Ignite Phoenix 9 happened a week ago, and we at Chow Bella are still aflame about the food-related topics discussed.
As food writers and lovers of fermented liquids, we were most excited about the presentations of Maureen Basenberg, founder of the Arizona chapter of Girls' Pint Out, and Pavle Milic, owner of Scottsdale restaurant FnB. The two didn't disappoint; both were smooth, funny and educational.
Here's Pavle Milic's presentation, AZ Wine. You can view video of his presentation here.
In Pavle's words:
My name is Pavle and I own a restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale. I'm here tonight to talk about Arizona wine. For those of us in the restaurant business, food and wine go together. Many of us believe you should source food locally, organically and sustainably whenever possible. When we first opened up the restaurant, we had a very small wine tasting to determine if we should carry any Arizona wines, and we thought, "Well, why not source Arizona wines?" It was probably 10 years ago that I had my first Arizona wine, and I remember thinking then that it was really good wine. But then I moved to Napa...and I sort of forgot all about Arizona wines.
I came back about three years ago and got back into wine after I ran into a man named Sam Pillsbury. For those of you who don't know Sam Pillsbury, he's not only a local wine taster -- he's also a film director. So I started doing a little research and development after I tasted his wines and I discovered there were a lot of lovable Arizona wines. That led me to conduct another experiment at the restaurant where I'd bring a glass of wine to a customer and tell them, "If you can guess either the varietal or the origin, I'll buy you something." Well, thank god I never had to buy anything, because no one believed it was Arizona wine! They just really liked the wine. So thus was born the Arizona wine tasting.
Pavle keeps talking after the jump.
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Now, how'd this whole thing get started? In 1976, a chemistry professor by the name of Gordon Dutt conducted what they called the Four Corners Grape Development Project, which was funded by Congress to study the viability of growing quality grapes in the Four Corners states. What they found is that out of the states -- Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado -- Arizona is the one that is the best.
Today we have three major wine-growing regions. To the north we have the Verde Valley. To the south we have Sonoita and Wilcox, where grapes are grown at higher altitude, so at night when it's about 115 degrees here, it's about 100 degrees there, and the monsoons which hit in the afternoons will actually make the evenings even colder -- we're talking about 60 to 70 degrees.
A question that I get often is, "Isn't it too dry or too hot in Arizona to make wine?" The funny thing is that the challenges for Arizona wine is that there's too much water and frost.
This whole thing led me to the fact that people were not thinking of Arizona wine when they thought of wine, so we organized a blind tasting. I wanted compare Arizona wines against non-Arizona wines in an effort to bring awareness and recognition, and to do that we got known wine experts and master sommeliers in attendance. We also got a winemaker from California to come, who helped out with scoring. To keep it impartial and as fair as possible, I worked together with the Sommelier Journal to assess the scores, and guess what? The top place in the white category was an Arizona wine -- the 2008 Callaghan Lisa's white. The number one place for red wines was the 2008 Caduceus cabernet sauvignon. I mean, we were all very impressed, and I think this signifies a paradigm shift in the way people are thinking about Arizona wines.
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To me, wine is about an intellectual and emotional connection to a moment in time. It's about the conviviality of popping a cork with a friend or a loved one. I know these winemakers, and I share their passion. I guess I'm pointing out the obvious, but it's happening locally: we're creating jobs, you're keeping money in the state and you're actually minimizing transport and therefore helping the environment.
You can see by the slide behind me we're all there squirreling and sipping wine -- we're a bunch of nerds, and one of the tasters stops and says, "Oh god, this is an Arizona wine." We all stop and ask, "Well, how do you know?" He said, "Because I can taste the struggle." If you are ever curious about Arizona wine, do yourself a favor: vineyards are only about two hours away from here, the winemakers are so happy to see you, the vineyards are beautiful, and I'm sure you'll find at least one wine that you're going to love.
I guess all I have left to say on behalf of the Arizona wine industry, the people who grow the grapes, the people who make the wine, and the ones who deliver it: don't let anyone else tell you what's good. You should go out there and try them for yourself, because intelligent people like to form their own opinions.
Now I have to go catch up with Maureen. I need a beer!