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Arizona Stronghold Vineyards' wines

Experts foresee gains for maturing Arizona wine industry

The back roads near Cornville look like many others in Yavapai County, until you turn a corner and find rolling hills filled with vines, tasting rooms and homes that are more Tuscan than Southwestern.

Javelina Leap Winery sits among grapevines in a small valley outside Cornville. The 10-acre property includes a vineyard, tasting room and production facility.

Owner Rob Snapp was one of the first to start his business in the burgeoning wine region. In the last 15 years, he’s seen the area grow from just a few acres of vineyard to a tight-knit winemaking community. Now, at least 70 acres of vineyard dot the landscape of this northern Arizona region just under an hour from Prescott.

Throughout Arizona, wineries have cropped up in droves. More than 90 locations have farm winery licenses in the state. They’re clustered in three general locations: Sonoita/Elgin in southern Arizona, Willcox in central Arizona and the Verde Valley near Prescott.

The wine industry grew gradually until 2001 when Arizona began to experience exponential growth. Wine production in the state soared nearly 700 percent in the 14 years since, well above the national average.

The winemakers have come to Arizona for the climate, business environment and love of the drink itself.

Snapp’s passion for wine began in California as a teenager and, like his product, matured as he aged. He became a chef and business owner, managing and cooking at a hotel and restaurant he owned near the Grand Canyon. Eventually, he sold the location and used his profits as seed money to start the winery.

“This was raw land when we got here,” Snapp said. “There wasn’t a road or a building or water or electricity, nothing.”

Snapp spent a lot of time learning the business and managing the estate. While he wouldn’t reveal Javelina Leap’s financial status, he said his business is doing well – and other wineries nearby share the same success.

A 2013 study done by the Arizona Wine Growers Association showed the Yavapai region produced about 72 tons of grapes that year, large enough to make tens of thousands of bottles of wine, but a small percentage when compared to other regions.

Arizona’s reputation has grown on the national stage, especially for wines in Yavapai County. For example,Page Springs Cellars, just down the road from Javelina, has garnered praise from multiple sources, including Wine Aficionado magazine, as a quality wine.

Why Arizona?

In the United States, California dominates the wine industry. The Golden State produces more than 80 percent of the country’s grape crush beverage.

Arizona pales in comparison, coming in at 28th in the U.S., according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But, the state has slowly moved up the ranks as wine production has increased. Experts said the state might see its ranking rise even further as Arizona wine grows as a business and commodity.

Many experts, vineyard owners and educators in the wine industry said Arizona has the potential to produce high quality wines, comparing it to regions of Spain, France and Italy.

Rod Keeling with the Arizona Wine Growers Association said Arizona has some key incentives that are attracting newcomers to the wine industry:

• Costs are lower in Arizona. Land is less expensive than in California or other major wine states, and labor can cost less as well.
• The climate in the three major wine growing areas is warm in the day and colder at night. This helps the grapes grow, and some types of grapes, especially those used to produce red wines, need the temperature variations.
• Arizona doesn’t yet have the severe water issue California faces, Keeling said. This makes the state a safer bet when starting a winery.
• The Grand Canyon State offers more flexibility for wine producers than many other states.

Arizona’s three-tier system of liquor distribution allows farm wineries to produce, sell and distribute wine themselves as long as they follow certain regulations, including a production cap.

“There are three licenses that fall under this regulation,” said Lee Hill with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. “Wineries, distilleries and microbreweries are able to do all three all under the same roof, so they have amazing privileges.”

Industry trends

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, national wine industry production grew about 43 percent since 2001, and the number of wineries nearly doubled during the same period.

“It’s not just Arizona. The industry has exploded exponentially everywhere,” said Michael Kaiser withWineAmerica, a Washington, D.C.,-based public policy organization. “I think there are a few reasons for that. Obviously, wine consumption in the U.S. has increased. And as the industry has grown, people are realizing that wine doesn’t have to be from California to be good.”

Kaiser said that as younger consumers enter the wine market, they might have more interest in the local vintage.

