After two years of weather-beaten crops, 2012 is turning out to be one of the best grape harvests on record for Arizona vineyards. Better than usual rainfall, fewer hail storms, and generally all-around good farming has resulted in some of the nicest grapes and highest yields for Arizona winemaking in years.
As the 2012 grape harvesting season nears its end, I must say that Arizona winemakers are certainly acting much happier than they did during the past two growing seasons. Faces are beaming and most of them appear to be quite busy with all the work that tons and tons of freshly picked grapes create. Winemaker Sam Pillsbury recorded a running blow-by-blow of his winery’s harvesting on facebook beginning in early September:
Big heat spike in the last month had pushed the grapes a bit fast; we’re trying to slow things down so they reach their peak before we pick.
It’s always something at harvest though…
The 2-ton Friday Shiraz test pick pressed out beautifully; looks like we’ll be pickin’ more Shiraz tomorrow. Unless it pours.
14 Tons of Shiraz to go. Picked Grenache and Viognier already; still waiting for Mourvedre and Petite Sirah.
It’s still in process… We’re picking the last of our grapes tomorrow—Mourvedre… and it’s never tasted so deeply satisfying on the vine.
When I asked him to describe the harvest overall later in September, he responded:
We’ve really learned some things about getting richness and complexity from the grapes without just going for simple over-ripeness. And in that endeavor we picked a small amount of one grape earlier than we will next year, although we can use that wine to balance another pick that was too high in pH and alcohol to balance it out.
We are on a huge learning curve with our unique terroir and I really am hugely optimistic that our wines will continue to get better!
Better Pillsbury wines? Have you tried Pillsbury’s DIVA, or Wild Child White (and Red) yet? And the Pillsbury Symphony… oh my!
Curt Dunham of Lawrence Dunham Vineyards described in his newsletter:
“We are literally up to our elbows in deep purple must, and have been scrambling to try to find places to not only ferment the grapes but to store the finished wine after pressing. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of new barrels and some temporary storage tanks. We were totally taken by surprise by the volume of fruit we picked from the entire vineyard. To put this year in perspective, we picked a total of 9 tons last year; 2012 yielded over 32 tons.”
Rod Keeling of Keeling Schaefer Vineyards summed it all up in a facebook posting:
87.76 tons of estate grown fruit harvested. Thankful for this great harvest of renewal.
Sonoita/Elgin Wine Region Day Trip
I took a little side a couple of Fridays ago to the Sonoita/Elgin wine region to catch up with some old friends and learn firsthand what was new on the wine tasting menus at the vineyards. It’s a short jaunt, just about an hour from Tucson—and once I got there, I didn’t want to come home.
The generous rains this year have transformed this once-barren mesquite scattered countryside to plush sunflower and wildflower speckled hillsides and valleys. (My allergies noticed before I did.) And the smiles of the winemakers who greeted me tell an entirely different story than their weather-related harvesting tales of yore.
I drove to the farthest vineyard, Lightning Ridge Cellars, and met up with Ron and Ann Roncone in the beautiful tasting room. With only one more field to harvest, this year’s bounty looks good, she told me.
I tasted (and purchased) their latest bottled wine to the tasting room line-up, the Lightning Ridge Cellars 2010 Montepulciano. This wine has captured true Italian richness—although young, it has some earthiness to it, along with blackberry and black olive overtones. It proved to be delightful with my pasta primavera, of course.
I had to admire the new beautifully constructed bocce ball courts on the Lightning Ridge Cellars premises; looking just about ready for competition. Ron promises a tournament soon; stay tuned!
Next stop, Kief Joshua Vineyards, where dad Jeff was manning the tasting room. New on the menu for me were the 2010 Magdalena (named for Kief’s grandmother), and the Kief-Joshua Vineyards LaCrime Divino (82% Syrah,18% Viognier). That’s right; it’s a blend of a red and white grapes. Kief tells me his mother Charlene fell in love with this blend while visiting him when he was studying in Australia—it’s a popular down-under blend. The rich nose of ripe red cherries, pomegranate, and eucalyptus is faintly floral. The palate follows with a pleasant structure of hints of cherries, plum, herbal notes, and a suggestion of vanilla and oak. Nice tannins on the finish; this pairs nicely with dark chocolate; just sayin’.
