In the early 1980’s these northern Arizona towns were sleepy villages with not much to offer. Fast forward 30 years and see a resurgence of history, culture, commerce and a newly created wine industry.
Fifteen minutes south of beautiful Sedona is an emerging wine region, the Verde Valley. This vast valley is lined with a limestone and sandstone ridge that stretches for miles. Many cliff villages built by indigenous American cultures remain in this area. Remnants of a once vibrant mining industry in Jerome can be seen on a distant hillside. A wine trail snakes through the valley, leading you through villages, old and new, and high up to Jerome where you can overlook the Verde Valley, dine in great restaurants, sip wine, browse shops and imagine the life of a mining community.
To see this valley fully, you will need at least two days. First visit the three wineries in Cornville (no, there’s no corn in Cornville), drive into Cottonwood, overnight in Old Town. Here you will find a lovely boutique hotel, the Tavern Hotel, many gourmet restaurants, cute shops, art galleries and coffee houses. Wake up the next morning, walk to a coffee shop for breakfast and once fortified, wander the main drag to two wine tasting rooms. Continue outside of Cottonwood to Tuzigoot National Monument, view the ruins of the Sinagua people who occupied this valley during the 1100-1200’s. Continue up the scenic highway up to the once booming mining town of Jerome. Lunch awaits at one of many unique restaurants. Many of the refurbished restaurants are located in historic buildings; the former firehouse, Cottonwood’s Old Town Palace Theater, or a saloon, and designed to accentuate the past.
If you want to be driven around this region, many wine tours offer packages either from Sedona or Phoenix.
Cornville currently has three wineries located on Page Spring Road.
Javelina’s Leap Winery
Rod Snapp, a onetime executive chef, used his earnings from selling his Bed & Breakfast in Sedona to purchase a partially existing winery in Cornville and start the arduous journey of growing not only a winery, but a wine region. He sold off parcels of his land with the stipulation that purchasers had to start wineries, thus a wine region was born.
Javelina’s Leap property was originally part of the Page Springs Valley, which is known for its abundant natural springs. The winery is on the slopes of an ancient volcano. The gravely, rocky soil in this vineyard is good for stressing grapes and intensifies the characters of minerals and earth in the fruit grown in it.
Rod currently has four acres planted and one more coming soon. Because this is a relatively new wine region, they are still experimenting with different grapes to see which ones will excel in this inner continental climate. He is growing Tempranillo and Barbera, which have already proven to respond nicely to this area. Snapp is happy with his Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Our first taste of Snapp’s creations was a 2010 Sangiovese, which is a light wine with hints of cherry, figs and vanilla and would definitely go nicely with food. Followed by a 2010 Cabernet Franc that retails for $27. Next we sampled a 2010 Merlot which I found rich and exciting. This wine definitely is unique, when compared to California Merlots. It reflects the extreme terroir of Arizona. It had hints of strawberry and watermelon with strong, yet balanced tannins. This wine is rightly priced at $40 and worth it.
Snapp doesn’t much care for blends, but he has tried his hand at a 2010 Rockslide. This single vineyard Bourdeaux-style blend is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although quite young, (it can be laid down for 3-10 years). This deep red wine was rich and complex with raspberry, anise and pepper. It is an exceptionally smooth wine. Priced at $35 a bottle, it will be fun to taste this again in a few years.
Visit the winery on a Saturday and enjoy a complimentary barrel cellar tour with retired professor and ornithologist, Dr. Russ Balda. The winery is located across from an Audubon bird sanctuary. Enjoy a picnic in the orchard.
Javelina Leap tasting room and gift shop is open daily from 11:00am-5:00pm. 1565 Page Springs Road, Cornville, AZ 86325. Phone: 928-649-2681.For details see: www.javelinaleapwinery.com.
Oak Creek Vineyards
Owner and winemaker Deb Wahl, a citizen of the world is Croatian by birth, but was raised in South Africa. She has a chemistry degree from Germany, worked for a Japanese company with resorts in the Caribbean, became a wine broker, invested wisely and eventually ended up in northern Arizona owning this winery.
Deb’s main focus is conservation and would like to be known as the “green winemaker”. She reminisces about living in South Africa and instead of throwing away a nail or a board, it was saved and reused. “Almost everything I have is recycled. If I don’t need it, chances are someone around here will need it.” Case in point when she rebuilt a shed in her side yard, she reused wood and proudly shows where the hinges are off kilter. “The hinges give it character,” she said.
In the name of conservation, and not wanting to cut down trees that are not easily replanted and grown, Deb ages all of her wines in stainless steel. If a wine calls for wood she will add wood chips or spirals.
On her estate she grows Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. In Wilcox she sources Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Viognier is a rich creamy white; fruity with a floral nose. Very enjoyable for a hot Arizona afternoon. Her Zinfandel was lighter than usual, there was a nice elegance to it. The Syrah and Merlot reflected the Arizona terroir and was rich and peppery. Definitely try the Arizona Port Wine which is a Zinfandel Port and the Cream Sherry made from buttery Chardonnay and brandy.
Oak Creek is celebrating their 10-year anniversary in 2012. The tasting room, located at 1555 N. Page Springs Road is open daily 10:00am-6:00pm. Go to www.oakcreekvineyards.net for the latest information.
Page Springs Cellars
Owner Eric Glomski has been called a pioneer in the Verde Valley region and the “area’s best known vintner” by Wine Enthusiast. Glomski is a strong voice for the region, wiping out doubts that Arizona can and does produce high-quality wines. Page Springs Cellars is his own venture and he partners with Maynard Keenan in another venture: Arizona Stronghold, in Old Town Cottonwood. Glomski is revered by his staff and the wine community. He shares his talent with other winemakers mentoring and assisting in getting their ventures started.
Their mission statement is so powerful, it bears repeating.
“Our goal is to create delicious wines that express the unique character of our
landscape. We trust that our wines and winemaking convey our philosophies
concerning family, education and living life to its fullest. We believe that to make
great wine, we must take just as much responsibility for the lands we steward as
the community we live in. Our aim is to help people expand and trust their own
senses when tasting wine.”
Page Springs Cellars started with four acres in 2002. He started with Rhone Varietals; Petite Syrah, Mouvedre, Grenache and Syrah. In 2011 he was experimenting with 64 different wines. Grapes like Cabernet Pfeffer (a crossbreed of George Pfeffer from Los Altos and Hollister, California) Trousseau (sometimes called Gray Reisling) and many more that are unknown to this writer. And that is the fun of this winery, experimenting and making unique wines that bring out the spiciness of the land.
The tasting room includes an intimate lounge area with soft leather couches, rich cork flooring, a ceiling mural depicting Arizona winery life in the four seasons and soft lighting. The outdoor patio overlooking Oak Creek is cool and inviting. Here you can munch on a variety of snacks plates made to accentuate their wines.
This winery is a wonderful experience and not to be missed. Located at 1500 N. Page Springs Road, they are open daily 11:00am-6:00pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11:00am-9:00pm. For more information go to: www.pagespringscellars.com.