However, Kaiser warned that the boon isn’t permanent.

“The wine industry will continue to grow, but the growth rate has slowed a bit,” Kaiser said. “One issue that some states have is that winery growth is outpacing vineyard growth and in some cases, there aren’t enough grapes to go around.”

That’s not necessarily the case in Arizona. The study by the Arizona Wine Growers Association indicated that most grapes produced in Arizona are used by the winery or vineyard that grows them, and vineyards sell very few grapes to others, in or outside of the state.

In a saturated national market, experts said the industry must continue to innovate to stay ahead.

So far, it has self regulated. In 2014, the Arizona Wine Growers Association joined other groups in pushing for changes to tasting room licensing, which will allow for greater growth.

“The producers are very innovative, they come up with new ways of using their property,” Hill said. “They now make distilled spirits out of their unused wine stock. These producers are very creative and as the industry grows, they come up with these really fabulous ideas to keep their businesses alive.”

Impact to Arizona

The local wine industry has not conducted a full economic impact study, but the association estimated sales revenue at about $2.2 million for 2013.

Despite this small number, the Arizona wine industry is more than just for hobbyists. It has led to full-time job increases in these regions.

“It’s about seven businesses in one,” Snapp said. “We’re working all the time, bottling, racking, selling.”

One unexpected impact has been to education. Yavapai College‘s Verde Valley Campus in Clarkdale offers a variety of courses in winemaking and vineyard care in response to industry growth.

The school began with a single acre vineyard in 2010 and now has more than 15 acres and about 100 students.

As part of the program, students can earn a two-year degree and get practical experience through internships with local wineries.

“We are really trying to be a region wide resource, not just local or statewide,” said Michael Pierce, director of the enology (winemaking) program at Yavapai College. “This program didn’t exist 10 years ago. If it would have existed, I would have attended. So to be here and help build it is really cool.”

Some experts said they expect the industry to continue to grow as water becomes more scarce in Arizona.

“Wine grapes are a model for a high value low water use crop,” Pierce said. “Wine grapes don’t take nearly the water use of something like corn or soybeans or cotton would. So hopefully, wine grapes can take that over in the state.”

Challenges ahead

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Arizona wine industry is the wine itself.

“I think white (wines) are doing really good. They are aromatic, expressive and acidic, which is really nice,” said Jason Caballero, lead sommelier for Vintage 95 in Chandler. “The reds are in a bit of an identity crisis. But when you think about it, we are at only about 30 years of growing, and every year they get only one shot.”

For Caballero, that youth plays a significant role. California has been in the industry since the 1800s and Europe for more than 2,000 years.

He said Arizona growers need to learn what types of grapes work best in this climate. The red identity crisis, he said, is as much from mixing a variety of grape types as from not growing what could work best in the state’s environment.

Price also plays a key role. Caballero said that on average, a bottle of Arizona wine costs $65 to $70, making it a hard sell for many customers.

“I understand people are getting in, and they want to recoup their cost, so I feel like sometimes it’s tough and they price themselves out,” Caballero said. “For that money, there are a lot of wines that many people will gravitate toward instead. I think if people will try it, they’ll like it. But a lot of times, people will go for tried and true kinds.”

Spreading the gospel of Arizona wine isn’t easy. Outside distribution is almost non-existent among Arizona wine growers. Most wineries make direct sales and self distribute, which makes getting wine onto tables more difficult.

And then there’s the state’s reputation as a desert location not suitable for wine growing.

But Snapp doesn’t see this as a problem at all.

“You know what we have more than anybody?” Snapp asked. “Sun! And soil. These are virgin soils in most of the state and volcanic soils. It’s one of the best growing soils in the world. You’d be crazy not to grow Arizona grapes in these soils.”

For Caballero and others, wine in Arizona isn’t a short-term industry but a future investment that is only now paying some dividends.

“Within 10 years, people are going to seek out Arizona wines over many others,” Snapp said. “It’s just the quality of the fruit.”

