Wine is produced in all 50 states and I have had a sampling of them all. Okay, maybe not wine from Alaska, so let’s leave it at 49. Some of the wine is good, even pretty amazing, while some is just downright awful and, unfortunately, gives wine from “emerging places” a bad rap. My fascination with wine has never been limited to anything usual. For many a sommelier, the more eclectic and unusual a wine, the better. We love wines that tell the story of a place: the land, the climate, the people and the passion behind the wine, which are all aspects that drive me to explore wines across America.
My first visit to a winery was back in 1999. I was a college student who had a work-study job in tourism print media sales and I was working on a project to entice wineries to market to Washington, DC tourists. The Loudoun County, Virginia Tourism Office invited me out for a country drive to see some of the region’s tourism assets, among them a visit to two wineries. It was here, at Breaux Vineyards, a small and struggling young winery at the time, that my road trip through American wine began. Ten years later, an International Sommelier Guild Certified Sommelier diploma in hand and media buzz for restaurant menu work with wines from across the United States in tow, my marketing company, Vino50, was hatched. It’s a Grape American Road Trip on the wholesale level and educates consumers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC on the joys of exploring beyond the usual suspects of the wine world.
Arizona wine first crossed my lips during a trip to Phoenix in 2007 when I picked up a bottle of Echo Canyon wine at Sportsman’s on Camelback. I recall it was a red blend from Yavapai County, extremely soft and silky with dried fruit and integrated oak spice. Simply delightful, really. I was intrigued. I needed to see these vineyards and learn more about the Arizona wine scene. I visited Echo Canyon on a subsequent trip and poked my way through the Verde Valley, where I stumbled upon Page Springs Cellars and learned of their project with Maynard James Keenan, known as Arizona Stronghold. I also hunted for wines down in Sonoita and found pleasure in the sips from Callaghan and Dos Cabezas WineWorks. I placed wines from these producers on my wine list at OYA Restaurant in DC along with finds from 12 other states over the years.
Vino50 is in its third year and as we enter our fourth, the project touts the hard work and passion from over twenty wineries across twelve states, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Hawaii, Michigan, Texas, New York and Virginia, to name a few. We are proud to tell the story of high elevation, desert-grown Arizona wine and we currently work with Arizona Stronghold and Caduceus/Merkin Vineyards. We have also told the story of Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks, but freight costs from Arizona put a wrench in that master plan because apparently Arizona is not on the main trade route to the east (neither is Texas or even Michigan for that matter).
While we experience much success with the story of these wines, it is often an uphill battle. Antiquated alcohol laws, shipping logistics and the seemingly never-ending glut of inexpensive wine from Europe, South America and the Central Valley of California cause some to pause and question the need for wines from regions like Arizona. However, as long as quality wine can be produced in a land with a story and there’s passion behind the story, regional American wines will march on. I look forward to the next 10 years of regional American wine finds and the growth of fine Arizona-grown and produced offerings just as much as I have enjoyed the road trip over the past 10 years.
Article by Andrew J. Stover
Andrew J. Stover, ISG Certified Sommelier, resides in Washington, D.C., but travels the nation seeking craft American wines for his burgeoning wine distribution portfolio, Vino50 Selections, for distribution in DC, MD and VA. Learn more about the wines he represents at Vino50.com or check out his blog at ChiefWino.com.
Originally published in the Winter 2012 issue of Arizona Vines & Wines.