasure trove of history from Arizona’s early mining days. Its pretty town-square park and classic small-town business district are well-preserved, as are its charming brick and stucco homes.
Any sightseeing visit to Clarkdale should include a walking tour through the neighborhoods that include Upper Town (where upper management with the United Verde Copper Company lived), Lower Town, and the Clark Memorial Clubhouse and old Post Office, which now houses Clarkdale town offices.
2. Tuzigoot National Monument
Just a few miles from the townsite of Clarkdale is the stunning Tuzigoot National Monument — proof that the region along the Verde River was prime real estate centuries before mining interests officially put it on the map.
The ancient village sits atop a rugged hilltop that looks out onto the winding Verde River far below. Dating back to 1000 A.D., Tuzigoot was home to the Sinagua people who farmed the fertile valley and had trade routes that spanned hundreds of miles. Experts believe the native people left the area around 1400.
Tuzigoot was excavated and reconstructed in the 1930s, and today it serves as a fascinating national monument on the outskirts of Clarkdale. Visitors can wander through the interconnected homes and gaze out at the tree-lined river below, vivid green in the summer and golden in the fall.
3. The Verde Canyon Railroad
For a step back into the early days of train travel combined with a journey through amazingly beautiful natural treasures, it’s hard to beat the Verde Canyon Railroad.
The railroad, which is based in Clarkdale, emphasizes the juxtaposition between worlds, inviting you to “breathe deep, order a drink, and relax as you glide along on a four-hour, 20-mile journey through 110 years of history while enjoying modern creature comforts like climate control, comfortable seating, thoughtful décor, and awe-inspired scenery.”
Along with its gorgeous scenery and frequent wildlife and bald eagle sightings, the railroad offers everything from wine-tasting events in May to Fright Nights in October to its Magical Christmas Journey in December.
4. Arizona Copper Art Museum
The role that copper played in the history of Clarkdale — and indeed in all of Arizona, sometimes known as the Copper State — is front and center at the excellent Arizona Copper Art Museum.
Housed in the stately old Clarkdale High School building right along Main Street, the museum features everything from copper “trench art” to a huge array of pots and pans of burnished copper to drinkware and winery equipment made of copper.
With its massive display out front that depicts mining carts filled with copper ore, you’re sure to notice the museum upon entering Clarkdale. It is definitely worth a stop — both for the mind-boggling assortment of copper art items and for the captivating lesson on Clarkdale’s early days as “Smelter City.”
5. Beautiful Mingus Mountain
Clarkdale lies at the base of the Verde Valley’s largest promontory, Mingus Mountain, and you are never far from the views of the rugged mountain range as you wander the town’s streets.
A visit to Clarkdale wouldn’t be complete without a drive up the mountain along Highway 89A toward Jerome, and beyond to the mountain summit that lies at more than 7,000 feet elevation. The road is twisty and full of hairpin turns, but the views are consistently splendid.
6. Brewery, Bars, And Restaurants
Clarkdale packs plenty of dining and beverage opportunities into its small downtown — featuring everything from a new brewery to a local favorite Mexican restaurant to a classic Main Street eatery.
Several of the spots are located within steps of one another along Clarkdale’s Main Street.
Among the Main Street spots to check out are mainstay Mexican restaurant Su Casa, known for its large outdoor patio and Mexican favorites like queso dip, chimichangas, and street tacos; the Main Street Café, serving an assortment of salads, pizzas, and burgers; the 10-12 Lounge, known for cocktails and live music; and the Smelter Town Brewery, a new establishment with a friendly vibe and locally produced brews like the Modern Miner Milkshake IPA and Clark’s Copper Ale. Or for a chance to check out local wines, head to Chateau Tumbleweed along Highway 89A.
7. Hiking At Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Located about halfway between Clarkdale and Cottonwood is the lovely Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located right along the banks of the meandering Verde River.
The state park features a variety of activities — from bird watching to fishing to camping. It also is a great spot from which to venture out on a hike in the rugged limestone hills that line the river. For sweeping views that encompass the surrounding valley, the Tuzigoot ruins, and wildflowers (in the springtime), head to the nearby Lime Kiln Trail or the twisting Raptor Trails.
Pro Tip: Note that the trails in the hills around Dead Horse Ranch State Park offer little shade and are best hiked in the cool-weather months of late fall, winter, and early spring.
8. Easy River Access
With its location right along the Verde River, Clarkdale offers several convenient spots for accessing the river for fishing and kayaking, including the Tuzigoot River Access Point, a part of the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area. The area features a primitive boat landing/launch area and allows kayakers and canoeists a small landing space with a path that leads up to the parking area on the lower bench.
The access point is near the Tuzigoot Bridge, where fishermen often park and fish under the bridge.
Clarkdale is also known as the gateway to Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area in the Verde Valley, and it is about a 30-minute drive from the canyon’s beautiful Parson’s Trail, which offers a shady stroll along a cool, clear desert stream set in a magnificent red rock canyon.
9. Jerome, Cottonwood, And Sedona Are Nearby
One of the beauties of the Verde Valley is that each of its towns has a unique character, and they are all located within a quick drive of one another.
For a deep dive into Arizona’s rough-and-tumble mining past, be sure to check out the town of Jerome, positioned precariously on the steep slope of Mingus Mountain — about a 10-minute drive from Clarkdale.
And for a fun day of hopping from wine-tasting rooms to assorted restaurants and cafés, check out the nearby town of Cottonwood and its charming Old Town area, located less than 10 minutes from Clarkdale.
Or, for a chance to take in the one-of-a-kind wonders of Arizona’s stunning red rock country, Sedona is just a 30-minute drive northeast of Clarkdale.
Pro Tip: Although there are no major chain hotels located within Clarkdale town limits, the small Clarkdale Lodge occupies a historic building in the downtown area, and there are numerous Clarkdale vacation rental options available on Vrbo. In addition, there are plenty of lodging spots to choose from in nearby Cottonwood.
By Geri Koeppel
The Arizona wine industry has evolved greatly in the past couple of decades, bringing dozens of new vintners and a blossoming of wine varietals and styles.
An ideal way to experience the current crop of offerings is at the Off the Vine Arizona Wine Festival on Saturday, February 19, at historic Steam Pump Ranch in Oro Valley.
The festival will showcase 25 of the state’s 120-plus wineries, with each bringing several wines from their cellars. “Orange wines; canned sparkling wines; dry, dusty, fruit-forward reds; unique, fresh, aromatic whites — they can really explore the terroir of Arizona,” says Kris Pothier, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association and co-owner of Chateau Tumbleweed.
The wine tasting will be set up in tents and attendees can meet winemakers, so come with questions, Pothier notes. Picnic tables are abundant, as are treats from food trucks and an adjacent farmers market.
“I go to a lot of festivals, and this is by far my favorite place to be pouring wine,” Pothier remarks.
This is thanks to the food, live music and “insanely gorgeous” location, not to mention the array of vintners.
Arizona has three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), or official grape-growing regions: Sonoita-Elgin, Willcox and the Verde Valley, the latter of which was just federally recognized in November 2021. All three will be represented at the festival, but “78% of the fruit grown in the state is coming from Willcox, so they’re going to be drinking wine that’s from a place about an hour-plus from where they’re standing in Oro Valley,” Pothier says.
All the grapes that are grown here are planted at between 3,500 and 4,500 feet in elevation and really run the gamut, according to Pothier. “There are not a lot of varietals that don’t grow in Arizona,” she notes.
Wine regions typically bring to mind a certain type and style of grape. Napa Valley, California, is known for big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Willamette Valley, Oregon, is home to elegant Pinot Noir.
Pothier says the defining quality of Arizona wines is its wide swath of terroir and style. That’s exciting for growers and drinkers.
In the early 2000s, several growers were big on Rhone varietals and blends (mainly Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Viognier), Pothier said, but today’s crop of winemakers are experimenting with grapes such as Aglianico, Montepulciano and Sangiovese.
“These Spanish and Italian varietals at these high elevations with the extreme sun retain their acidity in the cellar,” she remarks.
Chateau Tumbleweed, in fact, produces a Sangiovese from the Cimarron vineyard in Willcox that was planted in the late 2000s by Dick Erath (of Oregon wine fame) and later sold to Todd and Kelly Bostock of Doz Cabezas WineWorks.
Pothier says Arizona is closer than anywhere else in the New World at producing these Old World varietals with the same characteristics as their forebears. An enology instructor at a wine college in Tuscany “thought it was extremely varietally correct, and it was surprising to him because he didn’t know Arizona propagated vines,” she muses.
Another grape that’s gaining attention here is Graciano, a beefy, acidic Spanish varietal used in Rioja blends.
“In Spain, they find it too aggressive and acidic to bottle alone, but the way it expresses itself in Arizona is fantastic,” Pothier says.
Also, Kent Callaghan, who’s been making wine in Arizona since 1990, is a big proponent of Tannat and Petit Manseng, and many winemakers are using Malvasia Bianca due to its floral nose.
Those earlier days of Arizona wine, even into the 2000s, were tougher than now, Pothier says, because the American palate wasn’t as adventurous. Many casual wine drinkers were conditioned to stick to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and wouldn’t order anything they couldn’t pronounce. There also was a stigma that only certain places could produce wine. Today, there are 260 AVAs in 34 states, and Arizona wines have been highly awarded at competitions and well-reviewed in major publications.
