By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela
By Lauren Saria and Heather Hoch
By Deborah Sussman
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch
Down in Cornville, on the way to Page Springs Cellars, Page Springs Road twists through the countryside past rocky bluffs, trailer homes, a "Goats 4 sale" sign, and streets with names like Rattlesnake Road and Purple Sage Road. There isn't a red light for miles, but you can't miss the bright-yellow caution sign marked with the stark silhouette of a cow.
Glomski's tasting room, open daily, does a brisk business these days (Keenan sells his wines here, too), but that still doesn't amount to much traffic for this quaint piece of rural Arizona.
He got started here in 2004, and to jumpstart the business and make wine right away, Glomski bought grapes from California while his young vines were still getting established. Then Keenan came to the neighborhood and planted Sangiovese and Cabernet on a plot of land less than a minute's drive from here.
That very winter, a wicked frost crept up from Oak Creek.
"The first year, we got our asses kicked," says Keenan. They lost $100,000 and then another $100,000 when more frost hit Merkin South two years later.
They've been fighting the cold ever since. But nowadays, Keenan and Glomski have figured out how to protect the vines with tarps, temperature sensors, and huge fans to blow away the bitter cold.
Keeping the grapevines healthy without pesticides has been another challenge.
"We're not certified organic, but we think along those lines," says Glomski. (Getting and maintaining official organic certification is a complicated process that many small farmers aren't up for, even if they practice organic growing methods.)
Other problems include 100-degree days and unpredictable monsoon storms. This summer, the monsoon rains made the grapevines grow like crazy — and too many leaves trap moisture, which can rot the grapes. Excess foliage had to be hand-pulled from just the right part of the vine to let it air out.
To be sure, it's incredibly labor-intensive even under the best circumstances. Glomski planted his rows four feet apart instead of the standard eight, so they'd shade each other on hot days. Clever. As a result, though, the vines can only be hand-pruned.
He shrugs it off as typical for fine winemaking, and a better way to stay on top of potential problems. It's worth the effort.
"The way we farm the grape is like 80, 90 percent of the wine," says Glomski.
Standing beneath a towering rack of oak wine barrels in his warehouse, he siphons some syrah into a small glass from a barrel of wine he just harvested from Arizona Stronghold a few weeks earlier. He inhales it deeply and closes his eyes, and remarks how the smell really puts him right back in the vineyard at harvest time.
"A winemaker paints a landscape with liquids," says Glomski. "I have eight different barrels of syrah, and each one is different because of the landscape — the soil, geology, climate, slope, ripeness."
That unique sense of place is something you can actually taste, and it's the essence of the French concept of terroir.
And just how well does Glomski get Arizona terroir? Consider this: He doesn't just track his grapes by the vineyard — he tracks them down to the specific row.
That might be obsessive for making mass-market wines, but for artisanal wine, attention to detail makes all the difference. When you drink his wines, Glomski wants you to taste Arizona.
Arizona's commercial winemaking history goes back only to 1983, when Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil scientist at the University of Arizona, established Sonoita Vineyards, the state's first federally bonded winery, in Elgin.
According to local wine expert Michael Fine, Dutt had good intentions but was too obsessed with making Cabernet.
"Twenty years ago, my dad and I took Dr. Dutt to Napa Valley and introduced him to the guys from Silver Oak, Caymus, Mondavi," Fine says. "They all tasted his wines and said, 'These are the wrong varietals for your soil.' But he never got it."
Fine says that mentality persists, and that Arizona winemakers need to look at exactly what's in the soil and plant the kind of grapes that will do well there, "not try to fit a square peg into a round hole."
Up until a couple of years ago, there were still only about a dozen bonded wineries, according to Rod Keeling, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association and owner of Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, located in far southeastern Arizona.
What's made a major impact in the state wine industry is the wine-shipping law that passed in 2006. Keeling, Glomski, and Phoenix water law attorney Robert Lynch were at the heart of the effort, which began when out-of-state distributors introduced a bill that would've prevented Arizona's small wineries from selling their product directly to consumers and retailers.
In response, Keeling and Glomski introduced pro-winery legislation and personally lobbied state politicians.
It was a David and Goliath scenario, with small farmers taking on big business for their own survival. The sophisticated, well-funded opposition included alcohol distributors as well as The Wine Institute, which represents California wineries.
The little guy ultimately prevailed, with one compromise. Now, Arizona winemakers not only can sell directly instead of going through distributors, they can self-distribute and have multiple licenses, such as a winery liquor license. However, they must produce fewer than 20,000 gallons a year.