For this issue we’ve chosen a team of winemakers: Eric Glomski of Page Springs Cellars and Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. These two vignerons have come together to form Arizona Stronghold Vineyards in Willcox, AZ. Eric and Maynard combine their experience, knowledge and passion with the mission of producing nationally recognized and distributed wines that are within reach of all wine drinkers.
MISSION STATEMENT (from www.azstronghold.com): “Arizona Stronghold Vineyards was formed to put Arizona on the fine wine map.” Although it could be said that Arizona has been producing “fine wine” for some time, with wines having been poured at the White House and having garnered high ratings by Robert Parker, nobody has done it on a scale that can be marketed nationally, therefore putting Arizona on the ”national map”. With 80 acres, Eric and Maynard can support the volume to produce wines that can be distributed from coast to coast. They desire to produce high quality wines at a price point that will allow them to be accessible to everyone. Here is their story . . .
Maynard became interested in wine after seeing the managers and accountants drinking wine backstage at his band’s concerts (did we
mention that he’s a founding member of the band Tool?). A bottle given as a “thank you” from Tori Amos – a bottle of 1992 Silver Oak – was the turning point, though; the point at which Maynard was bitten by the wine “bug”. After he had amassed a 6000-bottle cellar he decided that he wanted more. He realized that some of his favorite wines were produced in climates similar to his home in northern Arizona; he decided to move to the next step. Why not try to produce those same quality wines in this beautiful area? Having no experience and no specific plan, but a grand vision, he decided to meet with Jon Marcus at Echo Canyon Winery, the only winery in the area at that time. Eric was working as the chief winemaker at Echo Canyon when Maynard showed up on that fateful day. Maynard eventually hired Eric to be a consultant for his vineyard. It turned out that Eric had a parallel vision and decided to leave Echo Canyon when a piece of land he had been eyeing along the banks of Oak Creek suddenly became available. He purchased the site with his family and both vineyards were now underway. The duo realized that they shared a common ambition and resolved to help each other succeed. They both possess an appreciation for the poetry of wine and don’t mind getting their hands dirty.
Page Springs Cellars was Eric’s answer to express his dream. He first experienced Arizona when he came here to attend school at Prescott College to learn about ecology. This education has helped him utilize tools and techniques that align with the environment. His appreciation of wine took him down a windy road that started in a forgotten apple orchard in Arizona and set him on a path to California where he worked at David Bruce Winery. Starting as a crush worker and eventually moving into a co-winemaker position allowed Eric to learn firsthand the process of creating wine. When he had the opportunity to work for Jon Marcus at Echo Canyon, he was given the chance to move back to Arizona and fulfill his ultimate dream, “to make world class wine in the central Arizona highlands”. This is, of course, where he met Maynard.
The friendship the two created is showcased by their passion for winemaking. Keenan’s day job, front man of the band “Tool” (as well as “The Perfect Circle” and “Puscifer”), would be an easy distraction for most men, keeping them from the day-to-day responsibilities of growing grapes and producing wine. Not for Maynard. He is as hands on as his time allows him to be. From inoculation to press to barreling the wine, he’s chosen to be involved. As an artist, he understands the responsibility to be present in the creation of his project. He also has a wine blog on WineSpectator.com, giving the public a chance to be a part of the process of building a vineyard, producing wine and learning about all the challenges that can occur in the process. Eric exhibits his passion through the quality of his winemaking. He is sought after around the state for his winemaking abilities and has the confidence to know that his wines can compete on the national stage.
In early 2007, they finalized the purchase of the historic Dos Cabezas Vineyard in Willcox, AZ and renamed it Arizona Stronghold.
The vineyard has a rich history. The first 20-acre block was originally planted in 1983 by Robert Webb for his now defunct RW Webb Winery. The next 20 acres were planted in 1995 by Al Buhl who created the Dos Cabezas Winery. In 2001, Al took on a partner, noted Hollywood movie director Sam Pillsbury, to plant the north section, an additional 20 acres they dubbed “Norte”. The Dos Cabezas label produced award winning wines, wines that were even served at the White House. After the transition to Arizona Stronghold, Eric and Maynard brought on Fabian Grandoli to be the Vineyard Manager, to help get the wines into shape. Fabian has an extensive pedigree, working for notable greats such as Gallo, Robert Mondavi, Estancia Winery and even Kendall Jackson’s Argentina project in the Mendoza region. These three men merge together to create a recipe that is certain to produce great wines well into the future.
The cores of the red plantings are Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese with Viognier and Malvasia Bianca rounding out the white varieties. They are producing a white: Tazi, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Malvasia Bianca. This wine has been released to great success, setting two new national sales records for Whole Foods Markets: selling out their wines during their two bottle-signing events. They will also be producing two red blends named Nachise and Mangus, which should be unveiled for the public in September 2008. The names for the wines and the vineyard come from the native history of the area, giving credit to Cochise and the Chiricahua Apache tribe.
Eric and Maynard have forged a dynamic that is proving to be a winning combination. Their separate endeavors will remain “boutique” style wineries, but their grand vision for Arizona Stronghold Vineyards should help spread the word that Arizona is a prime location for producing great wines. They both believe that this is just the beginning for Arizona, a state in its burgeoning infancy; a state ready to explode onto the national scene. The media has already caught on and has produced numerous articles on these two, understanding that the public should keep an eye on what they are doing. Be sure to check out their website for an in-depth look at the vineyard and at the winemaking team – AZStronghold.com
Article By Rhonni Moffitt. Photos courtesy of Harry Merkin (unless otherwise noted).
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Summer 2008 Issue