Arizona Wines Make A Splash

It's been a banner week for the Arizona wine scene, with some national and international light shining upon our up and coming wine business. As first reported by the Australian liquor business blog The Shout, Pillsbury Wine Company has reached a preliminary distribution deal with Decante This, a small niche distributor down under.

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I recently caught up with Sam Pillsbury, founder and winemaker of Pillsbury Wine Company, to talk about the news.

He explained that the details of the deal are still being worked out, as far as which wines and how many cases will be imported but that he is very excited to work with Decante This. The distributor focuses on esoteric, out-of-the-way wines and Pillsbury really appreciates their approach to salesmanship. So, for now, Decante This will be working the market with samples of Pillsbury's wines to see which ones will sell before placing any orders.

Pillsbury did caution that the Australian market is difficult for American wines to break into for a few reasons. Around 70% of Australia's wine market is in domestic wine, 20% comes from New Zealand with the balance coming from the rest of the world. Shipping, import taxes, wholesaler, and retailer markups are another hurdle that all put upward price pressure especially on American wine. A bottle that costs $18 here in the states might sell for well over $40 in Sydney for instance.

On the plus side, Decante This has garnered a sterling reputation among Australian sommeliers and specialty wine retailers for showcasing interesting, hard to find wines. They are a small operation and this will be their first North American wine in their portfolio. Decante This founder Leigh Dryden first became interested in Arizona wine after reading Jancis Robinson's "American Wine" in which the Master of Wine wrote favorably about our burgeoning wine trade. All in all great news, not only for Pillsbury Wine Company, but also for Arizona.

On the domestic front, on May 19th Forbes Travel Guide released a guide to southern Arizona's wine country. The esteemed publication wrote glowingly about the Sonoita/Elgin area, including Callaghan Vineyards, Dos Cabezas Wine Works, and Lightning Ridge Winery, and former Phoenix chef Greg LaPrad's restaurant Overland Trout. They also headed east to Willcox wine country where they visited Aridus Wine Company, Flying Leap Vineyards, Keeling Shafer Vineyards as well as Coronado Vineyards and Zarpara Vineyards.

All this attention should provide some extra motivation as Arizona's wine makers ramp up for the whirlwind summer growing season, not that they need any. It should also inspire us Arizonans to pick up a few bottles, and share a toast to the great juice coming out of our own backyard.

When I'm not writing this column, or reading vintage charts to my daughter, you can find me pouring wine at FnB

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Nathan Claiborn
Contact: Nathan Claiborn