During these uncharted times living with the Corona virus outbreak, it goes without saying all aspects of life have been drastically affected. Social distancing is now in full effect and only essential businesses can be open for business. Tasting rooms across our state have been asked to close and only offer off-premise sales. Though some wineries can still ship wine to their club members and others, the bulk of sales are normally via their respective distributors to restaurants, hotels, and wine shops. Considering all the closures of the aforementioned businesses, some wineries have resorted to creating community digitally. In other words, flipping the paradigm to distant socializing and learning with their customer base via services like Zoom.
Kent Callaghan (Callaghan Vineyards) and Todd Bostock (Dos Cabezas Wineworks) started to offer what they call Digital Wine Research. It’s essentially a series of interactive, online wine study sessions. They give you the ability to order the wines in advance, so you’ll have them ready when class starts. In April they hosted classes like ‘Intermediate Tannin Talk,’ and ‘Introduction to Wines with Gravitational Pull.’ I joined one of the classes and found them engaging, informative, and entertaining. It was also great to see some familiar faces. Bostock explained his reasoning when deciding to roll out the program “when it became clear that tasting rooms would be closed and that sales through our restaurant partners would also come to a screeching halt, this initiative provided a financial lifeline. Additionally, allowing us to stay engaged with our community, stay in touch, and virtually gather on-line. Is what enjoying wine is all about: sharing, connecting.”
To join the courses, go to www.doscabezas.com to get the Spring Semester Course Catalogue and instructions on how to get the wines. The classes take place on-line via Zoom every Friday (link provided on the class of your interest). The sessions normally last around an hour or so. Get comfortable in the comfort of your own home and lay back to geek out with like-minded people who not only share a love of wine, but also, Arizona wine. Cheers to learning!
A sign more redolent of a gone by era, rusted and well-aged read: ‘Tasters Wanted.’
Located on the 82 highway in Sonoita, Hops and Vines is a family-run operation.
Megan Stranik (winemaker) and her sister Shannon Zouzoulas (operationally multi-hat wearer who runs the tasting room) are responsible for what turned out to be a breath of fresh air in Sonoita where all the rigid precepts are thrown out the door—more on this later.
Stranik started her winemaking journey back in 2007 working with the folks in Sonoita Vineyards both on the viticulture side of operations and also in the cellar. In 2008, she got a chance to rub elbows with veteran Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards to further the winemaking learning curve. The sisters planted their ten-acre vineyard on a hill overlooking the Mustangs to Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, Touriga Nacional, Grenache, Malvasia Bianca, among others. They also purchase fruit from nearby growers.
The tasting room has a Haight & Ashbury down-to-earth hippy vibe worthy of any lingering beatniks. Quotes from Jack Kerouac emblazon the walls alongside peace and love signs. You have to see the bathroom (you might stay in there longer and it’s not because you’re on your iPhone) decorated by friends. The final product is a kaleidoscopic collage worth checking out. On my last visit I was greeted by an illustrious and regal peacock while checking out the al fresco sitting options. I also noticed that the sisters have goats and ducks, all adding fodder to the senses. Now to the wines. I started with the 2019 ‘Everlasting’ Rosé ($30) purposely made with a little residual sugar (I prefer my pink bone dry) added a hint of sweetness that when paired with fiery hot Cheetos was aptly conceived. I was offered BBQ potato chips to go with the 2018 ‘Unconditional’ Rosé ($29) made of Cabernet Sauvignon. This Rosé, though darker in color, was still refreshing, light on its feet, and herbaceous. The 2016 ‘Sophia’ Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) was delicate and earthy: be warned it will not taste like Napa Cab. The chocolate treat offered at the tasting room with this wine was a nice ending touch. Megan makes a slew of other wines that you should try for yourself.
At Hops & Vines all the wines are paired with specific flavors and surprising choices like Cheetos in an effort to drop the pedantic nature of wine snobbery. All served with a smile in a cool humble joint that makes you feel like you belong.