Over time, too, Pothier notes the snob factor has decreased, which has helped the state’s wine industry flourish. Wine isn’t “only for a certain sector of society who’s well-traveled” anymore, she says. And many wine labels are fun and whimsical, including those that Pothier illustrates herself for Chateau Tumbleweed.
People are more comfortable being open to new experiences with wine as well. At Off the Vine, Pothier suggests, if you aren’t familiar with some of the grapes and blends and unsure if you’ll like them, tell the person pouring what you normally enjoy so they can give you something similar.
Not to mention, don’t be shy about asking at the tables for more information about the winemakers and their wares and backgrounds. Most of the wines being poured will be from the 2018-20 vintages, which Pothier says were all good growing years. Bottles will be for sale on site as well.
Stalwart producers such as Callaghan Vineyards, Dos Cabezas WineWorks and Caduceus Cellars will be there along with new upstarts such as Cove Mesa Vineyard, the Oddity Wine Collective and the 100 percent woman-owned Vino Stache Winery. A full list of participants and all other details are on the festival’s website. “We are a small group of people and we’ve all helped each other through the years, which is lovely, and it’s nice to see us all in one spot,” Pothier says.
Off the Vine Arizona Wine Festival
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, February 19
WHERE: Steam Pump Ranch, 10901 N. Oracle Road, Oro Valley
COST: $35 ($30 for early bird tickets); nondrinkers and children are free
by Adrian Prieto
Arizona is a hot and dry desert. Often, that brown stretch of dirt you fly over on your way to a more coastal destination. Arizona certainly has a perception — a dry pile of sand and earth with the occasional desert mountains thrown in. If that doesn’t sound ideal for growing wine grapes, that’s because it’s not.
In most American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), there are different pockets of terrain. There are climates, microclimates, mesoclimates, and specific sites—or terroirs—that lend themselves to the development of beautiful wines. Where does Arizona come in? There are a few places in Arizona that do have ideal geology, enough rain, and optimal sunlight; there are three locations in which all of the wines from Arizona are sourced. Two, Willcox and Sonoita, are official AVAs, and one is very close to being the third, the Verde Valley.
Here, higher elevations, unique geologies, and more mild climates lend themselves to grapes such as Vermentino, Viognier, Sangiovese, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. Overall, there are over 100 producers, over 1,000 acres planted (devoted to wine grape production), and producers with a wild west attitude, if you will, devoted to figuring out what grape varieties are well-suited to their terroir, in order to make stunning wines.
Chateau Tumbleweed opened five years ago, with a physical tasting room and production facility in Clarkdale, Arizona, although their first vintage was 2011, making their wines out of a cooperative space nearby. It’s an hour and 45 minutes north of Phoenix, and a half-hour west of Sedona. After making wine at the cooperative, the four friends and owners, Joe Bechard, Kris Pothier, Kim Koistinen, and Jeff Hendricks, started what is now Chateau Tumbleweed.
Let’s get to know Arizona wine and Chateau Tumbleweed better.
Winetraveler: Why Arizona for wine? People assume it’s a hot and dry desert that is too arid and sunny for growing wine grapes. Can you talk to us about the vineyards that you work with? It seems that many of the vineyards you work with are at a higher elevation. Why is that and what impact does that have on the wine?
Chateau Tumbleweed (CT): The majority of Arizona’s vineyards are at high elevations that range from 3,500 to over 5,000 feet. This is a true wine frontier and that appeals to many Arizona winegrowers and winemakers. Arizona wines tend to have more of an Old-World feeling to them than people might expect. The constant battle for nutrients at high-elevation vineyards means that the vine works hard to divert energy from grape production to simple survival, which reduces the overall yield of the vine. These low-yielding vines give the surviving fruit more character of a higher quality. While blazing hot temperatures characterize dry and dusty days, night temperatures drop drastically, often reaching the low 50s throughout the summer. These intense diurnal shifts force grapes to ripen slowly because a drop in temperature halts sugar production. The wines created from this high-elevation fruit aren’t too jammy or concentrated, they tend to be fresh and more focused, with a nice balance of fruit, spice, and savory characters that ties in nicely with the wines’ slightly grittier, grippier tannins.
Winetraveler: What’s the philosophy here at Chateau Tumbleweed? What’s most important to Chateau Tumbleweed? The wine? The people? The processes? The vineyards?
CT: Our main goal is to highlight the fun and freeing aspect of wine and focus on putting that energy into every aspect of Chateau Tumbleweed. We are serious about the winemaking but never take ourselves too seriously and we work hard to create a vibe that is inclusive and open. This is an intense industry and it is very important to realize the need for flexibility, endurance, guts and humor; wine is supposed to be fun, not a status symbol. We have been lucky to draw in people who understand these principles to our business.
Winetraveler: Do your wines have a style?
CT: Our wines have a house style. We generally aim for fresh and bright wines. We don’t pick too ripe and try to keep the wine from being too monochromatic. We believe that each vineyard and region has its own sense of place and we try our absolute best to honor and preserve it.
Whites are pressed whole cluster and fermented in stainless steel. We try to age primarily in stainless steel, but some whites will see a short time in neutral oak. We never use new oak on whites and we never perform batonnage (lees stirring). We inhibit malolactic to preserve acidity and are aiming for fresh, crisp, refreshing whites that drink well in the Arizona heat. Arizona whites generally have much more intense aromatics due to the sun and heat. It’s our challenge to make sure we get good aromatic development without going too ripe and losing too much crispness, subtlety, and nuance.
In the reds, we look for a balanced complexity of characters, not concentration of a particular note. We usually pick reds around 24 to 25 Brix, which gives us a good core of bright fruit, but still allows the spicy and savory side to show (and alcohols generally stay in the 13.5 to 14.3 percent range). Most of our reds are fermented with about 10 to 25 percent whole clusters. This adds more spice and a savory, herbal note while also giving the fruit a little “lift.” We don’t age too long. We want our wines to taste good while young, but they still need a few years to truly open. Most reds are aged about 11 months, while about 15 to 20 percent of our production is held for 18 months in oak (generally bigger for more tannic varieties like tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon & cabernet franc that need a little more time to soften). We try not to hammer our wines with oak, aiming for about 20 to 25 percent new oak or something comparable. We think that level of oak adds another layer to the wine without dominating the wine. Chateau Tumbleweed uses primarily French oak from the best of the best cooperages we can find. Some “bigger” varieties like tempranillo, malbec & cabernet sauvignon will get Eastern European oak (Hungarian, Romanian, Carpathian).
Winetraveler: Which varieties do well in the vineyards? Which grapes do you most enjoy working with? If you had to choose your favorite red varieties that are grown in Arizona, what would they be and why?
CT: Rhône varieties have been very popular in Arizona for the past 10 to 15 years. They match well with the Arizona character, but some varieties (especially syrah and grenache) can struggle in the acidity department. There seems to be a growing interest in higher-acid varieties. Graciano and aglianico have both been pleasant surprises in that regard. Sangiovese is another varietal we’re really enjoying. Merlot and cabernet franc sound like weird choices, but they both have high acid, bright red fruit, grippy tannins and restraint that can be pretty compelling. We have a lot of trial and error still to do here, especially in regard to whites. There seems to have been less experimenting and fewer plantings of whites in general. We’ll always love Arizona viognier, but along with roussanne it can struggle. The wines can get soft and almost waxy if the grapes are left to hang too long. Chardonnay is more exciting in Arizona than we might care to admit. In good years, it can be more restrained than one might expect. There is also a fair amount of riesling and sauvignon blanc. Picpoul blanc has been gaining in popularity recently. Same with vermentino.
Winetraveler: I’m coming to Arizona, specifically to try Arizona wine for the first time. What do I need to know? Where do I need to go? And what do I need to drink when I’m there?
CT: Arizona isn’t just a giant sand dune! We were blown away by the geological diversity when we moved here. It’s a big state and right now, there are three major growing regions: The Sonoita AVA, the Willcox AVA and the soon-to-be Verde Valley AVA.
Most fruit is grown in the Willcox AVA of southeastern Arizona. Kansas Settlement in Cochise County is probably the “hub” of that AVA and the fruit from the region has a similar thread. There are quite a few good producers in the area. The Willcox AVA stretches north of the town of Willcox into Graham County. In Graham County, the weather is a little cooler and fruit ripens two or three weeks behind Kansas Settlement. There are also quite a few vineyards south of Willcox and in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains.
Sonoita is quite a bit cooler than Willcox and influenced by very different weather patterns. There are fewer wineries in that AVA, but it still houses some of our most prominent producers.
Both regions are large, remote and rural. Tasting more than a few wineries there will take a couple days. Visitors should plan a trip that includes tasting and enjoying some of the history and the beautiful countryside of the area. It’s smart to do some research beforehand to try and determine which wineries you want to visit as there are a lot of styles and approaches in Arizona. Some of our favorites down there are Callaghan Vineyards, Dos Cabezas Wineworks and Rune Wines in Sonoita. In Willcox, there’s Sand-Reckoner, Bodega Pierce, Pillsbury Wine Company, Carlson Creek Vineyards, and several of their neighbors are turning out some great wines.
The Verde Valley is small in terms of vineyard acreage, but there are quite a few wineries up here. It is more centrally located (between Phoenix & Flagstaff) and we tend to get a lot more visitors. A lot of people like to get out of the Phoenix heat and wine country is always a few degrees cooler. There are a lot of tasting rooms and it’s quite possible to visit more than a few in one day. There are also more lodging and culinary options than the other 2 AVA’s. Some of our favorites up here include The D.A. Ranch, Caduceus/Merkin, Page Springs Cellars, Burning Tree Cellars, and Bodega Pierce.
