Wine on the Farm

By Geri Koeppel

 The term “Arizona wines” is fodder for snickers and groans among wine snobs both inside and outside our sunny state, but if the fourth annual Arizona Wine Growers Festival at the Farm Nov. 17 was any indication, the joke’s on them.

 First and foremost, the event was pure joy: The winemakers were accessible and engaged; the wines delicious and diverse; the crowd well behaved and mellow; the setting picture perfect. Unlike many tastings, it wasn’t packed with people throwing elbows to try to get the maximum number of pours in the allotted time frame (1-5 p.m.). I just wish I had more dinero to participate in the awesome live auction, which included dinner parties with some of the Arizona wine elite.

 If that sounds strange – “Arizona’s wine elite” – it shouldn’t. The quality and quantity of Arizona wines is increasing exponentially, with 47 wineries now pumping out some incredible juice (31 participated at the Farm). Many of them can hold their own alongside my favorites from Napa, Sonoma, Italy, France and beyond.

 I’ve been writing about the industry since the early 2000s and remember when there were a handful of drinkable bottles – from Callaghan Vineyards, Dos Cabezas WineWorks and Page Springs Cellars, to name a few. Restaurants were loath to put any local wines on their list for fear they’d become dusty, money-draining relics in their cellars.

 Now, with standouts like Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Caduceus Cellars, Carlson Creek Vineyard, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, Pillsbury Wine Company, Saeculum Cellars, Sand-Reckoner Vineyards, et. al. – many of them award winners – you could make an entire stellar list out of solely Arizona producers. 

 In fact, Pavle Milic (FnB, Baratin), in a fit of chutzpah thus far unparalleled in town, did just that, to an initial chorus of naysayers. It was hard to miss him at the festival in an eyeball-burning yellow plastic rain slicker (overcast skies, while providing the most ideal day imaginable for an outdoor event, tricked him). 

 “The first two months were difficult,” he admitted. “There was a lot of trepidation from people who had Arizona wines in the past.”

 Just as I was extolling his bravery in the face of obnoxious oenophiles, up walked Maynard James Keenan, the Tool singer who started Caduceus. Milic graciously insisted Keenan was the one to praise for the rise in Arizona’s wine fortunes. He lent rock star status to the state’s burgeoning industry, and his Caduceus tasting room in Jerome is one of the highlights on the Verde Valley Wine Trail, one of three paths to juicy joy (

 If there’s another wine celeb in this state, it’s Eric Glomski of Page Springs Cellars in Cornville (also on the Wine Trail). He’s had a huge hand in making wine over the years for some of the top dogs, but told me he’s refocusing on his own line and spending more time with his family. But truthfully, no one person can be singled out. All of the growers, producers, marketers and more have had a hand, and the scene is thriving. 

 Mark my words: Arizona wines will get the respect they deserve among the wine cognoscenti, but for now, we’ll be the ones laughing all the way to the vineyards.

5 Tips for Tastings

I saw few offenders at the Festival at the Farm, probably because folks who drink Arizona wines generally have class. But these reminders bear repeating.

Don’t wear perfume, cologne, strongly scented lotions, excessive hairspray or anything else that stinks up the joint. It screws with everyone’s palate and interferes with the subtleties of the wines. And it screams, “I’m a douchebag.”

Don’t be a table hog. Regardless of whether you’re aware or not, people are waiting behind you for a taste of wine, too. Just because you got yours does not offer you an unlimited audience with the winemaker. And truly, they don’t really care if you detect lychee or make any other insightful pronouncements.

Don’t back up. Again, you might not realize this, but there are people behind you waiting to get to the table. Hold out your glass, get your pour, keep your pontificating to a minimum, and then make a 90-degree turn on your heels and go around any line that’s formed behind you, not through it.

Don’t be “that person.” You know, the one going “WOO HOO!” and chugging glasses 10 minutes before the event ends. Eat a hearty meal before wine tasting (you can never eat enough to un-drunken yourself once you’re at that point) and don’t feel bad about dumping any extra wine in your glass if you don’t love it. 

Do compliment the winemakers. Tell them if you’re digging what’s in your glass, or let them know if you’ve been to their tasting room and enjoyed it. Everyone likes to be told something nice.