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By Eric Schaefer
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By Rachel Miller
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And, yes, he knows he's got a lot of work to do. Not only is Arizona not on the map (California, Washington, Oregon, and New York are the biggest players), it has only one designated American Viticultural Area among nearly 200 in the country. Arizona's sole AVA is in Sonoita; the fledgling northern wine region where Glomski and Keenan are based doesn't have one yet.
But they're doing everything they can to prove that wine grapes can thrive here. In fact, it's common industry knowledge that the best wine comes from vines that are a little bit stressed out. The extremes of this arid climate are a hostile environment for growing grapes, but, as it turns out, that can be a good thing.
"People forget that wine came from the desert — I mean Greece," Keenan says. "So I think we're onto something here."
Grapevines aren't actually new to the Verde Valley. Early settlers observed wild grapes growing on the riverbanks, and in the 1880s, a German immigrant named Henry Schuerman established what was believed to be the first winery in the region. It thrived until the National Prohibition Act passed in 1919, putting it out of business. But even after alcoholic beverages became legal again, state law didn't encourage the growth of the wine industry until a couple years ago.
For Glomski, both as a farmer and a winemaker, it's exciting to be able to grow the same kinds of grapes as world-class vineyards in the southern Rhone, Tuscany, and parts of Spain.
"The only difference here is the monsoons," he says.
Together, Keenan and Glomski are partners in Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, a 66-acre plot in Willcox, in southeastern Arizona. The vineyards, formerly owned by Dos Cabezas Winery, are directly across from the stronghold named after famous Chiricahua Apache chief Cochise, and the wines themselves — Tazi, Mangus, and Nachise — are named after Cochise's relatives. Whole Foods carries them nationally.
In addition, each has his own boutique wine label: Glomski's Page Springs Cellars, focusing on Rhone varietals, and Keenan's Caduceus Cellars/Merkin Vineyards (where Glomski is also winemaker), specializing in Italian and Bordeaux varietals. They use some California grapes, but the ratio of in-state to out-of-state grapes is gradually shifting, as their vines mature, to a bigger portion of Arizona grapes.
"We've been quiet and treading lightly for the last four, five years because the proof is in the bottle," says Keenan.
Keenan and Glomski are serious about making good wines, they have the money to make it happen, and they've even managed to change Arizona law to boost the wine industry statewide.
Local wine authority Michael Fine, founder of Sportsman's and owner of Fine's Cellar in Scottsdale, maintains that the wines that Eric Glomski is making are the best ever produced in Arizona.
"Maynard creates excitement in the younger generation, and Eric finally brings an accomplished, accepted American winemaker to our scene," he says. "It's a double whammy."
Fine couldn't be happier. He currently carries Page Springs, Caduceus, and Arizona Stronghold at Fine's Cellar, and sells quite a bit of it. Up until these were available, he says, he only occasionally sold Arizona wines to snowbirds who wanted souvenirs.
In light of winemaking's extraordinary history as an art form — dating back to 6000 B.C. — it hasn't exactly been an easy process ever since adventurous early humans figured out how to make alcohol from fermented grapes.
Wine has always been close to the heart of civilization, whether as a religious sacrament, a drink for royalty, or a tonic for good health. It became a catalyst for commerce, a muse for philosophers. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks advanced the cultivation of grapes and experimented with fermentation techniques, while the Romans expanded wine production right along with their empire.
To be sure, anyone can dabble in winemaking if the right type of grape is available. You don't even need to know a thing about agriculture. Amateurs do this, certainly, and there are plenty of wineries that simply make wine from grapes they purchase offsite — often out of state — without the headache of managing crops. But it's not a reflection of the land, the place where it was produced — what the French call terroir.
If making wine is straightforward on one level, making good wine is a whole different story, and complicated in any number of ways. Understanding terroir is an important part of it. Consider the fruit itself — how it was grown, where it was grown, and when it was harvested. The weather is a factor, too, and not always a favorable one.
Winemaker Sam Pillsbury, an award-winning movie director from New Zealand who lives in Phoenix, really gets wine's intimate connection to the land.
He's the former co-owner of Dos Cabezas, whose wines were served at the White House. Two years ago, he sold the Dos Cabezas name to winemaker Todd Bostock (who moved the operation to Sonoita), and he sold his vineyard in Willcox to Glomski and Keenan (who renamed it Arizona Stronghold). Then he planted another vineyard right across the street and started his eponymous winery, Pillsbury Wine Company. While his young vines are getting established, he has a deal with Glomski to buy back grapes from the vineyard he used to own.