Today we have another guest post by Candi, CSW. Last week Candi shared her trip to Colorado wine country, this week she has a story about the tasting rooms of Arizona. Read on!
Verde Valley Wine Trail: Northern Arizona
Our main destination for a September, 2015 trip was Wyoming, to revisit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were, however, within one day’s drive of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona, in addition to being a beautiful stop, has the advantage of being very close to one of Arizona’s three wine trails. So, of course, we added a stop in Arizona to appease the wine enthusiast of the family.
I had never tasted Arizona wine. My pre-trip research indicated that there are three geographically distinct wine trails, each of which has about a dozen wineries. The Verde Valley Wine Trail centers on several small towns in Northern Arizona. The trail is also near two national monuments, if you can tear yourself away from the tasting rooms.
We had just one afternoon in which to taste, which meant two tasting rooms before palate fatigue would occur. By the time we departed, I had done online research and chatted with staff at several alternatives. I believe that, since this area is newer for tourism than some, I had to dig more to get the planning information needed. That’s okay; all part of the fun of trip anticipation.
We arrived in Sedona on a Monday evening, in time for me to do a bit of pre-tasting reconnaissance at the nearest grocery store. There was an entire aisle devoted to in-state wine, with wide price and varietal variation. This gave me clues to local distribution, and also identified wine that could be purchased at retail if I ran out of tasting room time. So far, so good.
On Tuesday afternoon, we were there at opening time for Arizona Stronghold’s tasting room in Cottonwood, Arizona. Cottonwood features several tasting rooms on its main street, along with other shopping and dining.
Within 15 minutes, this tasting room was busy – on a Tuesday in September, which I found surprising. But the efficient, friendly staff was able to accommodate all of us, from true enthusiasts who wanted detailed information to walk-ins who just wanted a glass of wine and relaxation.
Arizona Stronghold has a well-organized tasting procedure, which I appreciated. You choose from one of at least four different tasting flights, five wines each. I had difficulty choosing among the four flights – so many varietals! My server graciously accommodated a customized list. Onward and cheers!
My tasting included Viognier “No Mal” (they make one with, one without), rose’, a red blend (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot), Syrah, and Nebbiolo. One smart feature: wines with wide distribution have a colorful label, while those limited to the tasting room and certain wine clubs have a more understated, discreet label. This is also the first tasting room I have visited that openly discussed the retail distribution of some of their wines. So I learned that the wines with retail distribution can be found in 23 states. How user-friendly is that?
As is often the case for me (pun intended), it was difficult to choose among the wines. But the limited distribution wines did have a practical attraction and made an impression. Overall, a solid introduction to the breath and depth of Arizona wines.
On to Clarkdale, Arizona, and the tasting room/cooperative that is Four Eight Wineworks. My understanding of the concept is that this facility provides a place for small production, start-up wineries to market and sell their product. The specific wineries change as some grow and move out. Upon reaching about a 1,500 case/year production level, wineries typically set up individual facilities.
I have always been intrigued by small wineries and tend to seek these out for my tasting trips. I believe that part of the fun of wine is the constantly evolving nature and the entry of new participants, which made Four Eight Wineworks an easy choice for the agenda.
We had this tasting room to ourselves, which allowed for plenty of discussion with our helpful server. I learned that Cochise County in southeastern Arizona is the site of many producers’ vineyards. Most wines featured here were, indeed, labeled Cochise County.
Four Eight offered a choice of two wine flights. Each flight included two wines made from grapes grown within Arizona, and two made from grapes imported from outside the state. My preference was to taste wines made from Arizona grapes, so again I requested a customized flight. Not a problem.
My flight included Bodega Pierce Chardonnay, Saeculum Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Bodega Pierce Petite Sirah and Saeculum Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. I had not previously experienced a tasting sequence in which Sauvignon Blanc was poured after Chardonnay, but after tasting the fuller body of the Sauvignon Blanc, I understood. I learned that not all New World Sauvignon Blancs are lighter in body. This wine was aged in oak; what an interesting example of southeastern Arizona terrior and vinification!
Saeculum Cellars is another label of Michael Pierce. My high school Latin was more years ago than I care to admit. Online dictionaries define “saeculum” as a long period of time, such as a generation or a lifetime. A bit of trivia, but I just had to know.
Both tasting room servers asked about our additional planned stops, and offered suggestions to promote others. There seems to be a spirit of cooperation here that I do not always experience. The wide variety of choices was another key impression. Along with Colorado, this will be another wine area to explore in more depth.
My perspective in terms of wines that I discuss with others has changed based upon what I consider to be introductory experiences in Colorado and in Arizona. Most people who wanted to hear about my trips, and have recently visited these states, did not know that there were even wineries to be experienced. As a CSW, I consider it part of my responsibility to spread the word about emerging wine areas. And I have been, most enjoyably. Cheers!
For further information, please see two SWE Conference Recaps: Getting High in Arizona by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE, and Paula Woolsey, CSW; and, Interview with Michael Pierce – Arizona Wines.