By Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Verde Valley wine scene has blossomed into dozens of vineyards and tasting rooms during the 21st Century. With the harvest season in full swing, this is the perfect time of year to enlist on a day trip that’s a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
Each year from August through September (and sometimes even into October), Verde viticulturists intensely monitor their grapes for signs they have ripened for “the crush” – the harvest season. Winemakers are poised to pick the perfect combination of acidity, flavors, sugars and tannins. Eying colors, tasting the crop, and lab tests all can aid these determinations. In Arizona, the North American Monsoon is a huge timing factor. Hail can damage grapes and heavy rains can delay harvest times. Or, like last year, a drier-than-average “nonsoon” can force everyone to pick their grapes in half the usual time.
“How the monsoons play out will really dictate how our harvest is,” explained Michael Pierce, director of the Southwest Wine Center’s Viticulture and Enology Program at Yavapai College in Clarkdale. It’s the only such degree and certificate program in Arizona, and it’s a key factor in the Verde Valley winemaking renaissance. Michael also is the head winemaker for his family’s Bodega Pierce vineyards and winery.
Five Verde Valley vineyards offer tours for small groups that adhere to social distancing recommendations related to the pandemic.
“Harvest is the best time to come,” concluded Kerry Loftus, tasting room manager at the Alcantara Vineyards on the banks of the Verde River in Cottonwood.
“It’s the most ideal time to get a look at the inner workings of Page Springs,” agreed Luke Bernard, sales and marketing director at Page Springs Cellars in the verdant Page Springs region along Oak Creek between Cottonwood and Sedona.
At the boutique Salt Mine Wine in Camp Verde, your tour guides are likely to be one of the owners, brothers Chip and Kevin Norton. Chip likes to say they flunked retirement. That seems an understatement because Chip also recently established Sinagua Malt to buy, process and sell barley grown in the Verde Valley and encourage conservation of the Verde River, since, like wine, barley has a lower impact on the river than other crops commonly grown there. Chip is president of the Friends of the Verde River, too.
Wine consultant Paula Woolsey has been another huge booster of the Verde Valley wine renaissance, as a Southwest Wine Center adjunct instructor, Verde Valley Wine Trail vice president, and Verde Valley Wine Consortium vice president and educational chair.
“This has been an amazing journey to watch,” said the 33-year resident of Cottonwood. Luckily for us, it’s only a short journey over Mingus Mountain to visit.
IF YOU GO…
What: Verde Valley wine harvest/crush season
When: As long as August through mid-October
Where: Public vineyards and wineries from Clarkdale to Camp Verde on the Verde River, and north to Page Springs on lower Oak Creek. Every Verde community also features wine tasting rooms for Arizona wines.
For more information: Start with the Verde Valley Wine Trail website at vvwinetrail.com. It features a map showing all the valley’s public vineyards, wineries and wine tasting rooms. It also has a link to the Verde Valley Wine Consortium’s website that features links to all its member vineyards, wineries and wine tasting rooms. And you can sign up for a Verde Valley Wine Trail passport for special offers and prizes.
LIST OF VERDE VALLEY PUBLIC VINEYARDS
(reservations may be required for tours, so please visit each vineyard’s website for more details)
Alcantara in Cottonwood: Free 1.5-hour tours of its vineyards at 11:30 a.m. every Friday and Saturday.
Clear Creek Vineyards in Camp Verde: Tours at 10 a.m. Saturdays for $15. At press time, the party bus was not available because of pandemic social distancing concerns, owner Ignacio Mesa explained.
Dancing Apache Ranch at Page Springs: No tours, but vineyards are visible from tasting room.
Javelina Leap at Page Springs: Tours for as many as 12 people for $150/group include house-made truffles for each guest, unlimited $2 discount on wine flights, and one complimentary bottle of wine per group.
Oak Creek Vineyards at Page Springs: No tours, but the vineyard is next to tasting room patio.
Page Springs Cellars at Page Springs: 60-minute to 90-minute estate winery tours at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Cost is $19 each for adults, or $34 with wine tastings. At press time, the House Mountain Vineyard tour was not available because of pandemic social distancing concerns since the tour requires a bus ride.
Salt Mine Wine in Camp Verde: Free tours available for scheduling upon request.
Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College in Clarkdale: No tours, but vineyards and part of the processing areas are visible from the wine tasting patio.