There are still other vineyards outside of these three regions; growers are tackling new frontiers. The most important thing when visiting Arizona wines is to have an open mind and be willing to try new wines, you will not be disappointed.
Winetraveler: How do you measure success? What does the future look like for Chateau Tumbleweed and the Arizona wine scene in general?
CT: Opinion has changed drastically in the past ten years. Success isn’t about big scores or awards, it’s about making a special, local product with character and integrity, and reaching enough people that we can continue to grow, learn, and adapt. It’d be nice if people counted us among the state’s best producers, but hopefully, in the very least, we’re making the kind of juice that represents the state well. Our hope is that we can grow from our current 4,000 case production to 6,000 cases, continue to create jobs and opportunities for our employees, and be positive advocates for wine in our state. Who knows, maybe we’ll even plant our own vineyard someday soon?
Winetraveler: You’re stuck on a remote island. You can only choose one song to play on repeat (as much as you want!), and you can only choose ONE bottle of your wine (any bottle, any vintage, but an unlimited amount). What do you choose for each and why?
CT: Equinox by John Coltrane and our 2018 Cimarron Vineyard Aglianico. It’s a nice, sad song to sip with a well-structured, high acid wine all by yourself.
Move over, California. Winemakers across North America are producing a rich diversity of wines—and winning awards. There are few rules or laws around what can be grown here, which gives vintners the freedom to try almost anything. And the wide array of microclimates means that there’s bound to be something for everyone. New York’s Finger Lakes region may specialize in cool-climate wines like riesling, but in Arizona’s dry, arid Verde Valley, varieties like grenache can flourish. Thousands of vineyards and wineries across the region are currently closed for tastings due to Covid-19, but most continue to ship or deliver locally.
Here are eleven North American wine regions to put on your list.
One of Canada’s premier wine regions is the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The 50th parallel is the outer limit for viticulture, and the Okanagan is right below it. Thanks to a variety of microclimates ranging from cool to semi-arid, the region can produce pinot noir, Bordeaux blends, syrah, world class riesling, chardonnay, sparkling wines, and of course ice wines, a Canadian favorite. There are 185 wineries in the Valley alone.
Look for wines from Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, which won double gold for their 2015 syrah at the Berlin International Wine Competition. You can also take a virtual tour of the winery and follow along with a variety of tasting notes.
Two hours outside Montreal, in the Eastern Townships, the Brome-Missisquoiwine route runs 140km (87mi), linking 20 wineries and beckoning tasters on two wheels to cruise along four wine cycling trails. Wineries here grow cool-climate grapes like pinot gris and frontenac and, as in British Columbia, produce a spread of white, red, rose, sparkling, and ice wines (and cider).
Look for La Belle Alliance winery, founded by Carolyn and Brock Dagenais. They produce six bottles, including their 2017 Entre, an orange wine that the Dagenais say “has notes of nectarine and candied ginger on the nose and the palate.”
Verde Valley, half an hour outside Sedona, is literally the hottest wine growing region in North America. The hot, arid climate is working for vineyards: the Verde Valley Wine Trail has 20-plus wineries, many producing bold reds from cabernet franc, syrah, zinfandel, grenache, and refreshing whites (chardonnay, viognier) that go down well in the toasty climate.
Look for bottles from Chateau Tumbleweed, which sources its grapes from a dozen local vineyards. The resulting wines include the 2017 Dr. Ron Blot, a Rhône-blend and the 2018 The Descendants (one-third verdelho, two-thirds viognier).
Beyond Napa and Sonoma, California’s other world-class growing region is its Central Coast. There are more than 200 wineries here, from Santa Barbara to just south of San Francisco, and the area has two distinct climates: the cool, coastal areas and those warmer and inland. The coastal areas have cloud cover, a result of moist air, so cool-climate grapes like chardonnay and pinot noir thrive here. Inland, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah (among others) flourish. The 350-mile stretch encompasses 40 AVAs, among them are Santa Rita Hills and Paso Robles.
Try wines from Desparada, a female-run winery in Paso Robles, where tasting notes are as non-traditional as the winery itself. The 2017 sauvignon blanc, for example, is described as “the moment the piñata breaks, unicorns, licking the Dolomites, South Tyrolean herbs.”
Or for a Santa Barbara wine, Municipal Winemakers is David Potter’s Funk Zone winery in a former dive shop. There are seven bottles under the Muni line, including a dry, drinkable riesling made with grapes from Kick On Ranch in Los Alamos.
The high-altitude Grand Valley wine region sits over 4,000 feet above sea level, and the higher you go, the stronger the sun is. This more intense exposure leads to grapes with thicker skin, deeper pigmentation, and stronger tannins. Grand Valley has 30 wineries and vineyards, and the high, dry terroir yields merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and chardonnay.
Try Varaison Vineyards and Winery, Colorado’s most unique winery on the grounds of a handsome brick Victorian house. Kristin and Ron West produce wines with grapes from their own estate (like a chardonnay with notes of pear and kiwi) and from other vineyards in Grand Valley (their pinot noir grapes grow along the banks of the Gunnison River).
The two main wine-growing regions in New York are the Finger Lakes and Long Island. There are more than 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes, where Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes create a relatively temperate climate. The resulting wines are aromatic whites like gewürztraminer and riesling, and cool-climate reds like pinot noir and cabernet franc. Each of the lakes has its own wine trail you can do by car or on two wheels.
On Long Island, 50-plus vineyards grow a wide range of reds, whites, dessert wines, and sparkling wines, from light-bodied reds like lagrein and refosco to mostly-dry roses and crispy whites that pair perfectly with local seafood like Blue Point Oysters.
Look for the Finger Lakes winery Hosmer Winery, where young vintner Julia Hoyle and her winegrowing crew produce several rieslings as well as reds like a 2017 lemberger with notes of plum, orange, and vanilla.
From Long Island, Sparkling Pointe is the only winery exclusively producing sparkling wine in the traditional Méthode Champenoise. Champagne varietals are planted across 40 acres.
North Carolina has three wine growing regions—coastal, mountain, and the Piedmont plateau— featuring 185 wineries, more than 525 vineyards, and six AVAs. Drive (or cycle) one of North Carolina’s wine trails to taste what’s being grown. In the coastal region, muscadine grapes, native to North Carolina, are used for sweet wines. Vineyards in the mountainous and Piedmont regions of the state grow viognier, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot.
Try wines from Laurel Gray Vineyards in Swan Creek. The vineyard started in 2001, and across 15 acres now grow pinot gris, cabernets franc and sauvignon, chardonnay, and merlot.
The southern United States is better known for bourbon and whiskey, but Virginia is producing wines across 10 regions, from the Blue Ridge up to Northern Virginia. The state’s wineries vary in elevation; its eastern border is coastal, so vineyards here are at sea level, but in the mountainous west, a vineyard might be at 3,000 feet. Soil varies from limestone to loam and red clay. Such diversity helps Virginia’s wineries grow a wide range of grapes. There are roughly 275 wineries in Virginia growing grapes familiar (chardonnay, merlot) and fresh (petit manseng).
Find wines from King Family Vineyards, founded by Ellen King and her late husband David. Try the award-winning bottlings of Mountain Plains Red, a blend of petit verdot, cabernet franc and merlot.
The state boasts more than 1,000 wineries producing 70 varieties of wine (59% red, 41% white). Like neighboring Oregon, its climate is temperate, with little rain during the growing season. Cabernet sauvignon dominates, followed by merlot, but chardonnay and riesling also have a good showing.
Explore the wines of Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, perched on a cliff above the Spokane River Valley, from Kristina Mielke van Löben Sels and her husband Jim. Partnering with five Columbia Valley vineyards, Arbor Crest produces over a dozen reds (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) and a handful of whites such as a sangiovese and riesling blend blush.
Or find some of the region’s siegerrebe (“victory wine” in German), delightfully summery orange muscat, and mourvèdre.
An hour’s drive from Portland is the hundred-mile-long, 60-mile-wide Willamette Valley, home to 756 vineyards and 592 wineries. The climate is temperate overall, with cool, wet winters and dry, warm (but not hot) summers. This plus the valley’s location just 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean have made it the western US region for cool climate varieties. Two-thirds of what’s produced here is pinot noir, followed by pinot gris, and chardonnay.
Try wines from Eyrie Vineyards, which was started in 1965 by Diana and David Lett. It was the first in Oregon to cultivate pinot noir and pinot gris, bottling them in 1970. Today, pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and a crisp muscat ottonel are made from its 50,000 vines.
Or try recommendations from sommelier and Robert Parker reviewer Erin Brooks for the region’s chenin blanc or syrah.
Just two hours south of San Diego, in Baja California, is Valle de Guadalupe, where a significant portion of the country’s wine is grown—including a bottling from El Cielo winery that took home gold at international wine competition Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2019. It has become a hot destination for oenophiles, who check into boutique hotels like Casa Mayoral, Campera Hotel, and upmarket Bruma. There are more than a hundred wineries in the Valle, where the mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers make the climate similar to that of Spain and parts of Chile.
Monte Xanic is Mexico’s first boutique winery, opening in 1988. Taste whites (chardonnay or chenin blanc), reds (such as Bordeaux varietals) or a mix of both. The winery has taken home a number of awards, including two silvers at the 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Read more on these destinations and get inspired for future travel at travelguide.michelin.com or with one of our Green Guides, available at your local bookseller.