I missed the formal release party celebrating several new wine releases at Canelo Hills Winery last month, but Joan Mueller was quite willing to catch me up on what’s being served in the tasting room. Most new ones on the menu are from the 2009 vintage, another good growing season for their vineyards. I really enjoyed the Nebbiola 2009, an intense taste of licorice, mint, cedar, and dried cranberries. This struck me as one that I’d like to have around for Thanksgiving feasting. But my favorite (and I suspect Joan’s too) was the Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, which won a bronze medal in the 2012 Finger Lakes International competition. Dark and intense with a hint of oak, the black raspberries and licorice tastes end in a soft and somewhat dry finish. The tasting notes proclaim: “Sonoita dust weaves throughout the experience of this wine.” Yeah, that’s it!
I disturbed Paula Bostock and the boys taking a siesta on the front porch when I arrived at Dos Cabezas Wineworks on this sunny afternoon, but she gladly abandoned her rest and poured me a few of their newest offerings. I found the Dos Cabezas Toscano 2010 to be the most fun on the Dos Cabezas tasting menu; this is a blend of 78% Sangiovese and 27% Cabernet Franc. I bought a bottle and enjoyed it with a spicy grilled chicken salad the next week and couldn’t have been happier.
Likewise enjoying a bountiful harvest this year, Dos Cabezas will be celebrating next week at Cosecha 2012: A Harvest Celebration. Celebrate the end of a bountiful harvest with them October 27-28. Festivities will take place at the winery where they’ll have some new releases for you to sample. There will be four barrel tastings each day. This is a rare opportunity to sample their wines before they are blended and bottled. Participants may select the time that works best when purchasing tickets. Either preceding or following the barrel tasting, current releases will be available for sampling along with lunch by Baratin and a concert on the patio. The $50 cost of admission covers the barrel tasting, lunch, concert, wine tasting, and a wine glass.
My last stop on this tour was Arizona Hops & Vines, and meeting up with Thomas (aka Xymyl) and Kim Johnson of TRUST, the art gallery located in Willcox. Thomas was busily securing his artistic creations to the walls, and the joint was hopping as usual, thanks to Shannon’s spirit-stirring style of wine pouring and oh, how about those Cheetos as palate cleansers? The real appetizers soon appeared as the Art Opening was underway. Alas, I had to head back to Tucson before dark. [Stay tuned for a new release party announcement SOON at AZ Hops & Vines.]
So little time, so many fine wines. I missed stopping by several other great wineries, but I’ll be back soon—Rancho Rossa, Callaghan, Wilhelm, Charron, and more will be on my list. Next time, I might just reserve myself a room at Xanadu Ranch and make it a weekend.
Grape Stomp 5K in Sonoita THIS weekend!
Don’t put off heading to explore the Sonoita/Elgin wine region. Start out with an early morning 5K run/walk, the Great Arizona Grape Stomp sponsored by the Arizona Winegrowers Association, beginning at the Village of Elgin Winery and ending at Sonoita Vineyards. Sign up at AWGA or at the Sonoita Vineyards beginning at 7:00am on Saturday, October 20. Runners will be shuttled to the Village of Elgin at 8am to start the run at 9am. After the run, breakfast will be available at Sonoita Vineyards.
Musician Dave Manning will be performing blues, old rock, and boogie woogie at the Kief Joshua Vineyards that same day.
Wilhelm hosts Hallo-wine celebration
Later this month, Saturday, October 27, 5:30 till 8:00pm, Wilhelm Family Winery will host a family-friendly Halloween Party. In addition to wine-tasting, eats, and non-alcoholic drinks and games, there will be a cupcake/cookie walk, maze, popcorn and movies, costume contest, temporary tats, Gluhwein by the fire (or at least a cauldron), and more Hallowine-type stuff.
Cheers to a very fun and busy season of activity throughout Arizona wine country!