Eric Glomski - Page Springs winemaker and winemaking mentor to Maynard James Keenan - has a mop of beachy-blonde bedhead and a surfer's swagger. "I can't use the word 'luster' talking about wines I make," he says, with a smile. Glomski is addressing a crowd of eager tasters at the third annual Arizona Wine Growers Festival at The Farm.
Lustrous or not, two of his wines - La Flor Rosa, 2010, and Gimme Some Skin Malvasia, 2010 - took gold medals in the second annual Arizona Republic Wine Competition for Arizona winemakers, in the Rosé and White categories. Meanwhile, his rockstar protégé's Caduceus Cellars Anubis, 2009, took gold in the Red category.
"A guy once told me, 'You Americans don't know how to make Rosés,'" Glomski continues. The man had grown up in Provence, France, and argued that American Rosés were always sweet, but never savory - and they need to be savory, too. Glomski never forgot that advice, and after "goofing around for a number of years" got that savory flavor into the Page Springs La Flor Rosa.
We start tasting - and more plucky wisdom from the winemakers - after the jump.
The whole tenor of the Festival at The Farm is not what you would expect, especially for a $75 entrance fee. It's surprisingly relaxed, and Glomski isn't the only one talking frankly about wine. Glomski is the star of a documentary, with Keenan, called Blood into Wine; it traces their shared journey to "bringing credibility and notoriety to the Northern Arizona winemaking region." Maybe this is why everyone's being so refreshingly honest about wine: There's something humbling - and enlightening - about being the underdogs.
The festival is set up to introduce guests not just to the wine itself but to the wineries, with each one pointed out on state maps. There are four distinct regions of winemaking in Arizona: Verde Valley/Northern Arizona; Urban; Willcox; and Sonoita/Elgin. We started our tasting in the city-center with the Su Vino Ruby. Dubbed an "Arizona sweetheart," this semi-sweet red went straight to our heads. It's a good thing we only had a couple sips.
Next, we stopped by the Sedona-area Javelina Leap, serving up its Syrah 2010 (an Arizona Wine Growers 2011 Wine of Distinction). We sipped this warm Syrah (with a little bit of a delayed punch) while eavesdropping on a rather loudly told story about getting all the wine of a recently deceased man.
The Pillsbury Wine Company (out of Willcox) server saw us sipping a red and offered up the Roan Red 2009 as a particular favorite. We noticed the first thing about this wine that everybody notices: the color. It is really light and bright, almost magenta - but the kind of magenta you would use to distract a baby. Very fruity, this wine only gets better with each sip - and is definitely a good one to let linger for a moment as you swirl it around, letting the levels of flavor each have their turn.
We headed over to Caduceus Cellars (out of Jerome) to sample the 2010 Caduceus Dos Ladrones. The server opens a fresh bottle, so it's very cold - and not exactly bitter, and not exactly sweet. In fact, it's not really like anything we've tasted before: an oddly refreshing mixture of Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca.
Then again, a wine out of the cellars of Tool's frontman ought to taste a little different. Glomski says Keenan's involvement in winemaking has brought a lot of new faces to the tasting rooms of his and Keenan's wineries alike - not to mention Glomski's front door. Glomski admits fans sometimes get confused and show up to his house thinking it's Keenan's, leading to perplexed phone calls from his son saying, "Dad, there's this weird dude with a bunch of earrings and tattoos in our driveway."
We finished our tasting with a glass of the Sonoita Vineyards Sparkles Peach, which took the gold medal for Dessert Wines for the second year in a row. This wine was created only a few years ago, and originally released at a festival as a peach float, with the wine poured directly over Breyer's peach ice cream (we hear more than 150 bottles were opened that day - and we're not surprised). This wine - which, we're told, they have to call "Sparkles" because you can't use "Champagne" unless it actually comes from Champagne, France - is so crisp, so bubbly, and so peachy, that it would be hard not to love. At least for dessert, when we're all allowed to forget the complex puzzle of flavors in favor of something decidedly un-subtle. Here's a holiday tip: Pick up edible Hibiscus flowers at Total Wine and place one in each glass of Sparkles Peach to dazzle your guests.
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As the soft music begins to die down and is replaced with the rhythmic percussion of a live auction, Glomski talks to the crowd about the difficulties of being an Arizona grower: hail storms, spring frosts, and a general weather irascibility. This leads to a surprising vintage variety among Arizona wines. But, says Glomski, "I think that's part of the allure of our wines, actually, that they do change."
As far as we're concerned, it's part of the allure of this Arizona wine revolution that there's room for Sparkles Peach floats, winery tours filled with tattooed Tool fans, and a winemaker like Glomski "goofing around" to create an award-winning American Rosé.