Hops and Vines
3450 Highway 82
Sonoita, AZ 85637
One of the first things I do in the morning before starting heady work, is the New York Times mini crossword puzzle. It puts my brain in the right place (especially if I finish it before three minutes). A couple of days ago, the clue read: ancient alcoholic beverage enjoying a 21st century resurgence. It came to me quickly, Mead of course. It helped that I drive by a Meadery every day on Highway 82. Although I tasted a Mead in the past, I don’t ever remember it being a gustatory memorable experience. That changed when I had the opportunity to taste the offerings at The Meading Room. Normally made from Honey, Water, and Yeast, Meade is considered the oldest beverage in the world. It is thought to originate in the Henan province of China when by accident rain fell on a pot containing honey. Since then, it became the staple of the Greeks, the Romans, and Vikings. Currently, there over six hundred Meaderies across the United States, with more than a handful in Arizona.
Like wine, Mead can range from really dry to sweet, still or sparkling. The Meading Room in Sonoita is the brainchild of Sonoita native Kylie Daniels and her mom Barbara Christianson. With the help of Michael Fry—head Meadmaker—they are making some interesting stuff. I instantly fell in love with Ziggy’s Moscow Mule ($18): in Mead talk, this one is a Melomel since fruit is added, in this case Lime and some Ginger. The carbonation made the flavors pop and the scoach of residual sugar made it quite approachable. The Lavender and Pear ($18) had just enough Lavender (grown on site) to impart flavor but not overpower and Pear gave it fruity nuances. The folks at the Meading Room make over twelve different Meads in addition to seasonal offerings. And dare I say, all quite quaffable.
Their tasting room sits on a hill overlooking the Mustang mounting range, which makes for a great view to cogitate over life’s vicissitudes and welcomed reprieve from wine tasting in the area.
The Meading Room
3470 HWY 82
Sonoita, AZ 85637
I finally got around to visit Old Town Scottsdale’s latest Arizona Wine tasting room. Merkin Vineyards tasting room opened last year. Although you’ll recognize the address because it was the old Sea Saw--headed by James Beard recipient Nobuo Fokuda--and FnB’s first home, the interior has been completely remodeled. Just like the Caduceus tasting room in Jerome, MV tasting room is as posh and welcoming. Warm lighting splash oak shelves showcasing wines, apparel, and Merkin and Caduceus gifts for the AZ wine-o-phile. General Manager James Cunningham walks me through the offerings: a flight of three wines from the Chupacabra line is offered for only $8 and another flight for $12 of the Merkin line-up. I was pleased to see that ‘The Diddler’ an aromatic tropical bomb with a thirst-quenching crisp texture was offered. Composed mainly of Malvasia, its aromas always hint to AZ. The ‘Chupacabra Red’ is an inspired Rhone blend: 65% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, and 15% Grenache. Though is delicate and easy drinking, it still offered enough umph to match with aptly curated Charcuterie from the German Sausage Co. here in AZ and from Olympia Provisions in Oregon. Chef Nick Muller is fortunate to work with AZ’s bounty. Produce is sourced from veggie guru Randee Larremore and Maynard’s dad in their Verde Valley green houses, gardens, and orchards. Even the gelato gets the local injection using local dairy and ingredients. The Lavender-Malvasia gelato marriage tastes as though it was pre-ordained. In addition to the Merkin wines, Caduceus wines were also offered on one visit. Maynard also shines the light on other producers like Four Tails Vineyards which I wrote about last September. Merkin Vineyards tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale is a welcoming addition to the neighborhood that gives you more than one reason to visit. Chin chin!
Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room
7133 E Stetson Dr Suite 4
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
In an effort to celebrate a year passed, I reached out to fellow colleagues in the wine industry to ask them what wines they thought to be memorable in 2019. In the ever-changing and evolving wine scene here in Arizona, I’m hoping that you all will be introduced to a wine you haven’t had yet. I’ll start off by telling you about a wine I continue to think about from 2019.
I did not have much experienced drinking Petit Manseng. Originally from the Southwest of France, the Jurançon to be exact, it is no surprise Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards decided to grow it. Due to our inclement wet weather during harvest, Petit Manseng’s resilience happens to be quite resistant to rot. It also has an uncanny ability to retain high acidity at high sugar levels. I had the 2016 which was rich on the palate and packed with tangerine peel, honey, and green herbs on the nose. If Arizona could make a wine that drinks like a rich Chablis, this would be it. Shameless plug: I will definitely be planting some on my vineyard in Sonoita.