CLARKDALE, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) -- "So I’m going to punch down the Sierra Bonita vineyard cabernet sauvignon. This is about 30 percent whole cluster. We use the entire cluster to get a little sweetness and tannen and spice from the stems. It’s a really good way to add a depth of mid-pallet," said Kris Pothier.
It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Clarkdale, a couple of hours before the tasting room at Chateau Tumbleweed opens. "This is about five days into its fermenting process, the conversion is happening, and you can really start to get hints of what the nose is going to be," Pothier said.
Kris Pothier and her husband, Joe Bechard, are busy punching grapes, steaming oak caskets, and preparing to barrel the latest harvest. Kris and Joe, along with another couple, started Chateau Tumbleweed and Tasting Room in 2015, years after first moving to Arizona from Oregon.
"I came here with Kris fresh out of college with my journalism degree and came to write for a local newspaper here in the Verde Valley," said Bechard. That’s when Kris and Joe say they sort of fell backwards into the winemaking business.
"None of us intended to work in wine, none of us intended to be in Arizona. I had never heard of Arizona wine; I didn’t know anything about it and was really curious," the couple said.
A year later, Bechard started working up the road at Page Springs Cellars, essentially putting a cork in his journalism career. "Once I started to get to see Arizona wine, I really fell in love with it, and I really believe in the wines here, and they’re good kinds of wines that I like to drink," Bechard said.
"We all walked into the industry at a time when there weren’t very many people involved, so we were given badges to do things that otherwise people would clamor for or go to school for, so we learned on the job," Pothier said.
After about 15 years of on-the-job training, Kris and Joe, along with their partners, decided to go separate ways. "You know, it’s kind of our own little project, we get to finally say what we wanted to say about Arizona wine and do it in a way that we wanted to do it," Bechard said.
Chateau Tumbleweed has gone from making 2,000 cases to 5,000 a year, and they now work with a dozen vineyards in three counties.
"That’s one thing that’s kind of unique about Chateau Tumbleweed is we don’t have our own vineyards, so we’re sourcing a lot of fruit and what we’ve decided to do is kind of make it educational and exciting and go and show people," Bechard said. "There’s Sangiovese from three different vineyards across Arizona, here’s cab sauv from three different vineyards or four different vineyards."
Like most tasting rooms, they serve wine-flights or by the glass. You can sit on the patio or enjoy the inviting living room setting.
"I’ve been into a lot of tasting rooms in my life that made me feel uncomfortable and want to hug the wall, and that was the only thing really that we intended, that we try to make a warm, engaging space where people came in and wanted to relax and drink some wine," said Pothier
Pothier says guests will find that their wines stand out, not just because of the distinctive labels that she draws, but because of their balance, and because of her husband’s creativity at developing depths of flavors. If you’re a person who likes to think and you want to get lost in wine, his wines are really good to get lost in.
Best wines in Arizona: The 2019 azcentral.com Arizona Wine Competition winners (The Republic | azcentral.com)
Richard Ruelas, The Republic | azcentral.com Published 8:00 p.m. MT Nov. 15, 2019
The wine named the best in the state in the 2019 azcentral.com Arizona Wine Competition was made by college students learning viticulture. Apparently, the lessons are going well.
The 2018 Viognier, a fragrant white wine produced from grapes grown at the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College in Clarkdale, won Best in Show at this year's judging.
It is the first Best in Show award for students of the Southwest Wine Center. The college won the Growers Cup for Best Rosé in 2017 and has picked up other medals for its wines in previous years.
The 20 judges in the competition also named the 2018 Viognier from Southwest Wine Center the Best White Wine in the competition and, naturally, the Best Viognier.
The student-made Viognier bested 219 entries from 32 wineries.
Wineries pay a fee to enter the contest, which is run by The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com in cooperation with the Arizona Wine Growers Association. Proceeds are donated to fund scholarships and other needs at the Southwest Wine Center.
The award for Best Red went to the 2016 Garage-East Ray Rd., a Tempranillo-based blend whose name is a nod to the street in Gilbert where the winery is located. The winery also produces another red blend called Higley Rd., after its other cross street.
Best Rosé went to the 2018 Bodega Pierce Rosé, which is made from Grenache grapes grown at the winery’s Rolling View Vineyard in Willcox. The winemaker for Bodega Pierce is Michael Pierce, who oversees the winemaking program at the Southwest Wine Center.
Callaghan Vineyards won Best Dessert for its 2015 Amor Fati Malvasia Bianca. That wine is made in a late-harvest style. That means the grapes were left on the vine longer than if they were being made into white wine. The extra time allows for sugars to build up as the grapes are on their way to becoming raisins.
The Amor Fati was aged in a barrel for four years without being disturbed, making the final product, as the name would indicate, a devotion to fate.
Kent Callaghan, the winemaker and owner of Callaghan Vineyards, can add this Best Dessert award to previous wins in the competition for Best White, Best Red and Best in Show. Callaghan Vineyards earned more medals than any other winery in the 2019 competition.
The awards were announced Nov. 15 at a gala at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Phoenix. Most of the winning wines can be sampled at the Grand Wine Festival on Saturday, Nov. 16 at Kierland Commons.
How the wines were judged
Judging was held Oct. 21 at the Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley. The tasting was blind. Judges knew what type of wine they were being served, but not the winery that produced it.
The judges included sommeliers, chefs, bar managers, wine shop owners and distributors from resorts, restaurants and businesses in the Phoenix area.
The panel included a mix of judges who had participated in the competition previously and some first-timers. Some judges had extensive knowledge of the state’s wines; others were getting their main exposure to the state’s offerings at the competition.
Judges were divided into six panels. Each panel tasted a different array of wines. Judges reached a consensus as a panel on which wines earned bronze, silver and gold medals.
Double gold medals went to wines deemed worthy of a gold medal by each member of a judging panel.
The panels also, at their discretion, gave Best in Class designations to gold-medal wines deemed tops in individual categories.
Each of the six panels also nominated two wines to be considered for Best in Show. Those 12 wines were then tasted by all the judges to determine the winner.
2019 azcentral.com Arizona Wine Competition winners
Best in Show: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Viognier.
Best Red Wine: 2016 Garage-East Ray Rd.
Best White Wine: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Viognier.
Best Rosé: 2018 Bodega Pierce Rosé.
Best Dessert: 2015 Callaghan Vineyards Amor Fati Malvasia Bianca.
Best of Class is awarded in each category at the judges' discretion:
Best of Class Malvasia Bianca: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Malvasia Bianca.
Best of Class Viognier: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Viognier.
Best of Class Rosé Single Varietal: 2018 Bodega Pierce Rosé.
Best of Class Rosé Blend: 2017 Deep Sky Vineyard Nebula.
Best of Class Graciano: 2017 Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery Graciano.
Best of Class Mourvedre: 2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Mourvedre.
Best of Class Monastrell: 2016 Zarpara Vineyard Monastrell.
Best of Class Petite Sirah: 2016 Deep Sky Vineyard Black Hole.
Best of Class Syrah/Shiraz: 2017 Heart Wood Cellars Syrah Reserve.
Best of Class Tannat: 2017 High Lonesome Vineyard Tannat.
Best of Class Tempranillo: 2015 Caduceus Cellars Sancha.
Best of Class Rhone Style Blends: 2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Diva.
Best of Class Bordeaux Style Blends: 2017 Chateau Tumbleweed Cousin Idd.
Best of Class Other Red Blends: 2018 Burning Tree Cellars The Lotus, 2016 Chateau Tumbleweed Earth Cuckoo, 2016 Garage-East Ray Rd.
Best of Class Dessert Late Harvest: 2015 Callaghan Vineyards Amor Fati Malvasia Bianca.
2015 Caduceus Cellars le Cortigiane Oneste.
2018 Callaghan Vineyards Tannat.
2017 Four Tails Vineyard Amigos.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Bruzzi Vineyard Vidal Blanc. 2017 Sand-Reckoner Malvasia Bianca.
2018 Southwest Wine Center Carignan.
2018 Southwest Wine Center Refosco.
2016 Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Barbera.
2016 Callaghan Vineyards Cimarron Aglianico.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Padres.
2016 Chateau Tumbleweed Cimarron Sangiovese.
2018 Dos Cabezas WineWorks White.
2018 Provisioner Wines Provisioner Red.
2018 Provisioner Wines Provisioner White.
2017 Alcantara Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
2018 Alcantara Vineyard Chardonnay.
2017 Alcantara Vineyard Confluence XI.
2017 Alcantara Vineyard Grand Rouge X.
2018 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Bonita Springs Vineyard Riesling.
2018 Bodega Pierce Malvasia Bianca.
2016 Bodega Pierce Mourvedre.
2015 Bodega Pierce Petite Sirah.
2017 Burning Tree Cellars Colibri Mourvedre.
2017 Burning Tree Cellars The Peddler.
2018 Burning Tree Cellars Trademarked.
2015 Caduceus Cellars Nagual de la Naga.
2018 Caduceus Cellars Nagual del Agostina White.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Bonita.
2015 Callaghan Vineyards Graciano.
2016 Callaghan Vineyards Padres.
2017 Carlson Creek Vineyard Malbec.
2017 Deep Sky Vineyard Aurora.
2016 Deep Sky Vineyard Eclipse.
2016 Deep Sky Vineyard Supernova.
2018 Dos Cabezas WineWorks Pink.
2017 Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery Estate Tempranillo Dessert.
