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Visitors to Jerome Winery’s veranda enjoy tremendous views of Jerome, the Verde Valley, and the red rocks of Sedona. Vines grow along the fence surrounding the patio and customers as well as passers-by are encouraged to pluck a few grapes. Tables and chairs under umbrellas, Romanesque statues, barrels, and a swing invite tasters to pass an afternoon with a bottle of wine and good friends. Music from the local bars drifts up the hill.
“People come here to have a good time and I’m an entertainer,” says John. “I tell them about the ghosts, the history of the town, the miners, and the shootouts. That’s one of the great advantages to being here – I have Jerome.”
Jerome Winery – 403 Clark St. in Jerome
Open Sunday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 928-639-9067; www.jeromewinery.com
Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery
You’d never mistake the Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery tasting room for France’s Loire Valley – with its adobe-style building, and cactus and juniper covering the hillside next to the 3,000 grape vines, it’s pure Arizona. And it seems visitors would have it no other way; the tasting room was packed at our midweek visit, and no one left without at least one bottle of wine.
“People are surprised we’re here and how good the wine is,” says co-owner Deb Wahl. “They figure it must taste like cactus!”
Rest assured, the 750 cases of Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, and seasonal varietals that Oak Creek produces each year taste nothing like prickly pear – the reds have a spicy, peppery taste while the whites are crisp with notes of citrus. About 40 percent of the grapes used are grown at the vineyard; the rest come from a 22-year-old vineyard in Willcox. The winery planted its first vines in 2002 and had its first harvest in 2004. To meet growing demand, Deb says she and co-owner Mike Pearce will begin importing 25 percent of their grapes from California.
Oak Creek’s wines are harvested and bottled by hand and fermented in stainless-steel barrels with French, American, and Hungarian wood chips – it takes nine months from harvesting to bottling. The winery sits on ten acres, with the vineyards on three. It’s the first winery Deb’s owned, but she’s worked at others in Germany, Australia, South Africa, and the Caribbean.
“It’s tough to grow here,” she says. “The soil is rocky, it’s dry and hot. With all the deer, javelina, gophers, and roadrunners it seems like we lose three for every two we plant. Would I do it again? No. But the grapes really do have a distinct taste. Plus we have so much fun with people. They might come in in a bad mood but within five minutes we yak it up and are laughing.”
Oak Creek’s tasting room is open seven days a week. The wines ($18-$24, with discounts for two or more bottles) are also sold at Bashas’ and served at local restaurants. Five tastes cost $5; ten tastes with a platter of cheese is $19 – the wine is served in glasses printed with Oak Creek’s logo, a squirrel on a barrel clutching a wine glass (“because we’re convinced the entire Arizona squirrel population lives here,” says Deb with a laugh). Picnickers can dine at tables surrounding the winery.
Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery – 1555 Page Springs Rd. in Cornville
Wine tasting seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 928-649-0290; www.oakcreekvineyards.net