Keeling Schaefer Bisbee

Europe, Arizona, or Minnesota: Drink the local juice

Greetings from the mountains of southeastern Arizona!

One of my (many) Google airfare alerts is for Phoenix, and about six weeks ago a round trip fare of $150 direct on Delta popped up. The dates happened to fall right on top of Spencer’s spring break. We grabbed it, rented a little house in Bisbee via Airbnb for a few nights, and here we are!

Bisbee is an awesome little town, about 3.5 hours southeast of Phoenix (it’s the next town south of Tombstone, but without the tacky tourism). It’s an artist community with staircases for streets and fantastic ghost tours.

I preach during my wine classes that when in Europe, never drink outside of the region you are in. “What grows together goes together” is the common saying. Well, the Arizona wine industry is growing and booming so I’m drinking quite a bit of the local hooch during our vacation here. The two main wine regions are around Wilcox (about an hour north of Bisbee and an hour east of Tucson), and near Jerome (an hour north of Phoenix, just south of Sedona).

The advantage they have in Arizona is that they can grow vinifera, the main family of grapes we know and love for wine (vinifera dies at temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why we need the University of Minnesota to develop new hybrids that can survive the artic plunge of the hinterland). Obviously, hot weather varieties are the main thing in Arizona, so the varieties of the Southern Rhone are particularly well suited. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne are all commonly planted.How are the wines? Like most emerging wine regions (including Minnesota) go by producer first. Some people have the touch, some do not. Because of the heat, the alcohol levels in Arizona wine tend to be a touch elevated (15%+ is common) but if made by the right hands balance can be achieved. The producer we are enjoying the most is Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, who have a tasting room in Wilcox. Their Viognier as well as their GSM blends have made us very happy the last few days.

Exploration of place is one of the great joys of living a wine life. Take a chance when you’re in one of these emerging wine regions, be it Arizona or Minnesota. I’m working on setting up an “Updates on Minnesota Wines” class for some point this summer, bringing in the winemakers that I think are redefining the future of Minnesota wine.

And for Arizona? Maybe we’ll plan a trip out here next year with a small group. Who’d be up for an escape to the desert in February 2018? Drinking some Viognier under a cactus, I’ve found, is a good way to spend a day.

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