Groupie is generally defined as an enthusiastic supporter or follower. In our case, we are not avid fans who follow a rock band, but instead avid fans who follow Arizona wine. Thanks to Arizona Vines & Wines, we are now officially coined “Groupies.”
I worked my way through college at ASU in the early 80s as a waiter at some of the finest restaurants in and around Phoenix. Following college, I moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. As with many highly competitive occupations, it was feast or famine. In the times of famine, I went back to what I knew could make ends meet and what I truly loved: Food, wine and people. The management at the restaurant I worked at believed presentation was everything – right down to describing the wine list with vivid knowledge of each and every wine/vineyard on the list. This experience and two trips to Napa and Sonoma ignited my passion for wine, coupled with a brilliant sommelier who took his every waking moment teaching his most eager student. Fast-forward many vintages later.
After relocating to Tucson almost three years ago, my sister, Tiane, and brother-in-law, Kelly, took Jen and I to the 2009 new release/barrel tasting at Callaghan Vineyards for my birthday. Tiane and Kelly were big fans of Kent’s wines and were anxious to hear my thoughts on the “new” Arizona wines as compared to the world’s finest I had enjoyed over the last 25 years. I was amazed and intrigued. How could anyone make such great wine in the desert? The quest began.
To familiarize ourselves with Arizona Wine Country, we did some research, visited several Sonoita/Elgin vineyards and, of course, utilized Facebook. In August 2010, Kief Manning of Kief-Joshua Vineyards posted a picture of his vineyard in the wee hours of the morning, just a week shy of harvest, after a freak hailstorm devastated parts of Winery Row in Elgin. Being from Kansas, it reminded us of the aftermath of a tornado. Without hesitation, we threw our boots and shovels in the car and headed south. Upon arrival, we were speechless as we gazed upon the once beautiful clusters that now littered his yard. As we sat on the patio in disbelief, Kief reminded us that the life of a farmer/winemaker can be perilous at times and far from glamorous. We were invited to stay for dinner and taste his wines, all the while being treated like family. In that very moment, the Arizona Wine Groupies were born.
From a heart-wrenching sight grew a heart-felt friendship and a new love for Arizona wine. We helped Kief and his father Jeff harvest the next two years. We picked, crushed, pressed, punched down and bottled. I had never experienced this kind of joy before; it was intoxicating, figuratively speaking of course. Harvest has since become my most cherished time of the year. We immersed ourselves in wine festivals from Willcox to Tempe and tasted wines from the Verde Valley. We road-tripped to Jerome for the Blood Into Wine screening and endured a crazy, fun weekend of Tool fans asking us to teach them about Arizona wine. Groupies asking Groupies for advice. Only in Arizona. Before leaving town, we stopped in Cottonwood and had the immense pleasure of meeting Sam Pillsbury in person. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend in the Verde Valley.
Jen and I do not consider ourselves Groupies, but rather, enthusiastic advocates of Arizona wines. We serve Arizona wines while taking in the Tucson Pops “Music Under the Stars” concert series to encourage curious onlookers. We use Facebook to highlight all our adventures and display vineyard websites and contact information. We carry a box of Arizona Vines & Wines Magazine in the trunk of our car and give them to people we meet in restaurants and grocery stores. We have taken cases of our favorite Arizona wines back to Kansas and held tastings for our friends. We knew we had arrived as the quintessential Arizona Wine Ambassadors and were deeply honored to be invited by Rob and Sarah Hammelman to Sand-Reckoner Vineyards “Vineyard Warming” celebration after the Spring 2011 Willcox Wine Festival. Thanks again, guys!
Our plan is to have our own combination vineyard/B&B in the near future. We want to take our involvement in the Arizona wine industry to the next level. I hope that by then, we will have a few groupies of our own Arizona wine.
If you see us at an event, please do not hesitate to introduce yourselves. We love meeting new friends that share our passion for great wines and company. Cheers from J & J!
By Jeff Haskell
Jeff Haskell and Jennifer Janzen live in Tucson, Arizona. Jeff own Mt. Vernon Contrators and aspires to become an Arizona vintner. Jennifer owns JJ’s Pantry, a web-based all natural gourmet food store featuring dry mixes and jarred items made exclusively in Arizona.