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home : visiting the verde valley : visiting the verde valley 2009 June 28, 2016

5/6/2009 10:53:00 AM
Amazing Grapes: Verde Valley wine industry flourishing
Verde Valley Wineries
• Alcantara Vinyards: Off State Route 260 and Thousand Trails Road between Camp Verde and Cottonwood

• Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery: 1550 Page Springs Road, 3.5 miles south of the intersection of 89A and Page Springs Road

• Javalina Leap Vineyards and Winery: 1565 Page Springs Road, 3.5 miles south of the intersection of 89A and Page Springs Road

• Page Springs Cellars: 1500 Page Springs Road

Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter

The Verde Valley is a 35-mile long, 15-20 million year old drainage, worn through layers of porous sandstone and limestone.

The sedimentary rock, most of which was laid down long before the river began its journey, is perforated and layered with volcanic intrusions that have rocked the landscape for as long or longer than the river has flowed.

Occasionally, these volcanic intrusions blocked the drainage's pathway creating inland lakes, which, over time created an additional layer of calcareous marine sediment known as the Verde formation.

These alkaline sediments and volcanic intrusions, combined with minerals washed down from the surrounding highlands have created ideal soil in which to grow grapes.

Add to the ideal soil a mix of climatic diversity and extreme temperature variations inherent in a desert mountain river valley, and an optimal ratio of altitude to latitude, and you have all the makings to grow world-class wine grapes.

As almost any one in the wine business can tell you, grapes like the hard life.

Put them in the wide-open fertile expanse of Midwest bottomland and they will disappoint you. Plant them on a rocky and inhospitable hillside and they will thrive.

Like their ultimate consumers, they enjoy an occasional drink -- but less is often better.

Hot days and cold nights bring out their best.

"Stressed grapes make better wines," says Paula Woosley a wine educator and owner of two valley restaurants, "Grapes love a 50 degree variation in temperature over the course of a day. It stresses them."

Grapes can handle a life of less stress but is does little to develop the character and complexity sought by winemakers the world over.

"In Central California they can grow tons of grapes. But the grapes lack interesting characteristics. We have the ability here, because of our weather and soil, to develop those interesting characteristics," says Woolsey.

Page Spring Cellars owner and winemaker Eric Glomski, like everyone else in the valley's nascent wine industry is quick to point out that it is quality they are seeking, not quantity.

"We have everything we need here to create masterpieces -- liquid landscapes" says Glomski, " We don't want to base our sense of place or our future on volume."

The Verde Valley is on the same latitude as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, places where grapes were first domesticated and wine first made.

"The varieties of wine grapes we now grow, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and etcetera, all have parentage in the Middle East," says Glomski, "Over time they spread from the Fertile Crescent, but they remain drought-tolerant, heat-loving plants."

For the valley's pioneer growers, the first major obstacle has been finding which grapes do best. Like any region offering such diverse microclimates, they are learning that some varietals thrive where others don't.

"What is doing well here on the Verde is not necessarily going to do as well on Oak Creek," says Barbara Predmore owner of Alcantara, "But some of the Italian and Spanish varietals are right at home throughout the valley."

As each grower has tried particular varietals, they have willingly shared their knowledge with those who have followed them.

"I had to plant several sections a few times over to find out what works," says Ray Freitas, owner of Freitas Vineyards outside Cottonwood, "But as other have come along I have passed along what I've learned.

Freitas' vines are second in age only to those planted by Jon Marcus at Echo Canyon, and her vineyard is the only one currently producing exclusively estate bottled wines made of grapes grown exclusively on her property.

"I could write a book on my mistakes," she says, ""I am still in the process of discovering what works and what doesn't."

Nevertheless, the pioneers have persevered, learning that Petit Syrah is hugely successful, as is Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfandel and some lesser-known Mediterranean varietals like Malvasia and Sangiovese.

"No one knows where Cottonwood is or Camp Verde for that matter," says Woolsey, "But they all know Sedona. This will work because people come here already. All you have to do is tell them, 'Oh, by the way, while you are here why don't you checkout our wineries.' The potential is limitless."

Related Links:
• Amazing Grapes Section
• Video: Winery

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