Alcantara Vineyard and Winery

Northern Arizona Wineries: Alcantara Vineyard & Winery

Alcantara Vineyard & Winery is nestled in the hills outside of Cottonwood. The warm days and cooler nights allow for the creation of delicious wines and the perfect atmosphere to go on the vineyard tour.

Alcantara Vineyard & WineryBefore you even step inside the modern stucco house that serves as Alcantara’s tasting room and gift shop, you will hear the crooning of Frank Sinatra. The foyer of the house is bustling as is the sitting room and the kitchen. It feels more like a casual cocktail party where you can make yourself at home.

I pulled up a seat at the tasting bar and acquainted myself with the wine tasting list. With 16 wines to choose from, I read the descriptions carefully. It was difficult as the majority of the wine list catered to reds, and I love reds. Check out the wine list by visiting Alcantara’s website.

I tasted the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, and for a white wine I enjoyed it. It was a crisp, medium-bodied wine with hints of nectarine and pears.

Alcantara Vineyard & Winery

But I couldn’t wait to taste the reds! I tasted nearly the whole list, so I’ll just list my favorites.

The 2008 Syrah was clean with a taste of black berry and rose hips, a hint of violet and pepper. It was soft, yet weighty and definitely delicious.

The 2007 Meritage, a Bordeaux blend, was very dark, bold and spicy. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec grapes create a wine that exhibits dark cassis and currant flavors with hints of baking spices, lavender and soft tannins. This wine is blended beautifully.

But now I introduce you to the 2008 Petite Sirah, this wine was absolutely perfect to my palate. It was opaque, almost like ink. It was weighty and consumed the tongue in flavors of lavender, blackberry and spice combined with big tannins. All I wrote in the note box next to this wine on my tasting sheet was, “AMAZING!”

It had been quite a tour for my palette, but I still had the dessert wines to try. Normally dessert wines are not my favorite. They usually end up being too much like semi-sweetened white wine, but I fell in love with a dessert wine at Alcantara vineyards. The 2006 Late Harvest Semillon was sweet liquid gold as it flowed down my throat. It was sweet, but it was balanced with a crisp acidity and the flavors of orange blossom, honeycomb, honeysuckle and peach. It was a wonderful finish to a superb day of wine tasting.

Alcantara Vineyard & Winery

It is $10 for five tastings, including a souvenir wine glass, $15 for the VIP tasting that comes with a crystal goblet, and if you are lucky enough to make it to Alcantara Vineyard on Friday or Saturday you can opt to go on the vineyard tour for $18 which includes the tasting.

After the tasting, I spent some time on the outdoor patio enjoying the cool Cottonwood air and then walked around the vineyard looking at the bunches of grapes on the vine ripening for this year’s harvest. I happened to visit on a Sunday, so I missed out on the wine tour, but Alcantara Vineyard has a list of events coming up this fall and both at the vineyard and in Northern Arizona.


If You Go:

Alcantara Vineyard
7500 Alcantara Way, Verde Valley
(928) 649-8463
Daily: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

 

San Dominique Winery

Northern Arizona Wineries: San Dominique Winery

Napa, Napa, Napa! It’s all about Napa right? Not anymore. Napa Valley still has seniority in the wine game, but you won’t hear wine-ing laments from younger wineries in Northern Arizona. They stand very well on their own and have something a little bit different to bring to the wine enthusiast.

Recently, I took a trip to Northern Arizona to visit two of the 13 wineries on the Northern Arizona Wine Tour Map near Camp Verde and Cottonwood.

San Dominique Winery

My first stop was the San Dominique Winery also known as Garlic Paradise. Aside from my enjoyment of wine, I love garlic. I put it in or on just about everything I cook. I’ve even had the opportunity to taste garlic ice cream which was delicious, but sadly, is one of the only things not offered at Garlic Paradise.

San Dominique Winery is run out of a small shop by owner and cellar master, Bill Staltari. San Dominique Winery has the feel of an Italian general store with the products of Garlic Paradise lining the shelves and bottles of wine behind a big wooden counter.

