The latest tasting room in Old Town may be new, but when it comes to serving flights and running tastings, Arizona Stronghold is no novice. The winery now produces anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 cases a year.
In 2010, it was the first to open a tasting room in Cottonwood. Back then, the rustic town rolled up its sidewalks at sunset. Today, Arizona Stronghold is among several wineries on tasting room-lined Main Street that’s become a destination for wine fans.
The winery itself dates back to 2008, when it started as an ambitious venture between winemakers Eric Glomski and Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of Tool.
Eric had carved an early and influential space in what was, at the time, a fledgling Arizona wine industry with Page Springs Cellars in 2003. Keenan had also made his mark with Caduceus Cellars, which he founded in 2004.
In 2014, the business partners split, with the Arizona Stronghold name and winery going to Eric. Keenan took possession of Stronghold's vineyard in southern Arizona, which he renamed the Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard, a dedication to an early pioneer of Arizona viticulture.
Expanding to the Valley had been on the Glomskis' minds for quite some time, but they knew that the new geography also came with a change in audience. Cottonwood draws a different crowd than Old Town Scottsdale, which is one of the top destinations in the country for bachelorette parties, according to party planning app The Bach.
“We put sound-deadening panels in the ceiling because of the decibel levels going up during the high season,” says Terry, referring to the energetic and occasional thunderous ambiance of groups partying it up.
The tasting room has a capacity of 50 inside plus additional seating on the patio. The furnishings present a sophisticated Southwest vibe with comfy leather seat cushions, benches that flank wooden community tables, splashes of red on the walls, and photo murals of the vineyards.
Scottsdale Wine Trail, a route created to sample a collection of tasting rooms focusing on local wine. But it also draws Valley residents, meaning visitors to the Scottsdale location may see a few exclusive offerings that Cottonwood visitors don’t.
These include wines made just for wine club members. If there are any surplus bottles left after club shipments are sent, they are served in Scottsdale. Offerings lean toward off-the-beaten-path wines that flaunt the creativity of winemaker Jason McCluskey.
For example, the Playa Rojo, a Mourvedre, syrah, and petite sirah combination, yields an earthy profile with flavors of cherry cream soda, wood smoke, plum, and a hint of tobacco. Then there’s the slightly effervescent Muscat made with grapes from Carlson Creek Vineyard and the Pressings, a white melange of six varieties. At the tasting room, more than 30 different wines are available at any time.
Over the last several months, Terry has noticed that unique wines attract more attention in Old Town.
“There’s quite a bit of wine knowledge among locals in the Valley, and people that know a lot about wine generally are more experimental and open to different wines,” Terry says.
“The food is a little more dressed up,” Terry says.
The tapas-heavy menu boasts Caprese skewers, an olive bowl accompanied by blue cheese and arugula, goat cheese served with warm dates, apples, and honey, and sophisticated cheese boards loaded with meats, sun-dried fruits, almonds, olives, and baguettes.
Stronghold’s new Valley presence makes it one of six tasting rooms representing Arizona wineries in Old Town Scottsdale. Terry sees this as a positive sign about the direction the industry is going, its growth, and camaraderie.
“We don’t even call them competitors,” he says, adding that Arizona wine makes up for just 4 percent of the wine purchased in the state. “There’s so much room for growth. It’s a good thing.”
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards
4225 N. Marshall Way, #2, Scottsdale