2017 Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery Spanish Fly.
2017 Four Tails Vineyard Big Paw.
2017 Four Tails Vineyard Double Trouble.
2015 Garage-East Higley Rd.
2017 Heart Wood Cellars Diamond Reserve.
2017 Heart Wood Cellars Petite Sirah.
2018 Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery Prospectors Blend.
2018 Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery Rock Slide.
2018 Laramita Cellars Arizmo.
2017 Mogollon Vineyards Humboldt.
2017 Mogollon Vineyards Malvasia Bianca.
2017 Page Springs Cellars House Mountain Petite Sirah Pick 3.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Nebbiolo Rosé.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Super Arizona.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Vino de la Familia.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Vino de la Familia Blanca.
2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Grenache.
2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Roan Red.
2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Viognier.
2017 Rune Wines Colibri Mourvedre.
2017 Rune Wines Colibri Syrah.
2017 Rune Wines Graciano.
2017 Rune Wines Pillsbury Mourvedre.
2017 Rune Wines Viognier.
2018 Rune Wines Viognier.
2018 Sand-Reckoner Grenache Rosé.
2017 Saeculum Cellars Chardonnay ML+.
2017 Saeculum Cellars Sangiovese.
2018 Southwest Wine Center Big Red.
2018 Southwest Wine Center Nopal.
2014 Winery 101 Chardonnay.
2015 Winery 101 Chenin Blanc.
2016 Winery 101 Cabernet Sauvignon George's Tribute.
2018 Winery 101 Grenache Blanc.
2018 Alcantara Vineyard Malvasia Bianca.
2017 Alcantara Vineyard Syrah.
2017 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Dala Cabernet Sauvignon.
2018 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Deep Sky Vineyard Grenache Clone 515. 2018 Bodega Pierce Chardonnay.
2018 Bodega Pierce Sauvignon Blanc.
2018 Burning Tree Cellars Colibri Rose.
2017 Burning Tree Cellars Hilltop Grenache.
2018 Burning Tree Cellars The Architect.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Barrett's Rose'.
2016 Callaghan Vineyards Caitlin's.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Caitlin's.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Claire's.
2018 Callaghan Vineyards Dry Rose.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Greg's.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Rhumb Line Tannat.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Tannat.
2017 Carlson Creek Vineyard Grenache Rose.
2018 Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery Rose.
2016 Deep Sky Vineyard Stellar.
2016 Dos Cabezas WineWorks Aguileon.
NV Dos Cabezas WineWorks Principrana.
2016 Dos Cabezas WineWorks Toscano.
2017 Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery Big Red Blend.
2018 Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery La Flor.
2017 Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery Sangiovese Classico.
2017 Golden Rule Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
2017 Heart Wood Cellars Heart.
2018 High Lonesome Vineyard PicPoul Blanc.
2018 Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery Red Canyon Rose.
2018 Laramita Cellars Dos Compadres.
2018 Laramita Cellars Malvasia Bianca.
2017 Merkin Vineyards Tarzan Red.
2016 Mogollon Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Colibri Grenache Pick 3.
2018 Page Springs Cellars Painted Lady Gewurztraminer.
2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Malvasia.
2017 Pillsbury Wine Company WildChild Red.
2018 Rune Wines Albariño.
2017 Rune Wines Grenache.
2016 Rune Wines Wild Syrah Private Reserve.
2015 Sand-Reckoner '7'.
2016 Sand-Reckoner 'x' red blend.
2018 Saeculum Cellars Viognier.
2018 Winery 101 Zintimate Blush.
Here are the judges from the competition and the wine each chose as their favorite.
Craig Dziadowicz, Hidden Track Bottle Shop: 2018 Winery 101 Grenache Blanc; 2017 Pillsbury Wine Company Grenache.
Tracy Dempsey, Tracy Dempsey Originals, ODV Wines: 2018 Bodega Pierce Rosé.
Audrey Everett, Fogo E Chao: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Carignan.
Sarah Foote, The Mission Kierland: 2017 Deep Sky Vineyard Nebula.
Ryan Gardner, Fox Restaurant Concepts: 2016 Chateau Tumbleweed Earth Cuckoo.
Christopher Gross, The Wrigley Mansion: 2017 Deep Sky Vineyard Nebula.
Ian Hidalgo, Action Wines: 2015 Caduceus Cellars Nagual de la Naga.
Joshua James, Clever Koi, The Fellow: 2017 Four Tails Vineyard Amigos.
Raini Keyser, Vinum 55 wine storage: 2017 High Lonesome Vineyard Tannat.
Kevin Lewis, Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Viognier.
Jason Lothner, Stock & Stable: 2016 Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Barbera.
Patrick Norton, The Phoenician: 2015 Caduceus Cellars Nagual de la Naga.
Emily Rieve, GenuWine Arizona: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Viognier.
Lindsey Schoenemann, GenuWine Arizona: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Carignan.
Jefferson Schroeder, Tres Tempe: 2016 Dos Cabezas WineWorks Toscano.
Jared Sowinski, The Phoenician: 2017 Four Tails Vineyard Amigos.
Katie Stephens, Beckett's Table: 2018 Southwest Wine Center Carignan; 2016 Caduceus Cellars Velvet Slippers Club Barbera.
Casey Thorne, Southern Rail: 2016 Garage-East Ray Rd.
Tai Ward, Southern Rail: 2015 Caduceus Cellars Sancha.
Jordan White, Vinum 55 wine storage: 2018 Bodega Pierce Rose.
The Wines to Buy This Thanksgiving: A Guide to America’s Up-and-Coming Regions (Wall Street Journal)
By Lettie Teague
Nov. 15, 2019 11:45 am ET
Full article available by subscription to the Wall Street Journal.
Excerpt of article that mentions Chateau Tumbleweed:
2018 Chateau Tumbleweed Cimarron Vineyard Picpoul Blanc Cochise County $28 : Winemaker Joe Bechard characterizes this crisp, dry white as “dangerously chuggable.” It’s sourced from the Cimarron Vineyard, considered Arizona’s very best, planted by Oregon Pinot Noir superstar Dick Erath.
Georgann Yara, Special for Arizona Republic Published 7:30 a.m. MT Aug. 1, 2019 | Updated 2:26 p.m. MT Aug. 21, 2019
For the last few years, this mental image has made Arizona winemaker Todd Bostock smile:
It’s a sunny day on a golf course. A guy driving his cart pulls up and comes to a stop. He prepares a refreshing adult beverage and opens his cooler. It’s packed with aluminum cans dressed in green and gold. And filled with wine.
“It warms my heart,” said Bostock of Green Wine, his creation in a can for Garage-East, an urban winery in Gilbert’s Barnone of which he’s a partner. “It’s like an alternative to beer.”
The Green Wine is in part the result of borrowed elements. The logo and colors on the can were made to resemble a beer can from the 1970s, and the contents emulates Vinho Verde, the Portuguese varietal known for being light and spritzy. The combination was what Valley residents who brave summers at home craved.
“Garage-East is in the Valley, and it’s warm. We wanted to make a wine that would be useful most of the year. We were going for something low alcohol and refreshing,” Bostock said.
Bostock is also the winemaker and co-owner of Dos Cabezas WineWorks, which is based in Sonoita and in a southern Arizona wine region that features high elevation and cooler temperatures year round.
The Green Wine comes in totable 375 ml can ($12) – about two glasses worth. At Garage-East, it’s also available by the glass. The current 2018 vintage is the third generation of the wine. It’s a blend of malvasia bianca, reisling and sauvignon blanc. It is no shade of emerald.
It’s one of the several Arizona wines made for enduring scorching desert summers. It’s also part of a wine packaging revolution that, as Bostock has said, lets wine to go where beer goes.
What was once considered a trend-of-the-moment has become a $45 million business, according to Nielsen. And while canned wine makes up a fraction of the industry, it’s growing faster than its bottle counterparts. Canned wine sales in the U.S. grew 43 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to alcoholic beverage market research firm BW 166.
Bostock is a veteran of the practice. His Dos Cabezas canned carbonated pink is among the most sought-after Arizona wines upon its annual release and Dos Cabezas’ Methode Canpenoise – another canned sparkler – was named the state’s top wine in the 2017 Arizona Republic Wine Competition.
Bostock was prepared for criticism. But he said most consumers understand that opting for a can instead of a bottle is no reflection of the quality of wine inside it.
“Most people get it. It’s not lame wine in a novel package. It’s the same wine we put in a bottle but in a package you can stick in your pocket,” he said.
This is time of year when pink and white wines are in high demand. Lindsey Schoenemann, co-owner of downtown Phoenix wine bar GenuWine Arizona, said customers’ first word is “refreshing” when choosing one.
Currently, rosé is king. Schoenemann’s personal favorite is the Rune Wines 2017 Rosé ($20), a crisp blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, petite sirah and graciano.
When it comes to local white wines, Schoenemann is a fan of Arizona viogniers. She really likes the 2017 Pretty Girl Viognier from Four Tails Vineyard ($25).
“This one is well-balanced, mineral and fruity. It’s really easy to drink,” she said.
But this doesn’t mean reds don’t get any love when temps hit triple digits. Schoenemann enjoys red wine year round. Some may wish to chill their reds down in a bottle chiller or refrigerator for a few minutes, but she likes it at room temperature. Right now, Schoenemann is loving the Sand-Reckoner Vineyard 2016 R ($23), a blend of syrah, tannat, zinfandel and petite sirah.
