I know I don’t reach out to you all personally very often, but I wanted to share some big news from our little crew here in Willcox. You may have seen on social media that we were recently named one of the ten Hot Wine Brands of 2018 by Wine Business Monthly. Most of you are probably not familiar with Wine Business Monthly, but this is the publication I read religiously each month. It’s where I read about the latest developments in wine technology, learn about trends, and most importantly, it is where I found out about the winemaker job here at Aridus.
I’m not mincing words when I say that Wine Business Monthly has changed my life. Which is why I am so incredibly moved that our small, desert winery has been recognized by them. There are over 7,000 wineries in the U.S. That puts us in rare company – we are among the less than 1% who have received this recognition. I don’t care at all about points and scores, but I do care about this.
This is entirely due to all of you. Thanks to your visiting our tasting room, sharing us with your friends and family, joining our wine club, sharing your thoughts and getting to know us... none of this is possible without you.
So the truth of the matter is not that Wine Business Monthly has changed my life. You have. I cannot adequately express my gratitude. All I can do is humbly try to continue making wines you will enjoy. So we carry on down here in our little corner of the desert. Please, if you have the time, come see us sometime so we can all personally thank you and share what we’ve been up to.
A truly heartfelt thank you to you all,
We are so very honored; read on:
Wine Business Monthly, February 1, 2019
Hot Brands of 2018
by Erin Kirschenmann
Every year, when Wine Business Monthly creates our annual list of hot brands, we look forward for vintners, growers, wineries and wines that are making a statement in our industry. Quality is always an important consideration, but Hot Brands is more than a list of the “best” or most interesting wines we tasted during the year.
When we set out to choose our Hot Brands, our goal is to always represent the American wine industry. Often, that means discovering a new winery in an established region while also paying homage to the stalwarts who continue to move the industry forward. It means we look at wineries in non-West Coast, “traditional” winemaking states, or those who might be bucking a trend or trying new techniques. Our editors look for wines that are embodiments of national trends or have soaring sales. Sometimes we’ll choose the winemaker, not the wine.
Quite often, we end up with a couple of wines that were unexpected. During the search for a Pinot Nor, for example, we’ll discover a producer who is also making Tempranillo – and is doing such a good job of it, we adjust our plans to get that Tempranillo in. We’re never quite sure how the list will turn out, but it’s a chance for us to explore new regions, varietals and new winemakers.
Even so, every year we stumble upon a couple of themes. Those vary from year to year but, inevitably, we come across a couple of patterns amongst our choices.
The group this year is perhaps our most enterprising bunch yet: one winery started with Kickstarter funding, one is proving that high-quality wine in a can works, another saw enormous success after stealing the show at an important wine competition and two are putting Lodi on the map for something other than Zinfandel. Family is incredibly important: nearly all of the brands were started by couples, many with each partner contributing strong winemaking and sales and marketing backgrounds and two feature the next generation of family operations pushing the winery forward.
This year, we’ve selected wines from pioneers, newcomers, million-case wineries and more. While each may grow a different grape or go about making wine in unorthodox ways, all the winemakers selected reflect the diversity that is the wine culture in the United States and all have an innate desire to produce something they, and the consumer, will love.
In the end, this list is comprised of wines that we here at Wine Business Monthly would serve to winemakers. That’s exactly what we do, as representatives from each of these wineries were on hand to serve their wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual Bottle Bash party at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in January. Cheers!
Arid, Arizona Climate Hosts Stunning Range of Varieties
Aridus Wine Co., 2015 Syrah
Forty-five miles from the Willcox, AZ-based Aridus Wine Company lies their
estate vineyards, nestled in the foothills of the nearby Chiricahua National Monument, known for its stone columns, called hoodoos, as well as balancing rocks.
Aridus is a play on the Latin word arid, a fitting name that reflects the climate of southeast Arizona. It was founded by Scott and Joan Dahmer, a couple who moved to Carefree, Arizona in 2001 in pursuit of a dream to start a winery/vineyard in a region that was beginning to blossom. They purchased the 40-acre property along Turkey Creek in 2009 and began planting. The cellar opened just four years later.