Maynard James Keenan , Caduceus & Merkin Vineyards.
NV Dos Cabezas Principrana 1st Sparkling Wine
Grenache, Riesling, and Tempranillo blend. Traditional Method fermented in bottle. Crisp pear, peach, and apple with a hint of citric zest. I’m going to buy all of it.
Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards
2018 Autumn Sage Counoise (barrel sample)
Unusual depth for the variety while still retaining freshness and lift.
Joe Bechard of Chateau Tumbleweed
2018 Bodega Pierce Malvasia Bianca
Michael Pierce is getting really good at Malvasia Bianca. His winemaking is focused and bright. He is nailing it clean, fresh, vibrant, and aromatic.
Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks
2018 Rune Albariño
Packed with dense, perfumed citrus clad floral aromas. Coupled with rich, palate cleansing saline savory liquified mineral mouthfeel. Super delicious. A great foil for Arizona fall.
I dawned on me the other day while driving down Lower Elgin road that I had not noticed Autumn Sage Vineyards before. I guess the newly minted sign and white picket fence lining the hilly vineyard arrested my attention this time. It’s always exciting to write about a new vineyard, especially when it’s in my neighborhood. Autumn Sage is the brainchild of Nancy and Steve Bacila. For the last forty years, Steve came to know our state because of his work as a developer, building roads and working closely with ADOT. Though based in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the Bacilas were looking for a second home. More temperate climate was a box that needed checking. Initially that was one major reason to put the flag down in Sonoita. Once they established themselves, the Bacilas knew they wanted to stay physically active and busy. They always enjoyed the conviviality created around the culture of wine which always involved relaxing, enjoying good food, wine, and friends. “When in rome?”
The Bacilas started to perform their due diligence. A local by the name of Eddie O’Brian was instrumental in pointing them in the right direction. O’Brian suggested they hire viticulturist Michael Dupont to help them establish the vineyard. Formerly of Hops and Vines and Sonoita Vineyards, Dupont planted the vineyard to Sagrantino, Counoise, Cabernet Franc, Albariño, Aglianico, and Malvasia Bianca. Pioneer Kent Callaghan was influential in grape varietal selections. The Basilas also reached out to local winemaker James Callahan of Rune to make their wine. Cody Burkett, a local wine writer who focuses on Arizona wine via his personal blog azwinemonk, heads the effort in the tasting room. Though they do have some wine obtained via Aridus Wine Company and Kent Callaghan in the way of bulk, James did make a rose with their Estate fruit. The 2018 Golden Hummingbird Rosé ($25) is composed of both Sagrantino and Counoise. The lightly hued Rosé was citrusy, dry, and thirst quenching. I enjoyed the other wines too, but I’m waiting until they release their reds from Sonoita next year to complete the picture. For now, a visit to their property is worth the price of admission: great vistas, plenty of communal spaces, a pond with gazebo included decorate the new addition to Lower Elgin Road.
Autum Sage Vineyards
90 Elgin Road
Elgin, AZ 85611
I first met Brooke Ide through my involvement with the Arizona Wine Growers Association during a conference call. She’s a fellow board member like myself. The first time I met her in person was after a long day during this past harvest. I was visiting with Todd and Kelly from Dos Cabezas at their winery. Brooke showed up telling us how she just processed four tons of Graciano—by herself. Wow, I needed to know more.
Below, is an excerpt of my inquiry. One thing is for certain, her pioneering spirit is emblazoned by her story.
1- Why did you want to get into the wine industry?
After years in corporate marketing and sitting at a desk sending emails into the ethers, I just couldn't do it anymore. I have a lot of physical energy. I played every sport under the sun as a kid as well as volleyball in college and overseas in Spain. Desk life was wearing on me, and I needed a change. I also wanted to spend more time with my four kiddos. After a bout of shingles, I decided to quit work and go back to school. I told my husband, "I want to quit work to become a farmer, and I want to farm wine." He thought I had lost my mind.
