After exploring the wine country around Sonoita in the southern part of Arizona we headed north to the Verde Valley. We decided to taste at Page Springs Cellars, Oak Creek Vineyards and Javelina Leap Vineyard all of which have wineries and tasting rooms near each other on Page Springs Road outside of Cornville.
Driving up there is so different from Sonoita. Instead of all the lush greenery you have the desert similar to that around Scottsdale, except the number of Saguaro decreased as you head north. In the vicinity of Verde Valley things do begin to green up a bit, but the vegetation is very different from down south. The desert is scrubby with variable soil colors, from beige to white to slightly pink, giving you just a hint of the red rock area around Sedona. Verde Valley has lots of trees, a mixture of pine, cottonwood and other desert trees I didn’t recognize.
We took a detour up to Jerome, an old mining town at about 5200 foot elevation, a few miles beyond Cottonwood. The view of the Verde Valley is beautiful from here. It is filled with art and jewelry shops. We tasted olive oils and balsamic vinegar and purchased a few as well. There are some wine tasting rooms in Jerome, but we decided to wait and taste down in the Cornville area. It was a fun tourist stop though, and a good place to have lunch before tasting wine.
The elevation in the Cornville area is about 3200 – 3400 feet as opposed to 5000 feet in the Sonoita and Elgin area. Our first winery was Page Springs Cellars. At Page Springs their philosophy is to create wines that reflect the character of where the grapes are grown. Much of the soil is volcanic and to stress the vines, water is used sparingly. They grow Rhone varietals like Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. They produce Estate grown wines in addition to several that are “mutt” wines, that is they are a blend of up to five or six varietals you wouldn’t expect to be blended, some of which they purchase from California. For example the 2009 Vino Del Barrio is a blend of Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah, Cab Pfeffer, Counoise and Zinfandel. The 2010 ECIPS (SPICE spelled backwards – they do have a great sense of humor at Page Springs) is a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. So the ECIPS is a GSM-ha ha! This was Pete’s favorite and showed ripe fruit and good spiciness. Many of the wines they were pouring were “baby” wines, that is they were just released and will benefit from more time in the bottle.
Other notables were the 2010 Mule’s Mistake, a blend of Barbera, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Pfeffer, Counoise and Viognier. It was a light colored red with the Grenache showing through on the nose and flavors. My favorite of the Arizona Wine Flight was the 2010 El Serrano, a Mourvedre, Syrah and Petite Sirah blend. It had nice dark fruit with a burst of black pepper and moderate tannins. You really should visit their website, it is very informative.
Next, we moved on down the road to Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery. The winemaker, Deb Wahl, produces wines entirely from Arizona fruit. The vineyard grows Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. The Syrah and Merlot on the upper elevations and Zinfandel and Chardonnay on the lower slopes. Production is insufficient to produce entirely Estate wines, but the 2008 Merlot we tasted is Estate. The winery produces two Chardonnays, one heavily oaked and the other just stainless steel, something for every taste. The unoaked Chardonnay allows the nose and flavor of the grape to come through in a very pleasant way. The 2008 Merlot (Estate) was earthy with dark fruit and spice, my personal favorite of the lot. All showed a lighter more elegant style, including the Zinfandel, unlike many hot weather California Zinfandels. Just goes to show, hot weather does not have to produce heavy, jammy Zinfandels. In addition to wine you can enjoy many different cheeses, salamis, chocolate and olives in the tasting room.
And lastly we visited the Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery. It literally is just next door to Oak Creek. It is a darling winery, with Javelina in the front yard, luckily they are metal sculptures! Very charming location. Although we heard that real Javelina frequent the vineyards but don’t bother the vines.
Our favorites here were the 2010 Arizona Zinfandel and the new release Barbera (Estate). These were the two that stood out to us and once again, the Zinfandel was not over ripe and jammy, a recurring theme on this wine trip. The Barbera is a very low production wine, just over a barrel is made each year. It’s really nice to see that that they do their best to bring out the flavors of Arizona in the wines instead of trying to make wine like it came from some place else in the world.
Across the street from Javelina Leap is the Audubon bird sanctuary and a state fish hatchery so there is plenty more to explore in the area.
All three of these wineries are within a mile or so of each other. There are also some tasting rooms in the town of Cottonwodd but we wanted to get out to the wineries themselves, see the vines and smell the fruit. Many plantings were very small, with just a few rows, though at Page Springs we were told they have plantings of five acre blocks or more. Several of the wineries source Arizona grapes from the Willcox area, also a recurring theme of this trip. Unfortunately, time will not allow another trip south to the Willcox area. Oh well, we need to leave something for our next wine trip to Arizona.