Arizona Wilderness to host unique wine, beer festival in Gilbert | Phoenix New Times


Can the taste of a place be captured in a glass? Festival celebrates beer, wine and terroir

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. brings Firestone Walker's Terroir Festival to metro Phoenix for the first time.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Wood Notes Cellar Manager Nick Pauley crushes grapes for a wine-beer hybrid the brewery makes for Terroir Festival.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. Wood Notes Cellar Manager Nick Pauley crushes grapes for a wine-beer hybrid the brewery makes for Terroir Festival. Kyle Ledeboer
Share this:
Can the taste of a place be captured in a glass? The notion of terroir is deeply embedded in wine culture, and the concept looks at how the environment shapes the resulting drink. The term, which also generally means "sense of place," is a “less tangible idea,” Page Springs Cellars Assistant General Manager Luke Bernard says. Terroir has been examined in cider, agave and chocolate but less so in beer.

Taking inspiration from winemakers, a project and subsequent festival created by California-based Firestone Walker Brewing Co. focuses on terroir while blurring the lines between wine and beer. Since 2017, brewers invited by Firestone Walker, including Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., have crafted oenobeers, beverages that combine beer and wine-making techniques and highlight the unique flavors of a brewer’s home region.

For the first time, that festival – and the unique beer-wine hybrids on display – will be held in the Valley, giving beer and wine geeks a rare chance to taste these creations. Arizona Wilderness will host the Terroir Festival on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Agritopia Farm in Gilbert.

“[Firestone Walker] wanted to really showcase the terroir of the respective regions of the breweries and show how different in flavor a beer could be, even with most of the same ingredients,” says Arizona Wilderness Head of Marketing Zach Fowle.

click to enlarge
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.'s Terroir Project oenobeer is made from local grains and counoise grapes grown by Page Springs Cellars.
Kyle Ledeboer

What is an oenobeer?

Adding fruit, particularly grapes, to a beer is not a new concept. Nor is the idea of cellaring beer in barrels, such as barleywine. So what is this hybridized drink?

“We haven’t found a great way to describe it in one term,” says Patrick Ware, Arizona Wilderness co-owner and head of brewing operations. “Wine, beer, it’s both.”

These hybridized drinks can be described as oenobeers, or grape ales, drawing on the Italian style of beer characterized by the use of grapes. But wine-inspired beers haven’t become prevalent enough in the U.S. to receive a designation as an official beer style.

For the Terroir Project, Firestone Walker has its own parameters for participating breweries, asking them to use a similar base beer recipe and 51:49 ratio of grains to grapes. The grapes should be grown within 100 miles of the brewery’s home and employ wild yeast from the grapes to drive fermentation.
click to enlarge
Terroir Project beers must make use of local grapes and wild fermentation.
Kyle Ledeboer

How is oenobeer made?

Arizona Wilderness opened in 2013 and has been a leader in environment-focused craft brewing from its early days. The brewery was named's Best New Brewery in the World just six months after opening and made its mark by using local ingredients and foraged items, like juniper berries and spruce tips.

They have also used beer names and can art to call attention to environmental issues, like This Beer Saves Water, a pale ale made with recycled water to call attention to the water crisis in the Southwest. In 2018, the brewery added its Wood Notes Cellar, a facility for making all things wild, sour, funky and fruit-infused.

To create Arizona Wilderness' Terroir Project beer, the brewery partnered, as it has in previous years, with Page Springs Cellars, a vineyard in Cornville. Wood Notes Cellar Manager Nick Pauley selected counoise grapes from Page Spring’s Colibri Vineyard near the Chiricahua Mountains in the southeastern part of the state. The winemaker specializes in Rhone-style wines and the Colibri Vineyard in particular has granite-like soil that is akin to a region in France's Rhone Valley. That particular soil adds spicy, peppercorn notes to the resulting fermentations, Bernard says.

“Counoise is a lighter red comparatively,” he says. “It’s known for being fruit-forward, not having a ton of tannin.”