2- What path did you take to prepare yourself? Did you go to school or did you work for other winemakers?
I enrolled and graduated from the Yavapai College Viticulture and Enology program. Part of the curriculum for both Viticulture and Winemaking include practicum hours, which can be done at the school or other vineyards/production facilities around the state. I took the opportunity to do some of my work in the vineyard and winery at the Southwest Wine Center, but I also took advantage of seeking out work in other places around the state. During my time at Yavapai I worked in vineyards in Willcox, Skull Valley, Cornville, Cottonwood, Williams. I loved traveling around the state and seeing growers in their individual microclimates farming wine. The majority of my time in the vineyard was spent at a magical place called DA Ranch in Cornville. Cellar time was spend at Four Eight Wine Works, an Alternating Proprietorship and Co-Op Winery in Camp Verde was where I spent about 2 years learning operations (aka cleaning equipment). I then got hired on by Merkin Vineyards/Caduceus Cellars for 3 harvests in Jerome/Camp Verde and I also worked for Callaghan Vineyards in Sonoita for the 2018 harvest. We built our winery this year and begun a relationship with local Sonoita grower Mark Caretto, whom we source the majority of our fruit from for the 2019 vintage. We also purchased Grenache and Tannat from some stellar growers at Rhumb Line Vineyard in Willcox
3-Why did you decide to build your winery in Sonoita?
After looking at property all around the state, we decided to take a day trip to Sonoita. I will never forget turning south down the 83 and watching yuccas and ocotillos turn into mesquite trees and oak trees. The mountains along this road are just simply some of the most beautiful I have seen. Descending into the Sonoita Valley is truly breathtaking. The grasslands and the rolling hills are something so unique to Arizona. My husband said, this is it, this is where we buy land. I then found 3- 18-acre parcels north of Eglin Road and "Winery Row" on a stretch of dirt road that have views of every mountain range in the area. We scooped them up and began to dream what may become of our land. Viticulturally speaking, our property sits fairly high in the valley, with good cold drainage, excellent soil pH and a relatively flat piece of property which we envision to be vineyard one day. The wines coming out of Sonoita are truly different than anywhere in the state and commonly show hints of citrus, star anise and rose water, and show more textural gravitas.
We intend to plant what has done well here so far in other vineyards. Spanish varietals such as Graciano and Garnacha show versatility within winemaking practices. Petit Verdot is a great seasoning grape. Malvasia is juicy and great for whites and skin fermented orange wines. Perhaps Aglianico, Vermentino and some Italian varietals will make their way into the vineyard one day.
5- What did you make this year?
I made a Malvasia Orange Wine, Graciano Red Wine, Grenache Red Wine, Grenache, Malbec & Vranac Red Wine Blend, Tannat Rose, Tannat Red Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aglianico & Mourvedre are still on their way!
6- What's the story behind the name Vino Bandito?
I drive a lot during harvest, as most of us winemakers & wine industry workers do. Being down here in Southern Arizona, making wine in the Wild West, working long days, my sanity during this time of year is akin to feeling like a wild bandit. That naturally morphed in to being a Vino Bandito - and it just had a nice ring to it. The Vino Bandito is in us all...especially here the wide-open plains, under the corn flower blue skies and the intense Arizona sun.
Vino Bandito Vineyards
Instagram handle @vinobandito
(website under construction)
It is no secret that at FnB we showcase Arizona’s agricultural bounty. Over the years my business partner Charleen has continued to foment and cement relationships with Arizona’s farmers so we can showcase what our state has to offer. To complement the menu, we chose to also showcase Arizona wine. This year will mark FnB’s ten-year anniversary and our mission has not changed. Yet, the front-of-house team continues to edify our guests about Arizona wine. One question that normally out-of-towners ask is how we can grow grapes in the desert where it’s so hot and seemingly dry.
The common thread is elevation which tempers our ‘question-our-existence-summers.’
For example, Los Milics Winery sits at 5000ft. elevation. On September 1st I opened the window in the morning to a sixty-two-degree breeze. The diurnal and nocturnal range is somewhere between twenty to thirty degrees.