The estate is currently home to 6.2 acres of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Malvasia Bianca, as well as 16 acres devoted to reds, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec. Plans to put some Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Petite Syrah and Graciano in the ground are in the works.
The wines are under the care of Lisa Strid, a former winemaker for E&J Gallo. Her career in wine began at her uncle’s vineyard and winery in Western Washington. “I just fell in love with it. I liked that it was physical, I liked being outside and I really like that there was a scientific element to it,” she said. It encouraged her to join the viticulture and enology program at Oregon State University. Strid interned at Alexana Winery in Oregon while in school and moved to California after graduation to work with Gallo.
But when she was in her 20s, she spent some time living in Tucson and she knew she’d like to come back. “I love it down here. It’s just the most beautiful landscape and the desert is such a wild place,” Strid said, noting that rattlesnakes are not uncommon, as are all manner of insects and reptiles. “There are just incredible creatures everywhere, and you really are up close and personal with nature.”
Strid’s plan was to stick it out in California and make wine with Gallo for a few more years, waiting for the burgeoning wine scene in Arizona to gain some more ground before making a move—but when she saw a posting for a winemaker position at Aridus, she knew it was her opportunity. She joined the team in June 2016 and has enjoyed moving Aridus forward with the Dahmers since.
“I was used to very large plots coming in, or working in research, requesting 25 tons at a time and it just arriving,” she said. “Here, it’s a lot more of going out to vineyards and looking at the four rows that are going to be ours, as opposed to receiving a massive sample from a vineyard.”
At Aridus, Strid is also getting the chance to be more hands-on with each of the varieties. If given the opportunity, there are other varieties she’d like to try, including Douro reds. “I’d really love to try Albarino here. I think there are a few growers that have small test plots of it at the moment, but I would really love to see it, especially in the Chiricahua Foothills,” she said, noting that Spanish varietals are gaining in popularity—she believes Arizona could grow them well.
“It’s interesting to see. You never know when a variety that has been traditionally grown in a different sort of climate might actually do well. It feels quite a bit like a testing ground right now. Everybody is just conducting a grand experiment,” she said.
In contrast to some other hot-climate regions around the country, the vineyards Aridus sources from sit anywhere from 4,100 to 5,200 feet in elevation. That elevation moderates the climate a bit and it can become extremely cold, she said, even resulting in very late frosts.
Between July and mid-September, monsoons will sweep through the region, dropping rain during a peak ripening season, making harvest an even more difficult process. Some years, Strid said, are pretty easy, others, like 2018 are not.
“The rains, they can be quite intense, and they generally only last about 30 minutes to an hour, but once they’re gone, it tends to dry out rather quickly, so we’re lucky in that we don’t necessarily see a lot of fungal pressure because of the rains. But it can be challenging because you can have the grapes ready to be picked, then a monsoon comes in and the Brix will drop and you have to wait again,” she said.
The Syrah is made from grapes currently grown at a couple of different vineyards in the area and is usually one of the first reds to come in each year. Strid said that there is usually a good balance of sugar ripeness and flavor development, and retains some of those quintessential Syrah characteristics, pepper and meatiness, but there’s also a “dusty quality” she says is unique to the region.
“I’m loving the Syrah that we’re getting,” Strid said. “I wouldn’t claim to know why it does so well here, but I’m really happy to work with it. It’s one of my favorites in terms of the reds.”
Like many wineries across the country, Aridus is moving to become an entirely estate-sourced operation. With that, comes an increase in production in both the winery’s lower-tier brand, the Tank Series, which will see distribution, as well as the launch of a Barrel Select program, a higher-tier than the Aridus tier. Aridus has seen staggering growth since 2015, when Strid joined the winemaking team. That first year, production doubled, and then nearly doubled it again the next year. Now, they are considering a small sparkling wine program, one that would be made completely in-house.
