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!
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!
Lisa’s on the road in Napa Valley!
Listen to her on Monday July 9 between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. on Slow Living Radio at http://crntalk.com/listen/ (select Slow Living Radio on Channel 1).
Or tune in on Wednesday July 11 from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. on Barry Martin’s KVON show, http://www.kvon.com.
Napa Valley Wine Academy announces a class on Arizona wines to be conducted by Lisa Strid (rhymes with ‘steed), winemaker for Aridus Wine Company, based in Willcox, Arizona. In a recent article on the wine website Sevenfifty by GuildSomm writer Jessica Dupuy, Arizona was characterized as “while 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."
If you’re interested to see what all the talk is about when it comes to American wines made around the country, then this is a class to take: it is the first of a visiting winemaker series that the Napa Valley Wine Academy is offering. The Wines of Arizona will be conducted on Tuesday, July 10 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Napa Valley Wine Academy, 2501 Oak Street in Napa. Cost is $20 per person and can be purchased athttps://napavalleywineacademy.com/product/napa-visitors-series-a-taste-of-arizona/ .
Nine wines will be tasted, from Aridus Wine Company as well as from Chateau Tumbleweed, Sándor Vineyards and Four Tails Vineyard. This is a rare opportunity to taste wines made from the high altitude desert climates of southeastern Arizona, including wines from all of the state’s major growing regions. Learn about what makes the state and each region unique, how Arizona fits into the national and international wine conversation, and some possible directions the state’s wine industry may head in the future. The class will taste ten wines Strid has chosen to illustrate various aspects of Arizona winemaking. “Photos of desert flora and fauna are highly likely,” she adds, in explaining that her presentation will include slides and photos of vineyards and wineries in Arizona.
One of the wines to be tasted will be from Aridus’ estate vineyard in the Willcox appellation outside the town of Pierce, situated in the Chiricahua Foothills growing region at an elevation of 5,200 feet. At Aridus Lisa makes wines from selected vineyards in New Mexico as well as Arizona. The range of wines she makes include a Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Orange Muscat, Rosé, Mourvèdre, Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Syrah and Graciano.
ABOUT THE NAPA VALLEY WINE ACADEMY
The Napa Valley Wine Academy was awarded the coveted Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Global Educator of the Year award at the annual WSET awards ceremony in London’s Guild Hall in January 2017. Napa Valley Wine Academy was chosen for this honor out of the WSET’s extensive network of 650+ Approved Program Providers in over 73 countries.
Wine classes include those for consumer enthusiasts such as Wine 101 as well as numerous certification courses for beginners through advanced students and members of the wine industry. Napa Valley Wine Academy offers its own curriculum of programs developed in-house, including SommDay School, a tasting and service sommelier class with Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, and a sensory analysis course based on Le Nez du Vin, the industry standard kit. Additional professional certifications the NVWA offers include the Italian Wine Professional, French Wine Scholar and Certified Specialist of Wine. In addition, the Academy also has a robust offering of online courses that students can take no matter what their location.
Six Masters of Wine currently instruct and host classes and webinars at the Napa Valley Wine Academy: Peter Marks, Christy Canterbury, Mary Margaret McCamic, Matt Deller, Tim Hanni and Nova Cadamatre.
Winemaker Lisa Strid has just returned from a three month visit to Australia where she worked a harvest at Kirrihill, a winery in South Australia's Clare.
Here are some questions she’s been answering:
Why were you intrigued to go do a harvest in Australia?
I mostly wanted to learn. The more you expose yourself to different ways of doing things, at different wineries in different regions, the more you learn. Since I jumped right into full-time, year-round winemaking right out of school, I never had the experience of a harvest-hopping endless summer. I’d definitely been itching to make it to the southern hemisphere for a harvest, but the timing hadn’t been right until this year.
What are Kirrihill’s specialties?
Kirrihill is the second largest winery in the Clare Valley, so they produce a whole range of wines, but they’re mostly focused on Riesling (which the region is known for), Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. They do make a few small batch wines – my favorite amongst them being a Nero D’Avola made from fruit sourced from McLaren Vale. Their Peacemaker Shiraz is very nice as well.
What practices were different?