Guests are always surprised when we tell them that actually too much water is actually a challenge to growing grapes in AZ. Though I love our dramatic monsoons, they occur during harvest time. Too much rain leads to rot and powdery mildew issues which can quickly take over and really do major damage and severely mitigate expected yields. In fact, during our harvest we had a week that it rained every over day not even giving the clusters enough time to dry so we can pick—I turned to prayer that week. Places like Napa in California or the Willamette Valley in Oregon do not experience the amount of precipitation we do in Arizona. This last August a couple of vineyards in Sonoita and one in the Verde Valley were nearly decimated to hail.
My friend Chris Bianco likes to say that “you can taste the struggle” in Arizona wine. Is true, it’s not easy to grow grape vines here, but that’s also the allure. Our harvest went relatively well. In the barn we have a 500L barrel full of base wine for sparkling; a 1000L Austrian foudre from Stockinger full of Grenache Rose; another 500L barrel with Tempranillo Rose; we also allocated some Grenache made in the method of Carbonic maceration (stay tuned for a post just on this subject) and plenty of reds in barrels. Construction is well underway and fingers-crossed, my wife Ita and I will be opening the doors to welcome you this coming spring!
Los Milics Winery and Vineyards
423 Upper Elgin Rd.
Elgin, AZ 85611.
Veneration and nostalgia of the past plus a love of wine and dogs led married couple Cale and Barb Coons into the Arizona wine industry. Cale’s grandparents owned the ‘Winged Foot Ranch’ in Pearce, Arizona. Cale had fond memories of visiting the ranch during his childhood. When his grandparents passed, the Coons did not want to see the property go away. During the same time, both of them fell in love with the Arizona Wine industry. After reaching out to folks from ‘Lawrence Dunham Vineyard,’ ‘Zarpara Vineyard,’ and James Callahan from ‘Rune,’ to talk about possible planting a vineyard, they were convinced. In May of 2013, with James Callahan’s help, they planted their ‘Four Tails’ Estate vineyard. The five-acre vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Tempranillo. Gary Kurtz of ‘Greater Than’ leads the winemaking effort. The winery is named after the canine team: Bubby, Dash, Leelou, Barley and Abe Froman. The Coons have five wines in their line-up: The 2018 ‘Pete Rosé’ ($21) is a Saignee—a method by which you pilfer a little red grape juice that’s been in contact with skins for a few hours or up to a day or two right after harvest in an effort to make Rosé. Some winemakers would argue, to intensify the red wine being made as well—of all the red grapes they grow and it is a richer style Rosé that would be better suited with food.
The 2017 ‘Short Temper’ Tempranillo ($32) aged in neutral French oak for seventeen months, was a sharp expression similar to its Spanish heritage: full of ripe cherries and dill, balanced with a faint tobacco aroma. The tannins were present but not on center stage. I would wager that in a blind tasting, self-assured Somms would peg it Rioja. It only needs a ‘Double Double’ at ‘In and Out’ to complete the experience. The 2016 Petit Verdot is ‘luscious and bold and it’s an awesome pairing with our blackened flatiron’ assures me Scottie Stephens from ‘Southern Rail’. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah are also worth finding. Overall, a solid line-up.
Four Tails Vineyard
274 E. Pearce Road
Pearce, AZ 85625
300 W. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85013
I sit on the Arizona Wine Growers Association as one of the Southern Arizona representatives. The board regularly schedules conference phone calls between all the board members to discuss how to continue to grow as a wine industry and how to help our fellow wine growers. A couple of weeks back, some of us got a chance to sit side by side at Kent Callaghan’s winery to catch up. During this meeting we got a brief primer on numbers in regard to the Arizona Wine Industry. Here’s a quick run-down:
· Arizona has 108 Farm Winery licenses.
· The first license was issued in 1983.
· Arizona Industry generates $3.3B in total economic activity. 1
· 16,660 wine jobs plus 4,694 related jobs. 1
· $196.8 million generated in state and local taxes. 1
· 600,000 visitors to vineyards and tasting rooms annually. 2
· Three primary areas for growing grapes: Wilcox, Sonoita-Elgin, Verde Valley.
· Average Yield; two and half tons per acre.
· In production and development; nearing 1500 acres of wine grapes.
