Speak to the owners and winemakers at the seven wineries in the Verde Valley and you’ll hear one thing again and again: Visitors just can’t get over the fact that vineyards are being grown and wine produced in a state best known for saguaro cactus and dusty desert. Believe it: Pioneers made wine here as long ago as the early 1900s, notes Sedona Monthly wine columnist James Monaci. Now, vineyards and wineries are popping up in the Sedona area nearly as fast as timeshare developments – Alcantara Vineyards and Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery got up to speed in the last year and (shhh) more are in the works. While not all the winemakers use locally grown grapes, nearly all plan to do so or, as in the case of San Dominique Winery, here since 1981, have done so in the past.
Arizona wines are earning respect: The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article singing their praises, and a Cornville wine took top honors at the 2007 Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Festival. Yet the vineyards are refreshingly unpretentious: A slobbering mastiff lounges outside the tasting room at Javelina Leap. Chickens and ducks fight pests at organic winemaker Page Springs Vineyard and Cellars. It takes a high-clearance vehicle to get to Echo Canyon Vineyard and Winery; shoppers on horseback and in golf carts visit Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery. Alcantara keeps a box of toys for kids; Bill at San Dominique cooks lunch for you; John at Jerome Winery says ghosts hang out in his tasting room. As we saw, Verde Valley vineyards all have something special: Quality with a clear local flavor, no matter where the grapes come from.
At the confluence of Oak Creek and the Verde River sits 87 acres distinguished by a limestone ridge with caves containing Native American petroglyphs, a grove of sycamore trees, and Alcantara Vineyards. From the back patio of her temporary tasting room, Alcantara owner Barbara Predmore surveys her 12 acres of vineyards, harvested for the first time in August. But her vision goes further – she aims to expand the vineyard to 35 acres, and build a permanent winery, inn, and villas; a restaurant with a rotation of chefs from Italy; a spa; a dog hotel; an art gallery; an amphitheater; and a village. She hopes it all will be here in three to five years – renderings and maps hang in her office and the plans have been OK’d by Yavapai County.
“It will basically be a Tuscan-themed village with the winery as the main attraction,” she says. “It will be a destination.”
The tasting room opened in late 2006 with wines made with grapes primarily from a family vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif. Barbara, who once owned a travel agency in Scottsdale, doesn’t make the wine herself – for that, she enlisted the help of winemakers around Sedona and Paso Robles. But with this year’s inaugural harvest – at least a year earlier than she expected – six tons of harvested fruit are being fermented and bottled on site.
For now, the tasting room has samples of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, a Rhone blend, and Cabernet Pfeffer, to name a few (75 cases of each varietal were produced; many have sold out). Bottles are adorned with abstract paintings from Las Vegas artist Smokin Joe – the original art hangs in the tasting room. Bottles cost $14-$38; $6.50 tastings include four wines and the glass.
Alcantara – Barbara’s grandmother’s maiden name – looks like a location from Under the Tuscan Sun, with its rattan patio furniture, copious butterflies, fountains, roses, and the archway leading to the vineyard. At our visit, a deer wandered among the sycamores behind the grape vines, which turn red and purple in the fall. Romantic, yet it has a family-friendly atmosphere. A box of toys sits in the tasting room and kids play on the grass in front of the vineyards most weekends. Barbara’s two sons and even her grandkids help out when they can. Barbara says the winery marries her love of family and farming. “I farmed most of this myself,” she says proudly. “The vines listen to me sing – and apparently they liked it, because look at the wood on them!”
Alcantara Vineyards – 7500 E. Alcantara Way between Camp Verde and Cottonwood
Open Wednesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 928-649-8463; www.alcantaravineyard.com