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GRAPE ESCAPES: THE NEW WILD WEST FRONTIER IS IN ARIZONA
 
(2023 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: LISA KADANE



Seated at the bar inside Pillsbury Wine’s tasting room in Cottonwood, Arizona, the server pours two glasses of the award-winning 2019 Malvasía Bianca. With a crisp acidity and hints of winter spice and stone fruit, it’s a solid patio sipper. It’s also my first taste of Arizona wine, and it’s delicious.

“We’ve got something really special here,” he says, serving samples of rosé, Grenache and a robust blend called WildChild Red. “I think the wine industry is going to blow up, but hopefully not too much.”

Thankfully, the six other tasting rooms located along the town’s historic main street are a long way from being overrun. My friend Hilary agrees, before confessing, “I didn’t even know Arizona made wine.”

So begins our girls’ trip exploring the Verde Valley, one of the state’s three wine regions and arguably its best. Here, 160 kilometres north of Phoenix in the high-altitude desert between Cottonwood and Sedona, the varietals that grow so well in the surround-ing volcanic soil—from Merlot and Mourvèdre, to Pinot Gris and Viognier—are making waves on drinkers’ palates. We’ve come to see what the buzz is all about.

Arizona’s “Napa Valley”

We base ourselves in Cottonwood, a walkable city of 12,000 that has an undeniably western vibe with its false-front buildings and history as a copper mining centre. Nowadays, tourists are downing wine rather than whisky—the surrounding valley, often touted as an up-and-coming Napa, has another 18 wineries and tasting rooms spread from Sedona to Jerome.

After Pillsbury, we head across the street to Arizona Stronghold. In the cosy space, with comfy couches and southwestern art, I try a white flight that includes a buttery Viognier, barrel-

fermented Chardonnay, and new-to-me Vidal Blanc, a chameleon grape that grows well in a desert climate.

Last, we hit Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria, owned by rocker-turned-winemaker Maynard Keenan of Tool fame. I love how his Chupacabra, a juicy red blend, pairs with the Arizona grass-fed beef taglione.

Grape Education at the Southwest Wine Center

It’s never too early to wine taste on a girlfriend getaway, so we pull into Chateau Tumbleweed in nearby Clarkdale before noon the next day. Co-owner Kris Pothier joins us for a tasting of their deluxe flight that features a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre, a full-bodied Spanish grape I’d never heard of before.

“Because we’re such a young industry here, we’ve planted many grape varietals to see what grows best,” Pothier explains.

Arizona has only been tending vines in modern times since 1982, so there isn’t yet a defining grape.

This revelation becomes apparent at the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College. The facility offers programs in enology and viticulture, in addition to public wine tastings that showcase what’s being grown on the adjacent five hectares of vineyard.

“Arizona wine is not just one thing,” says Michael Pierce, the centre’s viticulture and enology director, inside the bright tasting room. “We planted what we wanted. In some cases it worked, like with the Viognier. Other grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, didn’t fare so well,” he says.

From Copper Mining to Winemaking

This experimental winemaking spirit extends up Cleopatra Hill to Jerome, a former copper mining town perched at 1,524 metres with an expansive view over the Verde Valley. Jerome turned into a ghost town after the copper boom went bust, but is now revitalized thanks to its location, historic buildings, and a number of wine tasting rooms including Caduceus Cellars, also owned by Tool frontman Keenan.

Inside the brick building we try four reds: three blends and a spicy Tempranillo. On the tasting menu, each wine is paired with a suggested playlist (evidently, the Tempranillo tastes best while listening to ’80s pop rock band, Tears for Fears).

After a couple days of wine edification—and more than a few glasses of Mourvèdre—I have a new go-to red and a growing appreciation for Arizona’s fermented grapes.

Adventure With a Side of Wine

Want to earn your sips of Chardonnay and Syrah? Join an activity in the Verde Valley that ends with a wine tasting. The Water to Wine tour launches kayakers down the Verde River and is followed by a tasting at Alcantara Vineyards. sedonaadventuretours.com

Warrior One your way to wine at Page Springs Cellars, which offers creekside outdoor yoga for private groups. After, sip your way to self-actualization with a wine flight. pagespringscellars.com

Insider Tip

All wined out? Head to the state’s oldest watering hole, The Palace Saloon, located on Whisky Row in nearby Prescott. Order American whisky, rye or bourbon, straight up.

Travel Planner

For more Cottonwood, Arizona, travel information see visitcottonwoodaz.org

 
 
 
 
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