“It’s a little bit spicy but still refreshing and well-balanced. I love it with a meal ... like a black bean burger,” she said.
From porch pounders to palate-smacking sippers, here are the homegrown wines that should be filling your glass when temperatures soar. Prices vary at retail locations.
Carlson Creek Vineyard, 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($23)
This straw-colored refresher’s light herbal inflection with hints of grilled pineapple and vanilla custard recently scored 91 points and a gold medal in the 2019 World Wine Championships. Light enough for poolside solo sipping with just enough personality to stand up to dishes like chicken fajitas or tofu banh mi. Don’t let the older vintage fool you. This vineyard is known for churning out white wines that peak gracefully with age.
Details: carlsoncreek.com (https://carlsoncreek.com/).
Callaghan Vineyards, 2017 Love Muffin ($28)
This intoxicating blend of malvasia bianca, viogner, marsanne and rousanne entices in a friendly way as lychee and apricot permeate the nose and palate, waxing all the quenching ripeness that the season has to offer. A teeny spicy finish makes the encounter memorable.
Details: callaghanvineyards.com (https://www.callaghanvineyards.com/).
Page Springs Cellars, 2018 Vino del Barrio Blanca ($16)
One of this popular winery’s most high-profile offerings, this white boasts a union of eight varietals, with the heavy lifting done by malvasia bianca, pinot gris, viognier, vermintino and French colombard. The profile changes slightly each year depending on the blend but hitting all the right notes with hints of tropical fruit, citrus and pear that’s balanced with just enough minerality is the constant.
Details: pagespringscellars.com (http://pagespringscellars.com/).
Dos Cabezas WineWorks, 2018 El Campo Blanco ($30)
This brand new release was bottled in July and is anxious to play. It boasts a blend primarily comprised of rousanne and viognier, a Rhone duo that results in a refreshingly balanced sip.
Details: doscabezas.com (http://www.doscabezas.com/).
Pillsbury Wine Company, 2017 WildChild White ($25)
Filmmaker-turned-winemaker Sam Pillsbury’s WildChild wines have been perennial pleasers for years, and his white blend is especially beloved when temperatures soar. An aromatic melding of symphony, viognier, malvasia bianca and chardonnay, this holds its own alone as well as paired with flavorful seafood dishes like grilled mahi mahi dressed with a mango salsa. It was also a double gold medal winner at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Details: pillsburywine.com (http://www.pillsburywine.com/).
Merkin Vineyards, 2018 Puscifer Queen B Sparkling Rosé ($12)
This can of bubbly was made for summer picnics, hikes and San Diego beach escapes. Made from 100 percent mourvedre rather than the mainstream Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, this sparkling pink carries a bit more heft, zero sweetness and the ability to play nice with most summertime eats.
Details: merkinoldtownscottsdale.com (http://merkinoldtownscottsdale.com/).
Chateau Tumbleweed 2017 Rosé ($25)
Don’t be fooled by the dark shade that may conjure up Kool-Aid memories. This bone-dry rosé made with barbera, sangiovese and grenache is far from sugary sweet. It also packs enough berry fruit and crispness to make it a versatile buddy for noshing.
Details: chateautumbleweed.com (http://www.chateautumbleweed.com/).
Lightning Ridge Cellars, 2017 Montepulciano ($28)
Winemaker Ann Roncone specializes in Italian varietals, and this red is among her estate-grown wines. It’s medium-bodied but light enough to go with hearty grilled vegetables and stand up to steaks. A peppery finish gives it a playful kick.
Details: lightningridgecellars.com (http://lightningridgecellars.com/).
File this away for summer 2020: Garage-East Rosé Pops
Another Garage-East grab-and-go summer favorite is the rosé pop — kind of like a wine Otter Pop. Bostock worked with Tempe-based pastry chef Tracy Dempsey to come up with a recipe that allowed them to freeze yet kept its shape, texture and flavor.
The pops are sold out, but put them on your next summer’s to-drink list.
Bostock said of the inspiration for the adult treat: “Everything is so serious. We wanted to have some fun.”
If you’re looking for a good selection of Arizona wines and want to avoid the big box booze stores and grocers, head to these independent wine shops. Whether you’re very familiar with local wines or a newbie taking your first steps into the homegrown scene, chances are great that you’ll have your questions answered by someone who can help you navigate the terroir.
Arcadia Premium: 5618 E. Thomas Road, Suite 100, Phoenix. 602-464-9000, arcadiapremium.com (https://arcadiapremium.com/arcadiapremium/).
Bottle Shop 48: 3318 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe. 480-820-0804, bottleshop48.com (http://bottleshop48.com/).
GenuWine Arizona: 888 N. First Ave., Phoenix. 602-682-7494, genuwinearizona.com (https://genuwinearizona.com/).
Hidden Track Bottle Shop: The Monroe, 111 W. Monroe St., Suite 120, Phoenix. 602-566-7932, hiddentrackbottleshop.com (https://www.hiddentrackbottleshop.com/).
ODV Wines: 1325 W. University Drive, Tempe. 602-376-9021, odvwines.com (https://odvwines.com/).
Sphinx Date Co.: 3039 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. 480-941-2261, sphinxdateranch.com (https://www.sphinxdateranch.com/).
STUART WARNER | JUNE 6, 2019 | 7:00AM
We were making good time driving north on Interstate 17 at about 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 10. I took the day off work so we could get an early start. That was important because the 90-minute drive can extend to two and a half hours on a busy weekend. “Traffic can get pretty bad coming from Phoenix on a Friday after work,” Paula Woolsey, vice president of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, reminded me later.
Then, we encountered temptation. Exit 262. Rock Springs Café. Pie. Cherry pie. Apple pie. Banana cream. Key lime. Blueberry crumb. Lemon meringue. And of course, the specialty of the house, Jack Daniels pecan pie.
Dare we take the bait? Risk our on-time arrival? No, I tell my wife (and driver). We don’t want to spoil our wine-drinking with an early dessert. We can stop on the way home Sunday.
And that was our mission. Forty-eight hours on the Verde Valley Wine Trail, which more and more is becoming a popular weekend getaway from the Valley of the Sun. It doesn’t hurt that summertime temps average 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in Phoenix, either.
Certainly, the lure of wine has been contributing of late to the traffic on I-17, which also carries travelers to Sedona, Jerome, Flagstaff, and Arizona’s ultimate vacation destination, the Grand Canyon.
That hardly used to be the case.
Fifteen years ago, there were only three tasting rooms in the Verde Valley, which includes Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Cornville, and Page Springs. Today, there are more than two dozen, including several in Jerome and Sedona.
Wine is still a boutique industry in Arizona, but vineyards generate $56 million annually in tourism dollars, according to a 2017 study by Northern Arizona University. An economic report for the National Organization of American Wineries is even more generous, calculating that Arizona’s 121 wine producers create a total annual economic impact of $3.3 billion and generate more than 187,000 tourist visits.
The Verde Valley, in Yavapai County, is one of three prime wine regions in the state along with Sonoita-Elgin in Santa Cruz County and Willcox in Cochise County, south of Tucson, where the majority of the state’s grapes are grown on much less expensive land.
And people like us, who used to take California winecations in Napa, Sonoma, the Anderson Valley, and Santa Barbara, have started staying closer to home. Even the New York Times has taken notice with a recent travel piece on the Verde Valley.
“We’re not California,” said Tom Schumacher, president of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, “but we have to be true to our own tastes, our own wine. And people are discovering that what they put in their mouths tastes pretty good.”
We’ve been to all three Arizona regions, and the Verde Valley easily has become the most amenable for an extended stay. There’s so much more to do than just drink wine all day (although that’s not a terrible alternative). Sonoita-Elgin and Willcox provide few additional options other than a view of the mountains and the Labor Day Rodeo.
The Verde Valley offers excellent restaurants plus museums, scenic train rides, Jeep tours, kayaking, birding, shopping, some nightlife, and, of course, the Cliff Castle Casino in nearby Camp Verde. There’s also the proximity to the attractions in Jerome and Sedona.
As a result, according to the NAU study, the Verde Valley is drawing younger visitors (average age 46 compared to 48 in the state overall) and wealthier ones, with 51 percent from households earning more than $150,000 per year compared to the other areas. These visitors spend an average of $84 per person on wine and 51 percent stay overnight, 9 percentage points higher than the state average.
“Wine is becoming interconnected with everything else,” said Woolsey, who uses the handle winewitch22 on her emails. “You can visit Out of Africa, then drink wine. You can ride the train and drink wine. You can take a kayaking trip and stop at a winery. Restaurants sell our local wines. We want everybody to get a piece of the pie.”
Ah, did you have to mention pie? We’ll get back to that later. In the meantime, you’re welcome to join us on the rest of our 48-hour wine adventure
Friday, May 10, 12:15 p.m.
We arrived at our favorite wine tasting room, Page Springs Cellars, after finally exiting I-17 and a short drive through Cornville. Full disclosure: We have been among the 1,800 members of the Page Springs Cellars wine club for five years, which means we get a discount on purchases, free tastings, and priority seating on a covered deck overlooking Oak Creek and shaded by majestic sycamore and cottonwood trees. We usually pick up our annual shipments on-site so we can take advantage of our free tastings at the same time.
Owner Eric Glomski is one of Arizona’s wine pioneers. He opened in 2004, when there were only three tasting rooms in the region, his and neighbors Javelina Leap and Oak Creek, and only a dozen wineries in the state.