It's that time of year again-- I think we can officially say its "Holiday Season," here in the US. (I know, I know... I saw a Christmas-themed ad for an ubiquitous, coffee shop the day after Halloween, but it felt like a complete farce to see snow and peacoats in the face of our beautiful, temperate November weather.) And this week is the annual gluttony fest that we all know and love - Thanksgiving.
Every year, wine writers seem to bend over backwards to put a new spin on that tired trope of what wines to drink with the meal. If you've been in the game of reading about wine for any amount of time, you can probably guess the few that will be trotted out-- the old standards being Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. If you're one of the trendy kids on the block, you've probably got a magnum of Beaujolais Villages stashed away for the day. Maybe a Zweigelt if you're feeling extra punchy. Yeah, yeah, these are all good options, but you know what? It doesn't really matter what you choose to drink for Thanksgiving.
Regardless of the origins of the holiday, I'm pretty down with the white-washed, grade-school level best sentiments. It's easy to forget to be grateful for the good things in our lives, and I think there's a lot of value in openly stating what we're thankful for. As for me, I'm just happy to be able to sit down and share conversation and nourishment with my loved ones. And that's more important than any bottle of wine.
(But if you must know, I'm probably going to be drinking our 2016 Syrah.)
Hello out there!
I know you're all going to be asking how the harvest went before too long, so here's the update:
We brought in 75 tons this year - less than the past two years, but a nice manageable number of tons. 25% of that became white wine, 10% went to rose, and the remaining 65% was red. And fun fact about the white wine -- that was entirely estate fruit! Get ready for Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Malvasia Bianca from Turkey Creek.
The length of the harvest was just about the same as in years past, but started a bit earlier than last year. I'd say from a picking perspective, this year was more challenging in years past-- we wound up dodging the monsoons a bit more during red season than we typically do, and had to postpone a few picks due to vines taking up too much water and diluting the fruit. And as for the whites, we picked the Viognier earlier than we typically would due to sunburn. That's right - fruit can get sunburned just like humans.
One of the most exciting aspects of the vintage, for me, was that we got our cellar centrifuge up and running. I'll be doing a longer post on this, but what this means is that we were able to improve our yields quite a bit and free up much needed fermentation tank space much more quickly than we have in the past few harvests. In subsequent years when we're back up to higher incoming tonnage, this will be a huge boon to us. I can't wait to keep using it.
Those are the highlights! Well, the wines are the highlights, but you'll just have to wait for those. ;)
Hi everyone! It's been a while. Harvest is officially done (phew!), so I'll be back to my usual schedule of weekly updates here on the blog. I'm hard at work at a more comprehensive update about our harvest for you all, but in the meantime, please enjoy some photos of the various critters that paid us visits during harvest this year.
Jessica Dupuy for GuildSomm at the online magazine SevenFifty.com wrote about ‘new’ growing regions, including Arizona:
Here’s an excerpt:
Arizona: Desert Wine
Just as the flat, dusty High Plains of Texas may sound like a surprising place for wine production, so might the arid desert of Arizona. While this sunny state is most often associated with cactus-riddled vistas and images of the old West, in recent years, it’s been enlivened with the glimmer of excellent wine.
Based on a report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arizona has a little more than 100 producers and more than 1,000 acres of vineyards. Due to its variations in elevation, the state has a wide variety of localized climate conditions. In the lower elevations, the climate is primarily desert, with mild winters and extremely hot summers. The mountainous northern third of the state has significantly higher altitudes, offering an appreciably cooler climate with cold winters and mild summers.
Sonoita, located about an hour south of Tucson, was Arizona’s first AVA. Once home to large cattle ranches, the plentiful rainfall and well-draining soils prompted several winegrowing pioneers to plant vineyards here in the 1970s. Willcox received its official AVA designation in 2016 and currently accounts for more than 70% of Arizona’s grapes. Though the Verde Valley is not an official AVA, its location in the northwest part of the state boasts high elevations and ideal growing conditions, with ample water from the Verde River and well-draining soils.
