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Arizona Wines On An AmaWaterways Wine Cruise In Europe

Sam Pillsbury PicFilmmaker and winemaker Sam Pillsbury is taking his love of wine and sharing that love with the folks on an AmaWaterways Rivercruise this November along the Rhone in France. Sam Chats with Paul about Arizona and winemaking. Today, Sam’s Pillsbury Wine Company is widely acclaimed for the quality of the wine being made in Cochise County near Sedona.

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When people think of Arizona, they don’t typically think of wine. Desert, yes. Searing heat, yes. Wine, no.

Arizona Stronghold Vineyards is changing that. Profiled in the documentary “Blood Into Wine” and lavished with stunned praise by the likes of Wine Spectator and The Wall Street Journal, ASV is showing the world that a great Arizona wine can also be a great wine by any standard.

This is the Arizona Stronghold Vineyards story.

THE MEET UP

Arizona Stronghold Vineyards as a business entity was created in early 2007, but the notion of an artisanal, groundbreaking Arizona winery flickered to life several years before that.

The year was 2002. Eric Glomski, was making wine at Echo Canyon Vineyard & Winery near Sedona, he was hard at work when a mysterious black Range Rover pulled up to the remote vineyard in the Arizona high desert.

“I thought, ‘These folks must be lost,’” remembers Glomski.

In fact Maynard James Keenan knew exactly where he was. Popularly known as the iconoclastic lead singer of the industrial rock band Tool, he was also a passionate wine-lover who wanted to plant grape vines on his property in the nearby artist colony of Jerome. The aspiring vintner started chatting up Glomski, looking for farming tips. Before too long, the future winemaking partners were sharing a bottle at Keenan’s spread, admiring the volcanic, sun- drenched lot where the musician’s ambitions as a winemaker were taking root.

Over the next few years, Glomski and Keenan each founded private wine labels. Glomski purchased a creekside estate in the nearby town of Cornville and started Page Springs Cellars, a sustainable winery and bottling house. Keenan, in the meantime, learned the art of winemaking from Glomski and started two labels: Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards.

Meanwhile, the two friends developed a parallel obsession: Launching Arizona wines into the consciousness of wine- lovers everywhere.

THE VINEYARD

Although the winery portion of Page Springs Cellars was doing well, the vineyard was producing only modest yields, and Glomski was still importing the vast majority of his grapes from California. Keenan, too, was almost wholly dependent on out-of- state grapes to make his juice. Their mutual dream of creating a true Arizona wine seemed a long way off.

That changed in 2007, when a 120-acre vineyard southeast of Tucson called Dos

Cabezas came up for sale. “The big problem with buying fruit here was that the vineyard was very poorly managed,” Glomski remembers. “The fruit showed a huge amount of promise but it was

frustrating knowing that it could be so much better.”

Figuring they could exploit the vineyard to its fullest, Glomski and Keenan formed a partnership and purchased Dos Cabezas together, renaming it after Cochise Stronghold, a maze of granite rock near the vineyard where the Apache warrior Cochise once hid from Mexican and U.S. soldiers after raiding settlements that were
encroaching on his tribe’s lands.

“For me, the Stronghold personified both the Native American roots in our area as well as the strength and beauty of our southwestern landscape,” Glomski explains. “It was a powerful name.”

Arizona Stronghold Vineyards was born.

ARIZONA “TERROIR”

Assessing their new vineyard, Glomski and Keenan were particularly intrigued with a 20-acre section called Norte where one of the previous owners – fellow Arizona winemaker Sam Pillsbury – had planted Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grapes. Each of these grapes flourishes in the Southern Rhone region in France, which – with its warmer climate, long growing season and loamy soil – offers a rough caricature of the growing conditions in Arizona’s high desert. True to the French winemaking concept of “terroir” – in which the essence of the soil finds expression through the wine – Arizona Stronghold Vineyards uses predominantly Rhone-style grapes and other hearty Mediterranean clones that match well to the land.

They were also the same hearty Rhone grapes that Glomski was harvesting in lesser numbers at Page Springs. Impressed by how these particular fruits flourished in Arizona, the Stronghold partners went to work maximizing the neglected vines. Via grafting techniques, large portions of the Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling blocks were converted to Syrah. Meanwhile some climate-challenged vines were converted to Petite Sirah and a small section of Chardonnay was grafted over to Viognier, the premier Rhone-style white grape.

Though their first harvest was diminished by the grafting and pruning projects, Glomski and Keenan finally had enough Arizona-grown tonnage to credibly bill their product as a true “Arizona wine.” This was important to the partners both from a winemaking standpoint – and an ecological one.

“It feels as though we as a culture have become disconnected,” Keenan says, explaining his motivation to start Arizona Stronghold. “We’re constantly dreaming up ways to give away more and more of our power. We’ve lost touch with our ability to make fire, find fresh water, to hunt, gather, or cultivate our own food, even to have a simple conversation without utilizing some electronic gizmo. So in a nutshell, for me, this project is about reconnecting. It’s about rekindling a relationship with the Earth.”

POPULAR ACCLAIM

NACHISE

2007 89 Points Wine Spectator
2008 Gold Arizona Wine Growers Association
2009 Gold 27th Annual Lone Star International Texas Wine Competition 2010 Fourth Place Judgment of Arizona

TAZI

2008 Bronze Arizona Wine Growers Association
2009 Bronze 27th Annual Lone Star International Texas Wine Competition

DAYDEN

2008 Gold Arizona Wine Growers Association Festival
2009 Gold Arizona Republic Wine Competition
2009 Bronze 27th Annual Lone Star International Texas Wine Competition

MANGUS

2008 Bronze Arizona Republic Wine Competition
2009 Bronze 27th Annual Lone Star International Texas Wine Competition

BONITA SPRINGS CHARDONNAY

2009 People’s Choice Award Arizona Republic Wine Competition 2009 Bronze Arizona Republic Wine Competition

Featured at the James Beard House – 2010, 2011

Blood Into Wine

The 2009 documentary featuring Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski showcasing the behind-the-scenes efforts as they bring credibility and notoriety to Arizona winemaking. Screened in over 50 US cities and internationally premiering in Europe, Great Britain and film festivals across the world. www.bloodintowine.com