Wednesday, August 26, 2009

HFF on the Road: Jerome, AZ - Day 2

Day Two was the big day. This was the day we were spending with Paula Woolsey, AZ Stronghold's national marketing director, former co-owner of The Asylum, and the woman who has just maybe done more for Arizona wine's visibility than even Maynard himself.

We met up with Paula at the Flatiron Cafe in Jerome, a tiny corner restaurant on the approach into town. Little coffee counter with about eight seats inside but they also have seating at the patio across the street--a bonus on this warm morning. The cafe's got an upstairs kitchen that throws out some pretty cool sophisticated takes on southwestern food and diner cuisine. My breakfast burrito was simple and clean--egg, chorizo, nopales, et al nicely griddled. The patio was great though we had to deal with a gaggle of sexagenarians demanding that the vintage clothing store upstairs open up. Apparently the three blocks of Jerome was far too large of a city to be roaming around in waiting for a store to open. No doubt they were really looking forward to complaining about the prices and not buying anything.

Paula drove us out to Page Springs Cellars, giving us a roundabout tour of the Cornville wine country: Merkin Vineyards, Maynard's produce market (it's the most organic market in the world, if you don't mind the limited selection), and John McCain's driveway. Apparently "Sedona Cabin" sounds better than "Cornville Ranch," no matter if that ranch isn't within a Navy plane crash of Sedona.

We had vague plans to visit a couple other wineries but Page Springs was far more compelling than we anticipated so, well, the rest of Arizona's wines will have to be saved for another trip.

I've learned two things in AZ:
1. Eric Glomski is a talented winemaker.
2. Arizona is uniquely suited to aromatic white varietals.

As regards point one--it's hard to quantify, but I tasted through a large array of Glomski's wines from many different vineyard sites and they were all well-made, nicely structured, and compelling. Transcendent? Only some. Good? All.

As regards point two--holy fucking shit, Page Springs can make the fuck out of Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and blends therefrom. And, actually, some tasty Chardonnay as well.

A few (two) reasons for this:

1. Heavily volcanic soils. Northern Arizona is covered in volcanic soil. Serious, it's like a Peter North volcano went to town on the earth and the earth liked it.
2. Although it's hot as hell in much of Arizona during the day, it gets really cold at night. Lots of wine regions get to 100 degrees during the day (Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Lodi), but not as many get to close to freezing at night. In fact, frost is the biggest problem Arizona fruit faces, with UV exposure probably a distant second.

It's an odd coming together of terroir that echoes both cool-climate wine regions like Alsace and hothothot regions like Bierzo and the Alentejo. Godello and Arinto, anyone?

But I think that raises the most interesting question in this whole discussion: why do we insist on describing Arizona in terms of other wine regions? There's a sort of projection of the other aspect to that, no? I suppose that will go away with time: I'm sure in the 1970's the Napa Valley was described in Francophilic terms and Keenan himself talks about his decision to grow grapes in Northern AZ because it "looked like Spain and Portugal."

I'd like to just think of the subregions of AZ--there's actually officially only one AVA--as simply another grape growing region of the USA slowly (quickly?) figuring out what grapes grow well. Sure we can infer some successes based on similar climates--I'm not shocked that Petite Sirah grows so well here or that Pinot Noir doesn't--but we should be open to some surprises. Who would've thought Riesling, that stalwart of cool Alpine climes, would take so well to Arizona?

After tasting through most of the current Page Springs wines in the tasting room, we were given a tour of the creekside estate vineyards. Hermitage-clone Syrah makes up much of the vineyard: its widely spaced clusters resist rot. But Glomski's also planted Chateauneuf clones of Grenache and Mourvedre, California-clone Petite Sirah, and some Cabernet Pfeffer daringly waving about on its own rootstocks. I'm excited to see what Grenache on this site can do, given its similarity to sites in the Rhone and Spain (there I go being all comparative like a shmuck), but the vines are still too young to harvest. Of the Page Springs Estate reds, the Petite Sirah stands out. Full-bodied but not nearly as jammy as some of its California competitors, with a palate-enticing acidity and lots of dusty earth and leather on the nose. This is what French Durif tastes my mind.

After the vineyard tour we headed into the cellar and met the man himself Eric Glomski. He generously popped open a freshly-bottled 2008 PSC Petite Sirah (the first 08 red I've had the pleasure of trying). Tight and shocked to be sure, it quickly lubed up with a few swirls (if only it were that easy), and definitely showed its promise. There seems to be a general excitement about the 08 vintage in AZ.

I plied Eric with a bottle of 06 Domaine Gauby Calcinaires Blanc (have you had a French Muscat-Macabeu blend? I didn't think so) so he shared a couple tank samples of freshly crushed Marsanne and Viognier. You haven't actually tasted grapes until you've had freshly crushed Marsanne--sweeter than Jesus with diabetes, it tastes like a ripe white peach dipped in honey; it'll stick in your memory as vividly as the first time you went south on a girl.

(And it [probably] tastes a helluvalot better.)

And that's not to belittle PSC's Viognier which was also rich and vibrant with some pronounced floral aromatics--they're flirting with Condrieu country here. I'll be curious to see how the finished product compares with the offerings from Demetria in Paso, so far the best non-French Viognier I've had.

And fuck Pride Viognier. If I wanted my wine to taste like shampoo I'd shower with Carlo Rossi. It'd cost me less.

There's still very much a sense of play at Page Springs, from the children's toys in the tasting room to the broad array of varietals on hand. Arizona is the Wild West (east?) of winemaking and there's lots of experimenting to be done. A mix of careful study, educated guesses, gut calls, and whimsy over the coming years will help determine the shape of AZ's flagship grapes.

We wrapped up our visit at Page Springs by picking up a mixed case of whites. Did I mention I liked them? I'm currently sleeping with a bottle of PSC La Serrana Viognier/Roussanne blend, it's stern but still likes to cuddle. Paula dropped us off at our divey motel in Cottonwood (the Connor in Jerome was alas fully booked by a gay New Zealand motorcycle club--I'm only lying about one of those descriptors). We cruised out to Sedona with a plan for dinner and a visit to Slide Rock State Park. Slide Rock was very cool--it's basically a natural waterslide formed by erosion in the slippery bed of Oak Creek. The whole park is pretty fun and (unfortunately) kid friendly.

After surveying our options in Sedona--mostly expensive touristy places--we opted instead to go back into Jerome, having still not gotten enough of the town. Dinner was at Quince, a Cal-Mexican diner offering big portions and good prices, as well as the compelling option of "pulled pork" in one's burrito. Nothing to write home about, but a more than solid bet for dining in Jerome when The Asylum's out of your price range.

We walked around Jerome some more and checked out the twilight views before calling it an early night and coasting back to Cottonwood.

In terms of getting Page Springs wines, your best option is to visit the winery on a long weekend from LA. They currently have limited distribution in Arizona and have no intention of expanding outside the state. You can also buy the wine online and some Page Springs wines are available at the Caduceus tasting room in Jerome.

I'm not intennding to sound like an AZ wine geek fanboy, and to be honest I'm no more excited about Northern AZ as I am the Anderson Valley or the Alentejo. It's just exceedingly rare that you can be one of the first outside voices touting the virtues of an emerging region so you better believe I'm going to pimp that for all its worth.

1 comment:

Randy said...

You know, the last paragraph of this post and the first paragraph of the previous both contain the phrase "it's exceedingly rare."

I usually manage to repeat myself within the same blog comment, so I suppose you've still got a couple steps on me.