· One ton of wine grapes can produce around 150 gallons of juice.
· A case of wine is 2.3 gallons or 9 liters.
1. The National Association of American Wineries.
2. NAU- Alliance Bank Business Outreach Center.
If you’re interest in learning more about the Arizona Wine industry, please visit: www.arizonawinegrowersassociation.com
I leave you with our mission statement:
“The Arizona Wine Growers Association stands as a proud advocate for growth, change, opportunities and strength in all aspects of wine growing, making, selling and drinking. Representing over 100 vineyard owners, grapegrowers, winemakers and supporting businesses, the AGWA is committed to working together to advance the growth, knowledge and reputation of Arizona wine.”
This is serious people; so, drink a glass of Arizona wine and let’s keep moving forward!
For the last few weeks my wife and I plus our vineyard team—Chato, Fredi, and Humberto--have been busy planting the Los Milics Estate Vineyard. After our team left, Ita and I still had to clip Marsanne vine roots in preparation for the next day’s planting session. I started the process while my wife went to pick up one of our kiddos from school. I asked her to stop by the Callaghans’ winery on her way back to pick up a couple of bottles (one of the perks of wine country living). One for dinner, and one to make the root clipping session more enjoyable. To my surprise, Ita came to the barn with a bottle of sparkling. “It’s my version of Col Fondo,” responded Kent Callaghan to my inquisitive text. “Say what?” was my eloquent response.
Okay, let’s back up. Most of you have had Cava or Prosecco. These are normally made in the Charmat Method where the secondary fermentation (which makes the bubbles) is made in pressurized tanks. Before the tanks were available, these bubbly libations only underwent one fermentation—in the bottle. The resulting wine made is a little cloudy, because is bottled on its lees. This is where the name comes from: Col Fondo—in Italian means “with the bottom.”
Also, worth noting, the actual bubbles are finer and more delicate.
Kent’s version is made from fifty percent white grapes like Marsanne, Malvasia Bianca, Roussanne. The other half made from Grenache and Graciano. The result: savory and tropical aromas flung out of the glass and on the palate, it was an amalgamation tartness, exotic fruitiness and due to the lees contact, it had a tactile quality made itself more present than filtered wines. You can find the wine at the winery, but if you don’t want to wait until your next trip down valley, go visit Tracy and Chuck at ODV Wines in Tempe! I assure you, it will mitigate the July heat. Oh, after one glass, I was in the “I love you stage.” Highly recommend it.
2017 Callaghan Vineyards Barret’s Sparkling Wine ($28)
336 Elgin Road
Elgin, Arizona 85611
1325 W University Dr.
Tempe, Arizona 85281
One of the benefits of being in the restaurant business, especially as beverage director, is the ability to taste wine often, and a lot of it. The job gets better when you discover a grape you’ve not had before. Enter Vermentino—which I became familiar with about four years ago. The vast majority of this grape varietal grown in the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia. By way of comparison, this thin-skinned white grape, reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc with its zesty pucker, and green apple flavors. Vermentino also offers some floral qualities and a tiny hint of bitterness redolent of crushed almonds. In the French island of Corsica there’s also some examples that skirt the fence of smoky, flinty flavors, crushed rocks, and some serious tension redolent of rich and creamy Chardonnay—look for Abatucci’s expression imported by Kermit Lynch. I’ve written about Rob Hammelman’s Sand-Reckoner’s Vermentino in the past. Now we have the folks from Chateau Tumbleweed making Vermentino from the ‘Dos Padres’ hillside vineyard owned by Eric Glomsky in Page Springs. “I get this great complexity, great acidity, and robust yields from the ‘Dos Padres’site,” Kris Pothier from Chateau Tumbleweed tells me. “I was drawn to Vermentino because of its deep mineral notes and honest expression of the varietal” added Joe Bechard, CT’s winemaker. Now get a bottle and initiate your friends with your new find, make some fish tacos (go to Chula Seafood or Nelson’s for amazing fresh fish), sprinkle them with lime and rock the pairing AZ style.
2017 Chateau Tumbleweed Vermentino ($28)
Clarkdale, AZ 86234
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