Laws passed in Arizona in 2006 eased restrictions on selling directly to consumers, allowing small wineries to compete with the big boys, and the industry took root here.
Page Springs has served as sort of an incubator, helping many others get their start, including celebrity vintners Sam Pillsbury and Maynard James Keenan.
“One of the cool things has been to educate and support the new winemakers until they are ready to go out and fly on their own,” Glomski said.
He likes the camaraderie among most of the winemakers he sees in the Verde Valley. “There’s strength in numbers. We bounce ideas off each other. There are still some strong personalities, and we don’t always agree. But the competition is good. There is a lot of room for all of us to grow.”
Glomski, who also produces a lower-price label, Provisioner, says more inexpensive wines are the key to the expansion of the Arizona wine industry.
Woolsey believes that will come with critical mass, when the businesses that sell barrels, commercial grape vines, and vineyard equipment such as trellising, planting sleeves and stakes, etc., see enough potential revenue to set up shop in Arizona.
“Right now, we import all that stuff from California,” she said. “That adds a layer to the pricing.”
But Page Springs has enough price points and varietals to appeal to most wallets and palates. After tasting six wines each and a light lunch consisting of the popular vegetable tower (the New York Times writer had the same dish) and a small plate of bacon date pintxos, we bought six bottles of Page Springs Cellars wine in addition to our regular shipment, taking home nine bottles total. And this was just our first stop.
Friday, 2:15 p.m.
We think we’re so smart, but 1,000 years ago, the Southern Sinagua were building a massive condo complex high in the Verde Valley. Talk about rooms with a view.
The Tuzigoot National Monument includes the remains of a 110-room development that overlooked the fields where these Native Americans grew corn, beans, squash, and cotton using the same canal irrigation techniques that allowed Phoenix to rise from the desert centuries later. Apparently, they left the area around the start of the 14th century. No one is certain why, though drought is suspected. Can you say climate change?
The $10 admission is worth it, and it’s free if you have a national parks pass.
Friday, 3:30 p.m
A decade or so ago, we were told, much of what is now historic Old Town Cottonwood was boarded-up buildings. These days, Main Street bustles with shops, restaurants, two hotels, and six tasting rooms — Carlson Creek, Pillsbury, Burning Tree Cellars, Arizona Stronghold, Winery 101, and the Merkin Osteria.
“The wine industry, but more specifically the talented and passionate individuals that put skin in the game, helped pull Old Town Cottonwood from its sleepy state into the thriving and vibrant Main Street you find today,”
Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski said in an email. “I tip my hat to the entrepreneurs and restaurateurs who believed Cottonwood could be the epicenter of Arizona wine, and I’m as pleased as they are that we have arrived.”
We continued to do our part for the good of the Cottonwood economy, purchasing bottles of green chile pepper-infused olive oil and grapefruit-flavored balsamic vinegar at the Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders, then stopping at Winery 101.
A young woman was wrestling with three infants, two of her own and another belong to one of the servers, as she sat on a couch in the center of the comfortable tasting room. As she fed a bottle to one of the kids, she took an occasional sip of white wine from her nearby glass.
“We didn’t have that in my day,” said another woman seated beside us at the bar. She identified herself as a grandmother of 12. “We didn’t drink wine while we were feeding babies. We could have used it.”
The grandma, Irlyn Gallifant, is the co-owner with her husband, Gavin, of Winery 101, where they serve their two labels, Gallifant Cellars and SouthPaw Cellars. (Both are left-handed.)
I thought Winery 101 meant it was for beginners, but the name originated from the location of their first tasting room, near Loop 101 in Peoria. They opened their second room in Cottonwood two years ago. They divide their time between the two cities.
“We love the pace of life here,” Irlyn Gallifant said. “So much quieter than the Phoenix area. But 15 years ago, you didn’t want to come downtown. They’ve done a great job of renovating.”
Wine has been the straw that stirred the drink of redevelopment.
“The city of Cottonwood is easier for businesses like us,” she said. “They were very accommodating. We had a place in Sonoita-Elgin for a while, but they really didn’t want things to change.”
Even though Winery 101 is the only tasting room in Maricopa County outside of Scottsdale, we had never tasted either of the Gallifants’ wines before. We were quite pleased after sampling a half-dozen or so.
We bought two Gallifant pinot gris and a Super Tuscan. But who’s keeping count?
Friday, 4:40 p.m.
I had searched for hotel reservations more than a month in advance of our trip, but found almost everything was sold out. I finally found a room in a Best Western in the strip mall part of Cottonwood, about two miles from Old Town, at about $150 a night. We had a great view of the Home Depot across the street.
Wine and tourism “are the biggest economic drivers in the region,” Woolsey, the winewitch22, said. “But we need more hotel rooms.”
Cottonwood only has 408 hotel rooms, according to its Chamber of Commerce, although there are probably also as many as 500 Airbnb rooms. I didn’t check for one of those because I still haven’t warmed to the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s house.
There are plenty of rooms in Sedona and in Camp Verde near the casino, but those are a half-hour drive or more from the bulk of the tasting rooms. Not what you want after a few hours of sipping wine.
Friday, 7:40 p.m.
I screwed up, thinking our reservation at the Up the Creek Bistro and Wine Bar, a restaurant that is getting a lot of buzz these days, was at 7 on Friday night. It was Saturday night. Friday was a private party. We drove back to Old Town Cottonwood and remembered a recommendation for a good place to eat late at night, the Three Kings Kasbar, a Middle Eastern restaurant just a couple of blocks off the main drag. Since quarter till 8 constitutes late-night dining in Arizona, we walked in and, sure enough, found that we had missed the dinner rush.
We shared lamb and spanakopita empanadas, which are made in house, a Caesar salad with white anchovies, and a bottle of Pillsbury Wild Child Red. The meal was light enough that we splurged on a piece of baklava for dessert.
Friday, 8:45 p.m.
Several people told us the hotspot for nightlife in Old Town Cottonwood is the State Bar near the end of Main Street. And for folks who are 60-somethings like we are, they’re right.
The bar serves only Arizona beers and wines on tap. I ordered an Arizona Angel White from 433 Cellars in Jerome, and my wife selected a Dos Cabezas Red from Sonoita, then we fortuitously found a couch while we sipped and waited for the night’s featured act, the Well Dressed Wolves (they weren’t) to take the stage.
They were surprisingly good for a local band, particularly the drummer, as they strummed through a playlist of ’60s hits from the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Creedence, etc.
The music prompted several silver-haired geezers to coax some younger women to the dance floor. It looked sort of sad.
We resisted until the band broke into the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” — a song I first danced to when I was 12.
It didn’t take long to remember I was 67. We called it a night and began our drive back to the hotel when the band took a break around 10 p.m.
Saturday, May 11, 8 a.m.
If you want a quick getaway from the bustle and bright lights of Old Town Cottonwood, you don’t have to go any farther than the end of Main Street.
We parked in one of the city’s several free municipal lots (did you read that, Phoenix?) then started hiking the two-mile Jail Trail, which begins at the city’s old jail house, into the riparian ecosystem.
The walk is shaded by massive sycamore, willow and cottonwood trees. It’s popular among birders, who, we learned, find summer tanagers, western tanagers, Bullock’s orioles, Lazuli buntings, great horned owls, rufuous hummingbirds, and black hawks in abundance, especially during the spring.
Some hikers, we were also told, bring along wine for the journey. It was a little too early in the morning for us, but the walk did work up an appetite for breakfast.
Saturday, 9 a.m.
The Crema Craft Kitchen & Bar seems to be the most popular breakfast spot in town, partially because you get a discount if you stay across the street at the Tavern Hotel, which is owned by Eric and Michelle Jurisin, who have made a significant investment in Old Town Cottonwood, practically rebuilding Main Street themselves. They also own the Tavern Grille, Pizzeria Bocce, and Nic’s Steak & Crab House in Old Town, and have two restaurants up the hill in Jerome as well, the Haunted Hamburger and Grapes Restaurant & Bar.
Since we’d eaten at Crema once before, we opted for a less crowded venue, the Old Town Café, which seemed to be popular with locals as the hostess greeted several folks by their first names. The menu is slight, just a few breakfast burritos, the quiche of the day, a fruit plate, and a glass case of killer pastries.
It was tough to ignore the desserts, especially as one local dressed in a white hat and dragon shirt walked away with one so large they couldn’t fit it in a box. We stuck with the basic burrito, which came with a house-made salsa that was almost as good as a cream stick.
Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
We didn’t have much time for shopping, but we could resist taking a few minutes to tour Larry’s Antiques & Things on the eastern edge of Old Town. It promises and delivers two acres of antiques and things, mostly things. But if you’re in need of a rusted Chevrolet truck ($7,500), a stuffed blue marlin to hang over your oversized mantle, or a Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme LP, this is heaven.
Saturday, 11 a.m.
The Verde Valley Wine Festival in Clarkdale didn’t open its gates until noon, so we had a little time to kill. That’s where we made perhaps the most pleasant discovery of our journey.
Clarkdale is named for the man who built the city, one of the most corrupt politicians in history, William Clark.
Clark was denied a seat in the U.S. Senate representing Montana after it was discovered he had bribed the legislators who sent him there in 1899. “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag,” wrote Mark Twain, a friend of one of Clark’s political rivals.