According to Nikki Bagley of Arizona Vineyard Consulting, the uniqueness of Arizona is its ability to attain a wide diurnal temperature variation during the growing season. (The swings can be as large as 50°F in the summer months.) Almost all Arizona vineyards are situated within the areas that achieve this, and most of them at elevations of 3,500 to 5,500 feet above sea level. The state deals with an average 12.7-inch rainfall during two specific rainy seasons: Pacific Ocean cold fronts in the winter and a monsoon that pulls tropical moisture up from Mexico to make for a brief summer rainy season. This higher moisture and summer heat brings lightning, thunderstorms, wind, and torrential downpours.
“We’re in an interesting place geographically. You can go from Mexico to Canada here in terms of the different biomes,” says Bagley. “The late summer rains mean we can’t be laissez-faire in the vineyards if we’re shooting for quality. We have to be focused on canopy management, proper spraying, and managing airflow through the canopy. But the exciting thing is, we’ve risen to the challenge.”
Like Texas and California, the history of Arizona wine dates to the 16th century, when Spanish missionaries planted grapevines for sacramental wine. The modern Arizona wine industry began in the early 1980s, following an experimental study from the University of Arizona. The first licensed wineries in Arizona arrived following the 1982 Arizona Farm Winery Act, which ushered in wineries such as Dr. Gordon Dutt’s Sonoita Vineyards, the first winery of this modern era.
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, vineyards flourished through the southeastern part of the state. The late Al Buhl established the 40-acre Dos Cabezas Vineyard near Willcox, with Bordeaux, Italian, and Spanish varieties, including Malvasia, which has gained a great deal of attention in the state today. (The vineyard is now managed by Caduceus Cellars, while Buhl’s winemaker, Todd Bostock, took ownership of the Dos Cabezas Wineworks winery, located in Sonoita, in 2006.) While the industry remained small in the 90s, it experienced another burst of energy in the early 2000s, with plantings expanding beyond Sonoita and Willcox into the Verde Valley.
“Lately, there’s been a critical mass of growers and winemakers who are pouring themselves into making great wine here,” says Bagley….
Arizona’s soils vary by region, but Bagley likens them to European soils found in parts of Spain and France. “On a trip I took to Spain, I was amazed at similarities in Verde Valley and some of their alkaline-rich soils. In Southern Arizona, we have more sand, but both areas bring a lot of minerality to the wines. Willcox has interesting volcanic ash in their soil makeup that has made their wines really unique.
In addition to Malvasia, some of the grapes proving most successful in Arizona include Vermentino, Picpoul Blanc, and Viognier. Syrah and Sangiovese have done well in Willcox, while Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel have joined Malvasia as key players in the Verde Valley. Todd Bostock has been encouraged by Petite Verdot, Graciano, Tempranillo, Tannat, Grenache (for rosé), and Aglianico. He’s also recently become excited about Kerner, Lagrein, and the Vranac grape. “We’re still experimenting based on what we’ve seen work in other countries with conditions similar to ours,” he explains.
Like Texas, because of heat and varying degrees of dryness and humidity, Arizona winemakers have had to adjust not only their viticultural efforts but also their methods in the winery.
“We can’t just copy things the way other people have done them in California,” says Bostock. “We have too many extremes. In the cellar, we’ve realized that newer French barrels aren’t as helpful for us, so we’ve moved to larger format vessels like 500-liter barrels and foudre so we can retain more freshness from evaporation.”
For Bostock and other promising producers, now is an exciting time to be part of such a young winegrowing state. He comments, “If you look at places like Texas, Michigan, and the Finger Lakes, they dwarf us in size, but if you zoom in on the quality of wine we’re producing for our overall size, it’s one of the more interesting regions to be watching. Quality-wise, we’re at the table, and there’s so much room for growth. We have a particular set of challenges in Arizona, but it makes the effort more valuable and worthwhile in the end.”
Indeed, when you look at the potential for the United States to grow world-class wine, the opportunity for growth is tremendously encouraging. It’s a topic that should compel American industry professionals scouring the ends of the earth to find the latest exciting wines to stop and consider what’s happening in our own backyard. As producers from California, New York, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and everywhere in between continue to raise the bar for quality wine, time will tell how the rest of the American wine story will unfold.
