Arizona Wine

Over six years ago, I wrote about wine tasting in the desert of southeast Arizona. At that time, the Arizona wine world was pretty limited and located mainly in the Wilcox area of south eastern Arizona. Since those first tastes, I have been following the progression of the industry in Arizona. Certain wineries had come to the forefront: Caduceus, Page Springs, Arizona Stronghold, and Pillsbury. These four were getting some press, and were about the only wines you could find in California. Even then, it took some searching.

Following the movie, “Blood into Wine” with Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle), interest in Arizona wines garnered more attention. When I first tried his wines, the grapes were still coming from California. Now, his Caduceus wines are true Arizona wines. Keenan’s presence and celebrity brought life to the Arizona desert, and its’ wine scene. For this reason, I had to visit the Verde Valley, and see for myself what was going on there.

Main Street (Hwy 89A), Jerome, AZ
From Phoenix, it is about a two hour drive to Verde Valley wine country. While most of the grapes are still grown in the Wilcox area, there are more tasting rooms in Verde Valley. With the proximity to Sedona, I think the Verde Valley attracts more wine aficionados than the southeast corner of Arizona.
By my count, there are about 25 wineries in the towns of Jerome, Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Page Springs. The Verde River runs through the valley, and the red rocks to the north make for a gorgeous setting. This is the desert, but it is set at about 3,500 feet above sea level, so was about 15 degrees cooler than when we left Scottsdale.

We had a limited amount of time, so my goal was to get to Jerome first, and check out the Caduceus Cellars tasting room. Jerome is an old mining town, perched on the side of a hill at about 5,200 feet. My first advice is to get here early, to find a parking spot. The main street is Hwy 89A, and makes a loop through town. Park and walk. The town dates back to the mid 1800’s, and many of the old buildings are still intact. There are four wine tasting rooms in Jerome: Caduceus, Cellar 433, Passion Cellars, and Echo Canyon.

Caduceus Tasting Room
Caduceus is located at the end of town. Even if you park at the bottom of the loop, it is only a ten minute walk to the tasting room. The tasting room is well appointed with gourmet food items, gadgets and clothing. There is a long tasting bar on the west side. Tasting flights are not inexpensive. There were three flight choices, and since there were three of us, we each ordered a different flight and shared. The flights included a mix of whites, roses, and reds. Varieties had an emphasis on Italian and Spanish grapes. Caduceus has the only vineyard in the Jerome area, and it is a small hillside vineyard.

Cellar 433
After wandering around town, we decided to stop at Cellar 433. The views from the large back windows are spectacular, overlooking the Verde Valley below. Here, a tasting was $10 for any five wines on the menu. All the grapes are grown in the Wilcox area. There were a few unusual grape varieties on the menu, so that alone was worth the $10. On the “unusual” side were grapes such as Symphony, Blaufrankisch and Marselan. Along with these, were a mix of Rhone, Bordeaux, and Italian varieties.

I find that some of the most interesting wine tastings are where the wine tasting staff are engaging. They spend time talking about the vineyards, the process, and the history of their winery. The first two tasting rooms never spent the time to connect. Where they failed, the remaining two made up.

Arizona Stronghold
We drove back down the hill to the town of Cottonwood, and their quaint downtown main street. The first stop was at Arizona Stronghold. Of the Arizona wines, this was probably the first one I had tasted years ago. The tasting room is located right in the center of downtown. You can stand at the tasting bar, or sit in the chairs located throughout the shop or the back patio. They offered three different flights of tastings, and since there were three of us, we once again bought one flight each and shared. Since many of these wines are available in retail outlets, the staff made us aware of what was at retail, and what was available only at the tasting room, or for club members. The wines included a range of white, rose and mostly red. Many single varieties but also blends. The red grapes are mostly Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc) but also include Rhone, Italian and Spanish. I really enjoyed their wines, and walked away with a few bottles for my cellar.

Main Street - Cottonwood, AZ
We next walked down the street to the Merkin Vineyards &Osteria. This is a “farm to table” restaurant and wine bar. It seemed a bit out of place in the old main street of Cottonwood. It was modern and upscale, with fresh bread and pasta, made on site, with locally sourced ingredients. While we were hungry, the wait was longer than we had time for…so maybe next time.

Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders
Across the street is the Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders. They have one of the larger olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting rooms I’ve seen. They source from all over the world, and offer samples of every one of their items, including chocolate.

I always ask the tasting room staff where we should go next to taste. The wine industry is good about sharing the news of up and coming wineries. We had seen Chateau Tumbleweed on the way to Jerome, earlier in the day. We thought, “that’s a cute name”, but drove on by. I am glad the guys at Arizona Stronghold told us to go back and check them out.

Chateau Tumbleweed is located in a newer building on the edge of Clarkdale. When we got to the tasting room (and winery) there were only two other people in the place (when we left, it was packed). One happened to work for Babcock Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of California. Ends up we knew a lot of similar people. We ordered a bento box of cheese, nuts, fruit and crackers. Again, three tasting flight were offered, and we bought all three. 

Kris Pothier and Joe Bechard of ChateauTumbleweed
Chateau Tumbleweed is owned by two couples. All four of them have spent time in the wine business with other wineries inside and outside of Arizona.  Kris and her husband Joe were working at the winery this day, and Kris spent about an hour pouring wine for us, and telling us about each bottle. After hearing her stories of working at wineries in Oregon, and at Caduceus, and then on to the Four Eight Wine Works, it became clear where the Tumbleweed name came from, as they seemed to blow around until they came to rest at their current location. 

Chateau Tumbleweed doesn’t own any vineyards, but they are able to source choice blocks within the vineyard, obtaining good juice to work with. Of the wines we tried, all the grapes were source from the Wilcox area, in southeast Arizona, except the Seyval Blanc, which was grown locally. They only produce about 2400 cases a year, and have been in business since 2011. Their wines include a mix of whites, roses and reds. Some of the standouts were the Carlson Creek Malbec, the Juan Villa Mourvedre and the 2015 Graciano. Here is the good news for wine buyers...the wines are very good, and the prices are reasonable!

There usually is one great “find” on these wine trips, and Chateau Tumbleweed was the surprise of this trip. I highly recommend stopping by and tasting their wines.

We will definitely plan on revisiting this area, and so should you. The surface was only scratched in the short time we had. Next visit will need to include Page Springs Cellars, Pillsbury and Four Eight Wineworks, and of course, check in on our new friends at Chateau Tumbleweed.


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