The Wine
The wine tasting list offers 17 wines to taste, reds, whites and the specialty wines. There is also a separate list of “Specialty Private Reserves” that states “Serious Inquiries Only.” It’s only $10 for four tastings, and you get a souvenir glass. I am not sure if this includes wines off the private reserve list, but I doubt it.San Dominique Winery

I tried the 1998 Cabernet, 2005 Cabernet and Black Cherry reds, the Arizona Blush, the Muscato of Alexandria whites, and the three specialty wines, Hot Pepper wine, Amerita, and Almondino.

My favorite red was the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon; it had a light spice, a hearty bouquet and a smooth finish — no wonder it is a Silver Medal winner. The Black Cherry wine was another favorite, it is a sweet summer wine made purely from black cherries — very fruity and rich.

But what really excited me was the list of specialty wines. The Amrita is an orange marsala dessert wine. It has flavors of honey and orange, and it’s not as sweet as expected. The Almondino was a rich and smooth almond-flavored, sherry-based wine. And lastly there was the hot pepper wine. This is not a dessert wine and even following the recommendation to “serve chilled” won’t cool it off! It’s a blend of Chenin Blanc and French Colombard grapes infused with hot pepper. If you buy a bottle, you get a complimentary recipe card that suggests how to use the wine to spice up your favorite dishes or that happy hour margarita.

San Dominique Winery

The Garlic
The amount of items that include garlic are incredible — BBQ rubs and sauces, pasta sauces, salad dressings, dipping oils, sandwich spreads and meat glazes. And even if you or someone you know doesn’t love garlic, there are a few items sans garlic worth a try. And if you can’t make it to San Dominique you can always order your favorites online at www.garlicparadise.com.

The Dinners
Staltari cooks up dinner’s right in his shop, and every three to five weeks on a Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. he hosts dinner for a group. The dinner is seven courses for a reasonable price.

“Don’t expect to rush away,” Staltari says. “It’s at least a three hour affair where you can relax and enjoy yourself.”

He has been doing these dinners for 18 years and enjoys hosting as much as the guests enjoy eating. If you are interested in the Sunday dinner, give your email address to San Dominique Winery, and you will be emailed a menu and date of the next dinner.

San Dominique Winery

Bill Staltari in his kitchen preparing to serve guests.

If You Go:

San Dominique Winery
I-17 & Cherry Road (Highway 169), Camp Verde
(602) 549-9787
Open Daily: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

 

bottle of wine and glass on a picnic table in a vineyard

Arizona Wineries: Southeast Arizona

map of southeast arizona wineries

Looking for a good idea for a weekend getaway? Then visiting the wineries of Southeastern Arizona is the perfect trip for you.

  1. Crop Circle

    3052 N. Fort Grant Rd.
    (888) 833-5951
    January 1 – May 31: Friday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
    June 1 – Dec 31: Wednesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

  2. Coronado Vineyards

    2909 E. Country Club Dr.
    (520) 384-2993
    Monday, 9:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
    Tuesday & Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
    Thursday, Friday & Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
    Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

  3. Keeling-Schaefer Tasting Room

    154 N Railroad Ave.
    (520) 824-2500
    Thursday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

  4. Fort-Bowie Vineyards

    156 N. Jefferson St.
    (8880 299-5951
    Monday – Saturday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    Sunday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

  5. Colibri Vineyards

    2825 W. Hilltop Rd.
    (520) 558-2401
    by Appointment

  6. Carlson Creek Vineyards

    115 Railview Ave.
    (520) 766-3000
    Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

  7. Keeling-Schaefer Vineyard

    10277 E. Rock Creek Ln.
    (520)824-2500
    by Appointment

photo of vineyard

Arizona Wineries: Eglin & Sonoita

Looking for a good idea for a day trip? Then visiting the wineries of Eglin and Sonoita South of Tucson is the perfect activity for you. Below is a list of the wineries in Elgin and Sonoita in southern Arizona.

