Pinot Noir in the Prescott Highlands keeps one local couple busy (and young) in retirement

By Hilary Dartt

Between them, Maricor and Richard Skladzien have lived in lots of places: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and California. And they’ve enjoyed a variety of experiences in those places: they were an accountant and public works director, respectively, and they ran a coffee roasting company, grew grapes, and owned several stores.

The rolling hills of Paulden, Arizona—and a sense of adventure in retirement—provide the setting for their newest endeavor: They’re the owners of Del Rio Springs Vineyard and Winery, and its tasting room in downtown Prescott.

They said during a recent interview that they chose to start this business in part to keep busy (and young), and in part because they love wine. They chose Paulden because the geography, climate, and soil are great for growing pinot noir grapes.

Their growing business, along with several awards this year from the Worldwide International Wine Competition, suggest they made an excellent choice.

This past June, Del Rio Springs Vineyard earned silver medals in the Sommeliers Choice Awards for the 2019 Pinot Noir and the 2021 Carménère wines, and the 2020 Chardonnay earned a bronze. The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes sourced from the Del Rio Springs’ partner vineyard, Silver Concho Vineyard, north of Kingman, received a silver, as well.

Only 100 wines out of 1200 entrants earned awards, and the Del Rio Springs wines won four of those … one for every wine they submitted.

“This news should make Arizonans proud of the fact that we have a new cool climate grape region that is putting Arizona on the map as a respected world-class wine-producing area,” Richard said.

The cool nights, warm summer breezes, soil rich in ash, minerals, and decomposed granite, and good UV exposure thanks to the area’s elevation all combine to create grapes with balanced sugar and acid … which makes balanced (and delicious) wine.

Maricor added that Del Rio Springs is the only vineyard in this area that produces the wine from the grapes they grow.

They make about 750 cases per year, and are a seed vineyard, which means that in addition to their main crops (Carménère, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc), they grow small plots of grapes to see which ones do well in this climate.

Women have more taste buds than men do, so Maricor is the official taster: she has a significant say in whether a wine is ready to be bottled. Recently, the Skladziens have begun creating blends. They’ve found that “blending parties,” where friends come over and taste different blends to choose the best one, have resulted in wines that are, Richard said, “more attuned to the palate of the consumer.”

They joke that while they’re not busy twenty-four-seven, the twelve-seven they are busy can be all-consuming.

“Because we’re so busy, I don’t even know the day or date,” Maricor said.

After starting their vineyard in 2009, they said, they didn’t get any frost during the growing season until 2021. They bought special fans to prevent frost, and almost as soon as they got those installed, they got a huge hailstorm that meant the plants had to start all over again.

While Maricor said situations like that can be said, both she and Richard are stoic: “That’s farming.”

The Skladziens took several agriculture extension classes at the University of California, Davis, to learn grape growing and winemaking.

Richard always had an interest in growing things; his grandmother loved African violets and his grandfather made her shelves for her collection. Maricor said she’s a city girl and has learned everything she knows from Richard.

“I don’t know if I can plant something and it will grow,” she said.

That was more than 15 years and 4,500 vines ago

When the Skladziens first started their vineyard, they also planted crops of table grapes, which take less time to mature, and sold those at farmers’ markets and festivals. After five years, they started making wine and selling that at farmers’ markets and festivals. Finally, they opened their tasting room in 2020, only to get shut down during COVID.

“At least we survived,” Maricor said.

“You make good wine, that’s why,” said Kelsie Clemens, tasting room manager. “And I don’t say that just because I work here.”

Richard and Maricor acknowledge running a vineyard and a winery is lots of hard work. But they also said it keeps them busy and young.

“It keeps us moving,” Richard said. “It keeps us going. It’s something to look forward to.”

The Del Rio Springs Vineyard tasting room is in the Old Firehouse Plaza at 220 West Goodwin Street, Suite 4. Learn more at Follow the vineyard on Facebook and Instagram @delriospringsvineyard.