Arizona's an up-and-coming wine destination
on 03/01/11 at 11:30 pmWine
Arizona is on the verge of becoming a serious wine destination. Actually, it already has become one. A recent visit to one of the growing number of tasting rooms in the Verde Valley of Northern Arizona (about 25 miles from Sedona), among them Javelina Leap, Arizona Stronghold, Alcantara, Page Springs Cellars Pillsbury Winery and Caduceus, turned up tasters from places like Tucson, Phoenix, Iowa, Kansas and Texas. Well-heeled young Texans have discovered that there is some truly great wine here and were seen paying Napa-style prices at Caduceus for some pretty righteous-tasting Rhones. At present, there are four wineries actively producing wines from estate grapes grown in the Verde Valley: Alcantara, Javelina Leap, Page Springs Cellars and Oak Creek Cellars.
Much experimentation has taken place in this not very California-like climate for growing grapes. It’s not the heat that throws down the gauntlet: it’s the cold—and the altitude. As in New Mexico, Arizona’s grape growers are having a wee bit more luck maintaining vineyard vigor and ekeing out a consistent crop in the southern part of the state. In Cochise County, east of Tucson, Arizona Stronghold, owned by Eric Glomski and Maynard Keenan, has the largest commercial plantings of vines in the state, with more acreage being planted.
But why do things the easy way when you can often pack many more lessons into an experiment by taking the higher, less traveled road? And so, Arizona’s first viticulture program got its start in the north, at Yavapai College, in the shadow of Jerome and at the edge of the beautiful Verde Valley, which is as green as its name sounds, except in autumn, when it is positively golden with cottonwoods and, increasingly, the glow of fall-hued vineyards.
Tom Schumacher, executive dean of the Verde Valley Campus of Yavapai Community College, oversees the nascent viticulture program, which is among a few in the country. He notes that the program takes many cues, in the great tradition of “curriculum borrowing,” from successful community college programs in Walla Walla and Yakima, Washington, and Alan Hancock, California.