To satisfy people’s curiosity about where to find us, we’ve added some downloadable maps to our website.
Here you can see us with a Scottsdale perspective: /assets/client/File/Maps/scottsdalemap.pdf
Here’s the Aridus ‘big picture:’ /assets/client/File/Maps/willcoxmap.pdf
Here’s the big picture with a topographical background: /assets/client/File/Maps/aridusregionalmap.pdf
Our gift to you…please print them as you wish!
Welcome back, everyone, to our primer on wine color! Last week we talked white and rose, and this week we're going to talk red and "orange."
We know that red wines get their color from the skins of grapes, but here's the trick: during fermentation, the skins rise to the top of the fermenting liquid, so in order to extract the color in the skins, we somehow have to get them back into contact with the liquid. This is where punchdowns and pumpovers come in. These are the methods we use here at Aridus. Punchdowns literally involve pushing the grape skins back down into the fermenting liquid. We use a tool that looks like a giant plunger, which I'll feature in an upcoming "Favorite Tools," post.
Pumping over is just like it sounds-- we hook up a pump to the bottom of the tank, and use a pump to move the fermenting liquid over the top, where it's sprayed all over the skins either by hand, or through a device that spins and gently disperses the liquid. I'll feature this in an upcoming post, as well.
A few other alternative methods of dealing with skin contact during fermentation are available to winemakers. One is the use of rotary fermenters, which literally turn and in doing so, mix up the liquid and skins. Of course, this requires a specialized tank that is set on rotating gears. The most common places to see rotary fermenters are in medium to large wineries in Australia. They've generally fallen out of favor due to the perception that they produce an overly tannic wine, but as with all tools, it's how you use them that matters.
Another option is delestage, which has the potential to be the most gental of all options for skin contact. This involves draining the fermenting liquid from the tank completely, leaving just the skins behind. Once the tank is fully drained, the fermenting liquid is then returned to the tank on top of the skins. This method is similar to a pumpover, but in certain wineries, it's possible to eliminate the use of pumps entirely, draining the tank via gravity, and using a forklift, emptying the liquid back into the tank using gravity once again.
One of the more interesting inventions in the wine world for color extraction is auto-vinification, which is used widely in port production. Since gas is also a byproduct of fermentation, auto-vinification utilizes the pressure of the CO2 that is generated to push the fermenting liquid up and over the top of the cap. During the height of fermentation, this can mean an almost near-constant pump over action, which is great for port producers who are looking for lots of color extraction over a short period of time.
Finally, we've got "orange" wines. What are these? In essence, they're white wines produced in the same manner as red wines. Depending on the variety of grape, this could result in a wine that does indeed have an orange hue. However, there are many white grape varieties that do not have highly pigmented color compounds in the skins, and so the wine remaind a yellow or golden color. A more accurate term for these wines would probably be "skin contact whites," and they can be made using any of the methods discussed above. These are a relatively small portion of the market, and as you can imagine, they vary in flavor, texture, and color just as much as any red wine does from another. In fact, this is a very old style of wine, and the tradition of making white wines in this way has continued unbroked for thousands of years in regions like Georgia (the country), and parts of East and Central Europe. We have a skin contact white available in the tasting room-- it's our Orange Muscat, and it's one of my personal favorites. It's not sweet, and it's not as floral as your typical Muscat-- the skin contact allows for other complex flavors and aromas to develop. I like the peachy, tea-like aromas and flavors that I get on it. Stop by and try it if your interest is piqued!
Lisa Strid, just back from harvesting in Australia, is headed to Napa Valley to ‘harvest’ some attention from members of the media and trade. She will conduct a tasting for journalists; she will teach a class on The Wines of Arizona. She will be a guest on Slow Living Radio and KVON Radio as well as record podcasts with several local wine authorities. She will visit Wheeler Farms, Smith-Madrone and Brasswood and visit local attractions including Oxbow Market.
Bon voyage, Lisa!
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