Simply being at a larger scale in a region that’s well established meant that there were a lot of differences to how things are done in Arizona. Nearly all of the grapes brought in were machine harvested. So that means no whole cluster pressing of whites, and no stem inclusion on red fermentation. They had a number of different cap management strategies for the reds – both open and closed top fermenters with automatic pumpovers that could be very easily adjusted and customized on the fly, fermenters with pulsed air systems and rotary fermenters. Because of the sheer volume moving through the winery, it was necessary to get things through fermentation and stabilized as soon as possible, so there weren’t many cold soaks or extended macerations. By the time I left, the regional Riesling we’d made early in the harvest season was ready for bottling.
Also, everything’s measured in a different scale there – not just metric, but also sugars were measured in Baume rather than Brix. So I was doing a lot of mental conversion, especially at first.
What was the most fun while you were there?
I liked getting to know everyone. It was a crew from all corners of the globe, and everyone had such great attitudes.
Do they have harvest customs food-wise?
Not really, but The Sevenhill Pub did a harvest worker special every Wednesday evening – burger and a pint for $20. That’s about $14 USD.
What would Americans be surprised to learn from your ‘immersion’ there?
I didn’t even realize how great the rodeos are here in the US until I went to one there. The Aussies have us beat hands down in things like education, public safety, health care, and quality of life, but our rodeos are way better.
There are also a ton of vehicles with massive bullbars on them, and at first I thought it was because Aussies are all just really into looking like bad asses, but it’s actually functional. It’s so common for kangaroos to jump out into the road, seemingly from nowhere, that it helps to have a bullbar so as not to destroy your car if you can’t avoid hitting one.
Did you have a favorite food?
Were there kangaroos on the crush pad?!
Not on the crush pad, but pretty much everywhere else! I’m an insect collector, and there were tons of giant rain moths - Trictena atripalpis – in the cellar starting in about mid-February.
What are you eager to try as a new technique at Aridus?
I’ll be judiciously incorporating pulsed air into our protocols.
What did the Aussies ask you about life & winemaking in Arizona?
They were curious about the soils and the weather in the region, and wanted to know what varieties did well. I think I forced them to be curious about Mexican food because I talked about it so much.
Did you develop an accent?!
No, but I did ask a co-worker here, “How are you going?” when I got back without even thinking about it.
We are celebrating Valentine’s Day on February 14 with the launch of our 2017 Tank 22 Rosé, with special events at our tasting rooms in Willcox and Scottsdale.
In Scottsdale, join us from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
The delicious accoutrements will be special desserts from Nonna Urban Eatery.
Your glass of wine and dessert will be complimentary.
Aridus Scottsdale Tasting Room, 7173 East Main Street, Scottsdale 85251, 520/954-2676.
Please RSVP to email@example.com
In Willcox join us from 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.
The delicious accoutrements will be locally made macarons from Lorraine Patisserie.
Your glass of wine and macaron will be complimentary.
Additional bonus will be $5 glasses of wine until Sunday!
Aridus Willcox Tasting Room, 145 North Railview Avenue, Willcox 85643, 520/766-9463.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Tank 22 Rosé, the newest in our series of Tank blends, is made from sangiovese grapes from New Mexico: to preserve the fabulous flavor of this varietal (it’s the same grape which is used for Chianti), we used stainless steel and not oak barrels.
We look forward to seeing you on the 14th!
We are delighted to announce that our wines were met with great acclaim at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Specifically, we won gold medals for our 2015 Tempranillo and 2016 Malvasia Bianca. We won silver medals for our 2014 Tank 28 and 2015 Malbec. We won bronze medals for our 2015 Merlot and 2016 Orange Muscat.
This is the largest competition of American wines in the world. In early January, 67 skilled judges from a variety of fields including trade, education, media, retail and hospitality traveled to the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds in Sonoma County to determine the best wines in the U.S.A., starting with a field of 6,960 wines from 35 states. Utilizing an extensive process that divides the varietals into several categories and subcategories, the event gave the panels the chance to rate entries as Bronze, Silver, Gold or Double Gold. A complete listing of the 2018 results can be found at http://winejudging.com/medal-winners/ .
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