Wednesday 22 January 2020
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Traveling to the Florida Keys with Arizona Wine on my Mind

ARIZONA. 12/13/2010.  It is 12 days before Christmas, and I am preparing to leave for Florida. A crisis is cooking at my home on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, just 28 miles from Key West and 108 miles from Cuba.  I’ve decided to drive, take I-10 and make it into a “research” road trip.  The research will consist of staying in fun places along the way, drinking wine and asking people. “What do you know about Arizona wine?” and “Have you ever had it?“

First stop on my way, still in Arizona, is a meeting with Jim Wiskerchen in Phoenix. I am bringing him wine for an event.  Jim is a guru when it comes to AZ wine.  He has done so much for our industry and tries to make a living selling and promoting AZ wine, helping with any event possible.  Jim just loves what he is doing.

After our meeting, on my way to find I-10 via the Loop 202, I get totally lost.  And when I get lost I do it good.  It is never for a short time. ONE HOUR LATER after I left Jim, I pretty much end up in his neighborhood again.  This time I follow his directions precisely and find I-10.

NEW MEXICO.  Still first day.  It is getting late and dark and the Holiday Inn in Deming will be home for tonight. At the front desk is my first target, Rebecca Maston. She never heard about Arizona wine.  Really?  First interview, check!!

TEXAS: 12/14/2010.  I was up at 4 am and started driving. I want to make Fredericksburg, TX today. It is a great day, sunny and warm, no traffic.  Fort Stockton is coming up and I pass it while on the phone talking to my neighbor in the Keys who is a contractor.   He tells me about all the problems with my lovely home there.  It boils down to… I should “torch it” or “doze it”.

So I get off the phone with Mr. Negative and try to focus on something really positive like the level of my gas tank. Oops, it’s on empty!  I see a sign that the next gas station is in Ozona, 50 miles from here!  What?!?  There must be another one!  Please…PLEASE!

Note:  Dear reader, be advised there is no gas station once you leave Fort Stockton, TX heading East until you reach Ozona.

It is a race against time with the descent of my gas gauge needle, but I just make it on fumes to the station in Ozona.  I stop my car and give my dashboard a big hug. I tell my Chrysler Town and Country, “Good girl.”

So did John from California who is traveling to see his folks in Austin.  Ran out of gas that is… I do not know if he hugged his car.

We are both filling up when he says, “Can you believe that?  No gas station between Fort Stockton and here!”

“So John… do you know anything about Arizona wine?”  (Seizing the opportunity)

Nope, nada and nix.  Second interview, check!

I made it to Fredericksburg (there were enough gas stations along the way) and I decide to stay overnight here.  I taste the D’Vine Wine Winery wine (say that a couple of times after you’ve had a few).  The tasting room manager and the winemaker are present and so I pop my question, “So, do you know anything about Arizona wine?”

“No,” and “No”.  And that’s it.  No further discussion. There are two girls from Austin tasting wine and I cannot hold myself back. I have to ask.  But before I can form my lips to say the first words, it’s the same thing… both say no. And then one of them said,
“…but wait, maybe, or was it wine from Arkansas?”  I love this, I’m thinking, I will return home, quit my life as a vineyard and winery owner and become a journalist.  Third interview,  check!

LOUISIANA. 12/15/2010.  My first time in New Orleans!  I am staying at the Bourbon Inn on Bourbon Street.  The hours flew by.  I had a great time, and yes, I asked.  Now, it’s New Orleans so I cannot remember the place, sorry. It was COLD and I had too many hot rum toddies (without the rum but plenty of bourbon).  But I do remember, I did not get an affirmative answer so therefore fourth interview is a no.  Check!

FLORIDA.  12/16/2010.  I have arrived in the Florida Keys.  I’m in the upper keys and still have 100 miles to go to my house.  I am staying overnight on Islamorada at a lovely resort. I ate at the bar, paid my bill, and before I left the waitress a tip, I asked the question.   She believed she had tried Arizona wine, but it was cactus wine.  Fifth interview, check!

Friday, 12/17/2010.  I drove to my house and arrived early to see the key deer grazing in my yard, eight of them. Big Pine Key is the only island that has the key deer.  They look like any other deer but these guys are smaller. They say they swam here from the mainland. There are about 800 key deer on the island. I don’t think they know about Arizona wine either.  Couldn’t get a straight answer.

After all the drama of what I would find, it turns out I was able to fix most of the problems with my house.  And the reward was Christmas day in Key West.  Went to the Key West Winery and had fruit wine.  I met Melissa at the winery who told me she had lived in Phoenix.  The day she arrived it was 118 degrees.

She moved to the Florida Keys two months later.   She did not know that, yes, you can grow wine in Arizona. She might have had Arizona wine… “or was it wine from Alabama?… Or no, wait, it was from the Virgin Islands…”  So it’s a no.  Sixth interview, check!

The highlight of my visit in Key West was the Hemingway house. I toured the house and later in the evening, over a glass of wine, of course, I read a statement made by Papa: “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection. And it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” – Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

So there you have it. Tomorrow I will start the long journey home.  I miss my vineyard, journalism can wait.

By Deb Wahl, Owner of Oak Creek Vineyards
Originally Published in Arizona Vines and Wines Spring 2011 Issue