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Rod has been selling wine since last year, harvesting grapes in Paso Robles, Calif., and shipping them to Cornville to be fermented, pressed, and cellared. All varietals, Zinfandels and Syrahs, sold out; winning Top Zinfandel at the 2007 Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Festival in San Francisco didn’t hurt. Javelina Leap’s tasting room, opened this fall, is a treat: Cynthia and Rod designed it to look like a turn-of-the-century Jerome bar. Cynthia creates the wine labels which, naturally, feature a shadowy outline of a leaping javelina. The winery’s motto, “Love me, squeeze me, make me wine,” is on each bottle.
In the future, Rod plans to rely solely on Arizona fruit, making at least three Zinfandels and three Merlots, and perhaps a Cabernet Sauvignon. Javelina Leap produced 1,200 cases in 2006 and 2007, and hopes to reach 5,000 cases by 2010. Bottles cost between $20 and $60; tastings are $6 per person for three or four wines. Tasters can bring a picnic and enjoy the vineyard’s mesquite grove, which may be one of the oldest in the area.
So what is it about a northern Arizona winery guarded by a mastiff that clicks so well? “A lot of wineries blend but we only blend the same varietals to show the true varietal of the wine,” says Rod. Cynthia has another theory. “It’s the winemaker; he’s so gifted,” she says. “His wines are balanced from front to end. They taste wonderful and are extraordinarily finished.”
Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery – 1565 Page Springs Rd. in Cornville
Wine tasting seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 928-649-2681; www.javelinaleapwinery.com
When it’s quiet at Jerome Winery, usually after hours, owner and winemaker John McLoughlin says two ghosts switch the ceiling fans on and off. The building was originally a nurses’ dormitory in the early 1900s – though you’d never guess it from the colorful faux-painted walls and copper-top bar. John says the male ghost is Juisty, a miner who made his own wine, while he believes the woman is a “soiled dove” turned Madame.
John has a scientific and rational explanation for the ghosts, which he’s happy to share while you sip a Reserve Zinfandel or Chenin Blanc. An insurance agent in Chandler by day, John opened Jerome’s only wine-tasting room five years ago. He’s owned a 320-acre vineyard in Willcox three years longer than that, with 45 different grape varieties planted on 80 acres.
“Arizona is great for the big reds – Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah – because they can handle the heat,” he says. “In my opinion, the verdict is still out on the whites. Arizona produces grapes with a backbone, no foo foo. Our grapes are Sam Elliott, compared to California’s Brad Pitt.”
His most popular wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Muscat, and Reisling, all sell out. John prefers straight varieties to blends to “keep the grapes to their pure essence. The grapes are 100 percent their environment. Every year is different.”
Winemaking began as a hobby for John. He volunteered at half a dozen wineries in Europe, Arizona, and California before planting the vineyard in Willcox. He’s not bottling or fermenting at the tasting room just yet. His labels recently changed from his previous miner logo to old black-and-white family photos (he says one of his grandfathers flew with the Red Baron). Wines cost $16 to $25 per bottle and are only sold at the tasting room, with discounts for six or more. Tastings cost $8 for five samples plus the monogrammed glass, or $5 for five without the glass.