Nevertheless, Clark built an exquisite town for his employees, many of whom ruined their lungs working in his United Copper Mine in Jerome. Clarkdale’s original high school closed in 1960, until it was purchased to be a museum in 2002. The Meinke family of Minnesota, who had been collecting copper art for decades, donated the resources for the project. The high school was renovated and the Copper Art Museum opened in 2012, quickly becoming one of Arizona’s top tourist attractions.
Several former classrooms house the collections, which include everything from cookware to ornate ceilings. Most fascinating was the room dedicated to trench art — collectibles fashioned by World War I soldiers from the copper shells that were ejected after they fired their cannons at the enemy. Some are quite intricate.
Admission to the museum is $10, or $8 for seniors like us.
Saturday, 12:15 p.m.
The wait was 15 minutes to get into the Verde Valley Wine Festival (full disclosure, Phoenix New Times was a sponsor, so our admission was free). Frankly, $45 a ticket for only eight tiny tastes plus some music seemed a little steep, but obviously the price didn’t deter the crowd.
The festival gave us a chance to meet Michael Pierce, a Verde Valley winemaker who is also the viticulture and oenology director at Yavapai College.
Yavapai offers one-year and two-year courses in winemaking. Those who opt for the two-year associate’s degree will experience the full Montepulciano of winemaking process: planting the grapes on the school’s 13 acres of vineyards, harvesting them, making the wine, bottling it, and ultimately marketing it under the school’s Southwest Wine Center label. Pierce said the program currently has 104 students, but these aren’t typical college kids: Their average age is over 48.
The interest is reflective of the industry’s growing value in the Verde Valley.
“The rate of growth has been double hockey sticks since 2010,” said Pierce, whose family produces two labels, Bodega Pierce and Saeculum Cellars, sold at tasting rooms in Clarkdale and Willcox. “We’ve seen new hotels, restaurants … additional Airbnbs … home values have gone up.”
But with growth, comes some headaches, and not just the morning after consuming too much chardonnay.
“We need more affordable housing,” Pierce said, echoing a cry that can be heard around the country these days.
“It’s getting too expensive for many of our students to rent here.”
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
The best-known among Verde Valley’s winemakers is probably Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of the alt-metal band Tool. Keenan began growing grapes in 2002 and now sells wines under the Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyard labels.
Woolsey said she worked for Keenan several years ago. She helped him market his wine nationally, getting it into stores in 40 states, she said, but the effort was a struggle. “We were selling to fans of Tool. That’s not a sustainable business model.”
Keenan has since ventured into food, opening a Merkin Vineyard Tasting Room and Osteria in Cottonwood (and more recently in Scottsdale).
Everything in the Osteria is locally sourced, including the wine, of course, our servers told us. You can watch the pasta being made in-house. Keenan’s father even grows the vegetables here in Arizona.
My wife ordered one of the locally grown salads for lunch. I was going to try something equally light, anticipating a big meal later in the evening at Up the Creek. But I couldn’t resist the pasta of the day, a chicken and sausage ragout over the homemade spaghetti noodles. And it came with a side of house-made bread, perfection paired with a glass of Merkin’s Tarzan Red.
After the New York Times article, a commenter complained that Keenan’s culinary interests were the reason Tool hasn’t released an album in more than a decade. (Their first album since 2006’s 10,000 Days is due out in August.)
Personally, I hope he sticks to the food and wine.
Saturday, 2:45 p.m.
As we sat at the bar at the Pillsbury Wine tasting room, a man walked in from Main Street and struck up a conversation with one of the servers.
The server began to regale him with the story of Sam Pillsbury, the movie writer and director and Arizona’s other celebrity winemaker. Pillsbury also used to write a food blog for New Times.
Pillsbury started making movies for the government of New Zealand, where he grew up, the server said, then moved to Hollywood.
He rattled of some of Pillsbury’s top films — The Quiet Earth, Starlight Hotel, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc. — then mentioned how impressed Pillsbury was with an Arizona wine he tasted when he came here around the turn of the century to film a pilot for a TV series.
Pillsbury eventually decided to jump into the grape business with both feet, even though, he said “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” according to the server. He obviously does now.
The server pointed out the row of medal-winning wines over the bar. “We entered 14 wines in the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition this year,” the server said. “And we won 14 medals.” (Including Best in Class for its 2017 malvasia).
The visitor seemed fascinated.
“Would you like to try a tasting, or maybe buy a bottle?” server asked.
The man shook his head. “No, I was just curious about what this place was. I saw the Pillsbury name.” And he left.
He is the exception. According to the NAU study, about 70 percent of visitors to the tasting rooms leave with at least one bottle.
We bought six: two bottles of the Pillsbury 2018 One-Night Stand rosé (my wife’s favorite), three bottles of the 2014 Symphony/Inappropriate white (my favorite), and a bottle of the 2016 petite sirah.
And we weren’t done collecting yet.
Saturday, 5:15 p.m.
I double-checked to make sure our reservation at Up the Creek was indeed for 7 tonight. The hostess assured me that it was. I asked if we could make it for 6. Nope, we’re full then, she said.
That left us time for one more tasting room. Our server at Page Springs Cellars had suggested a newer place, Chateau Tumbleweed, in Clarkdale. “All four of their owners used to work here,” she said.
That meant a drive through the interminable roundabouts on State Route 260 (do these things really make roads safer?) but it was worth the drive. Chateau Tumbleweed won best in class for in the San Francisco competition for its 2016 Viognier. We left with three more bottles, a Sandy Jones white blend, a sangiovese, and another white blend, The Descendants. We also sampled a small plate of cheese and crackers even though our dinner reservation was close at hand.
It turned out to be a fortuitous decision.
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Right on time. I was excited. Up the Creek Bistro and Wine Bar was a favorite of the late Senator John McCain, who had a home nearby. Chef and co-owner Jim O’Meally often came out and played the piano for him. The Washington Post wrote a touching story about O'Meally and McCain. Locals highly recommended the restaurant.
“Warner for two,” I told the hostess.
She looked around, conferred with the manager.
“Your table isn’t quite ready yet,” she said. “You can have a seat at the bar while you wait.”
We saddled up to the front of the bar.
“Not those two seats,” the bartender said. “They’re reserved.” She pointed to two seats at the far corner. “You can sit there,” she said.
Yes, right by the door that led to the kitchen.
Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
This time, the manager approached us. “We’re sorry, people are lingering at their table longer than we expected,” he said. “It will be just a little longer.”
Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
“They still haven’t left,” the manager said. “Let us comp your drinks.”
Thanks, I guess.
Glad we had those cheese and crackers.
Saturday, 7:44 p.m.
The hostess cheerfully approached us.
“Your table is ready,” she said.
I looked around. People who had come in without a reservation were also getting seated. Of course, it’s Arizona. Almost every restaurant clears out before 8 p.m.
She sat us at a window table, where we would have had a great view of Oak Creek, but by now it was too dark to appreciate the scenery.
Saturday, 7:57 p.m.
I’m marking the time closely now. The waitress finally takes our drink order. Up the Creek offers more than 20 Arizona wines. We selected a Gallifant Super Tuscan that we had tasted the day before at Winery 101.
Several minutes later, she returned again. “We’re out of that wine,” she said.
Hmm. We ordered two glasses of another red, and the manager offered us another glass of a more expensive French red on the house. Whatever.
Saturday, 8:33 p.m.
Our dinners arrive, and, in fairness, the food was as good as advertised. My venison medallions, served in a blueberry gastrique with soubise rice, were tender and flavorful without tasting gamey. My wife’s lavender chicken in a pomegranate beurre rouge with savory bread pudding, a local favorite, was also outstanding.
But, as I preach to my food editors and critics, the quality of the meal is only part of the dining experience.
We’ll rate Up the Creek three paddles out of five. Maybe three and a half since the chef came out of the kitchen and played a mean piano for the diners. Of course, he also regularly gives mean retorts as Jim O. on Yelp to critical reviews. I’ll be waiting to see what he thinks of this.
Saturday, 9:45 p.m.
We drive by the Main Stage in Old Town Cottonwood. It was rockabilly night. Tempting, but we turned left toward the Best Western.
Sunday, May 12, 9:30 a.m.
We’d spent a lot of money by this point, so we took advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel. You get what you pay for. I didn’t want much anyway. I was saving up for a slice of pie at the Rock Springs Café.
We drove back to I-17 and exited on the east side toward Montezuma’s Castle, another national monument, where the Sinagua people built homes in the massive cliffs. Nobody seems quite sure why they were called Sinagua or why they left. But it does seem certain that Montezuma, the last independent ruler of the Aztec empire, was never in the Verde Valley.
The national monument is near Cliff Castle Casino — I always wondered why “Cliff” had a castle before I saw the cave dwellings. The light bulb switched on. We drove around the casino looking for a parking place, then realized that we didn’t want to shoot craps at 10 on a Sunday morning. So, we got back on I-17, where this story began.
Sunday, 11:15 a.m.
There it was again. Exit 262. Rock Springs Café. On Warner Road, no less. We pulled off this time and headed toward the restaurant. The parking lot was saturated. Must be a lot of pie lovers on the road today.
We drove to the auxiliary parking area. Same situation.
We returned to the restaurant again. The line was way out the door. At 11:15 a.m.?
Oh, yeah, it was Mother’s Day. And who doesn’t want to treat their mother to a perfect slice of pie on her special day? The wait looked like at least an hour.
Mother fudge. No pie for us, I guess.
Then I looked in our backseat. We had collected 21 bottles of wine. Not a bad consolation prize. We headed for Phoenix. Our adventure was done. Or maybe just beginning.