The nearly year-long process of making the beer starts with the grapes, which are lightly crushed and left to spontaneously ferment in a French oak foeder – a large barrel used in winemaking and beer brewing, specifically to ferment or age wild, sour and mixed-culture beers.

“We’re really wanting to showcase the grape but also the microbes that are living on the skin of the grape to really double down on the emphasis of terroir,” Pauley says.

To that, Pauley added the sugary grain liquid, or wort, using local ingredients such as Sinagua Malt from Camp Verde and Sonoran White Wheat.

“We thought that was great to represent terroir from the grain side of things,” Pauley says.

To give the wort, an added “element of terroir and atmosphere,” Pauley used the brewery’s coolship to cool it before it was placed in the foeder. The piece of equipment is essentially “a big shallow pan,” traditionally used in brewing wild beers like lambics.

And, while Cascade hops used in the Terroir Project beer are not grown in Arizona, they are air-dried in the Arizona heat in burlap coffee bags. Pauley also added some of the brewery's house yeast to help move the fermentation along.

So, what does it taste like? While sipping on the rosé-colored beer during their conversation with Phoenix New Times, the brewers noted that it tasted similar to a natural wine, with flavors of strawberry, white peppercorn, red apple and sage. Because of the sugars from the grapes and grains, the brew is strong, clocking in just under 10% ABV.

“It falls more into that wine palate than in previous years,” co-owner Ware says. “It’s not quite sour beer and it’s not quite that elegance that you would get in a more refined wine. It kind of falls in the middle.”
click to enlarge
Terroir Festival will be held at Agritopia Farm in Gilbert on Nov. 4.
Arizona Wilderness

‘Liquid landscapes’ on display at Terroir Festival

The Terrior Festival, which started at Firestone Walker and has since rotated to other participating breweries, brings together beer and winemakers for an event where both beverages, and the oenobeers that fall in the middle, will flow.

Among the breweries making the journey to Gilbert are some whose beers are hard to find or haven't been available here, Fowle says, including Denver’s Crooked Stave, Austin’s Jester King, Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co. and Seattle’s Fair Isle Brewing. A handful of Arizona winemakers, including Page Springs, will also be featured.

In addition to its Terroir Project beer, Arizona Wilderness will feature an oenobeer it created with Malbec grapes from Carlson Creek Vineyard called Violet’s Petal. The brewer's pours will also include its Camp Coolship wild ale, farmhouse ale Creosote Coupage and two piquette-style beers, which make use of the leftover grape skins, seeds and stems from its winemaker collaborations.

“With the second-use grapes there’s tons of character and flavor, so it would be a shame to put it to waste,” Pauley says. “It’s great to have two separate beers really showcasing what those grapes can do.”

The Arizona Wilderness team's desire to immerse people in terroir inspired them to host the event at Agritopia Farm, the urban farm adjacent to the Gilbert community. The farm has space for individual gardeners as well as a commercial outfit growing produce ranging from radishes and sweet potatoes to dates and citrus, which Arizona Wilderness sources from the farm for some of its beers.

“As you sip on your beer and look out, you’ll see all these crops growing around you and you’ll really be able to connect the idea of what you’re drinking with what you’re seeing being grown in the region,” Fowle says.

In addition to featuring breweries and wineries, the event will include live music and food trucks. Tickets are $90 for general admission and $110 for VIP. Tickets include a commemorative glass and samples of every beer or wine at the festival. VIP admission includes early entry to the event and a bottle of Violet's Petal. There is also a designated driver ticket for $15, which includes non-alcoholic beverages and a commemorative glass.

Proceeds from the event will support future farmers. The festival benefits the Arizona Urban Agriculture Foundation, which provides education to inspire the next generation of growers and works to preserve urban farmlands in Arizona.

Bernard says he hopes the event paints a “liquid landscape" as well, noting that the wines and specially created beers “are essentially time capsules that represent time and place.”

Terroir Festival

Nov. 4
3000 E. Ray Road, Gilbert
Tickets: $15 for designated drivers; $90 for general admission; $110 for VIP
KEEP NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls. Make a one-time donation today for as little as $1.