MAp of Elgin and Sonoita Wineries

  1. Charron Vineyards

    18585 South Sonoita Hwy
    (520) 762-8585
    charronvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun: 10-6
    Open Daily by Appointment

  2. Dos Cabezas WineWorks

    3248 Hwy 82
    (520) 455-5141
    doscabezaswinery.com
    Thurs–Sun: 10:30-4:303

  3. Wilhelm Family Vineyards

    21 Mountain Ranch Drive
    (520) 455-9291
    wilhelmfamilyvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun: 11-5
    Open Daily by Appointment

  4. Rancho Rossa Vineyards

    32 Cattle Ranch Lane
    (520) 455-0700
    ranchorossa.com
    Fri–Sun: 10:30-3:305

  5. Callaghan Vineyards

    336 Elgin Road
    (520) 455-5322
    callaghanvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun 11-3

  6. Canelo Hills Winery

    342 Elgin Road
    520) 455-5499
    canelohillswinery.com
    Fri–Sun: 11-4

  7. Kief-Joshua Vineyard

    370 Elgin Road
    (520) 455-5582
    kiefjoshuavineyards.com
    Daily: 11-5

  8. Village of Elgin/Four Monkey

    471 Elgin Road
    (520) 455-9309
    elginwines.com
    Daily: 10-4

  9. Sonoita Vineyards

    290 Elgin Canelo Road
    (520) 455-5893
    sonoitavineyards.com
    Daily: 10-4

  10. Lightning Ridge Cellars

    2368 Hwy 83
    (520) 678-8220
    lightningridgecellars.com
    Fri–Sun: 11-4

Northern Arizona wineries grapes on the vine

Arizona Wineries: Northern Arizona

Do you have a penchant for wine and travel? Then visiting the wineries of Northern Arizona is the perfect activity for you. Below is a list of the wineries in Northern Arizona.

  1. Granite Creek Vineyards

    2515 Road 1 East – Chino Valley
    (928) 636-2003
    granitecreekvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun: 1-5

  2. Jerome Winery

    403 Clark Street – Jerome
    (928) 639-9067
    jeromewinery.com
    Mon-Thurs: 12-5 Fri-Sun: 11–5

  3. Caduceus Cellars

    158 Main Street – Jerome
    (928) 639-WINE
    caduceus.org
    Sun-Thurs: 11–6 Fri-Sat: 11–8

  4. Bitter Creek Winery

    240 Hull Street – Jerome
    (928) 634-7033
    bittercreekwinery.com
    Daily: 11-6

  5. Pillsbury Wine Company

    North 1012 N Main Street – Cottonwood
    (928) 639-0646
    pillsburywine.com
    Mon-Thurs: 11-6 Fri-Sat: 11-9 Sun: 12-6

  6. Arizona Stronghold

    1023 Main Street – Cottonwood
    (928) 639-2789
    azstronghold.com
    Mon/Thurs/Sun: 12-7 Tues/Wed: 12-5 Fri/Sat: 12-9

  7. Alcantara Vineyard & Winery

    7500 Alcantara Way – Verde Valley
    (928) 649-8463
    alcantaravineyard.com
    Daily: 11-5

  8. Page Springs Cellars

    1500 Page Springs Road – Cornville
    (928) 639-3004
    pagespringscellars.com
    Sun-Thurs: 11-6 Fri-Sat: 11-9

  9. Oak Creek Vineyards

    1555 Page Springs Road – Cornville
    (928) 649-0290
    oakcreekvineyards.net
    Daily: 11-5

  10. Javelina Leap Vineyard

    1565 Page Springs Road – Cornville
    (928) 649-2681
    javelinaleapwinery.com
    Daily: 11-5

  11. Art of Wine

    101 N. Hwy 89A #B-9 – Sedona
    (877) 903-WINE
    artowine.com
    Mon-Thurs: 10-6 Sat-Sun: 10-8

  12. San Dominique Winery

    I-17 & Cherry Road (Hwy 169) – Camp Verde
    (602) 549-9787
    garlicparadise.com
    Daily: 10-5

  13. Juniper Well Ranch

    10080 W Tough Country Trail – Skull Valley
    (928) 442-3415
    juniperwellranch.com
    By Appt Only

Source: Arizona Vines and Wines