Over six years ago, I wrote about wine tasting in the desert of southeast Arizona
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
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|
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
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
We drove back down the hill to the town of Cottonwood, and
their quaint downtown main street. The first stop was at Arizona Stronghold
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.
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
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
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
and Four Eight Wineworks
, and of
course, check in on our new friends at Chateau Tumbleweed.