Wine & Spirits Editorial Feature: Eat | Drink : Flagstaff

Once a stop on the way to the Grand Canyon, this southwestern mountain town has become a destination in its own right, says Elaine Chukan-Brown, dishing on the best new bars and restaurants.

My reviews for five top restaurant food & drink programs in the charming mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona, set on both the famed Highway 66 and the cross-continental railroad, appear now on the front page of Check them out there or in the current issue of the print magazine. Here are the direct links to the reviews online. 

Root Public House

Longtime local restaurant talents chef Dave Smith and bartender Jeremy Meyer have transformed what was a longtime dive bar south of the tracks into a destination for food and drink. Go early and head to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail while watching one of Arizona’s big sky sunsets; then head down to the dining room for dinner. Arizona peppers star …

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In a quirky, cozy space squeezed into the point of an odd-angled intersection, Caleb Schiff has gained a cult following for his pizzas. He starts with a wild-yeast dough that ferments for three days before he rolls it out, then tops it with house-made mozzarella or burrata and a select array of local and Italian ingredients. Cooked at 900˚F in a wood-fired oven he had custom built in Italy, the Neapolitan-style pies …

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Shift Kitchen & Bar

After stints at Frasca in Colorado and Ubuntu in California, husband-and-wife team Dara and Joe Rodgers set out to redefine mountain-town cuisine at Shift. In a spare, airy space in a historic building in downtown Flagstaff, they find creative ways to present regional ingredients, from the sorrel …

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Coppa Cafe 

Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti helped spark Flagstaff’s modern food scene when they opened Coppa in 2012, converting a nondescript stripmall space into a little piece of Europe. Konefal, who met his future wife and restaurant partner at culinary school in Italy, presents Arizona ingredients in unexpected guises, like the state’s own heritage grain, Sonoran white wheat, served risotto-style with a clay-baked duck egg, or local …

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FLG Terroir

Late last year, Fred Wojtkielewicz transformed local downtown favorite The Wine Lo into FLG Terroir, a conversation-friendly wine lover’s retreat. The space is warm and expansive, with stone-cut tile, an exposed beam ceiling and an open kitchen. The wine list, which centers around boutique wines from Europe and California, including unusual finds…

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I spent ten days in Arizona this month tracking the burgeoning wine and food scene there. Having lived in the state almost eight years, I’ve kept an eye on things for well over a decade curious to see how the quality progressed through the region. Though in 2012 I moved west to California, I’ve returned at least once, usually twice, each year since to check in on developments and see friends. In 2014, things in Arizona wine seemed especially exciting as the concentration of vineyards with quality viticulture was increasing and the quality of top notch wines were increasing too. This Spring I returned for a friend’s wedding and quickly made plans to come back this Fall to research the food scene as well as the wine as it was clear things were taking off in the state.

So, at the end of October I flew into Phoenix and took a week touring Arizona wine countries – Sonoita and Willcox in the southern part of the state, and Verde Valley up north – before then being part of a full day event in Phoenix hosted by the Arizona Vignerons Alliance. In the midst of checking out Arizona wine country I also checked in on the local food scene. It turns out Arizona grows top quality durum wheat, heritage grains, and some of the world’s best pistachios as well. Those plus locally grown produce and meats mean the local foods movement has taken over area restaurants for top quality local food – I got to visit several of those spots as well.

Following is the Instagram photo collection from my ten day intensive on the road throughout the state. It gives insight into Arizona grown grains, pistachios, the state’s wine regions, and restaurants.


Yes! Getting these babies back on Native territory! Look out Arizona – here I come!

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And here stands the future home of Garage East, what will be a neighborhood winery in the Agritopia area of Gilbert, Arizona. Agritopia is a planned community designed to have whatever residents need within the community including community gardens, and a farm that serves the neighborhood restaurants. Garage East is part of a community for craftsmen built to house small businesses, each selected to be unique while also complementing each other with the idea that together they can grow new ideas and create solutions to issues that may arise for any one of them. Included will be a machinist, a brewery, a farm stand, florist, salon, letterpress and Garage East. Garage East has made wines from Arizona grown grapes and will also be experimenting with fermenting fruits from around the Agritopia farm. The focus is on making Arizona wines for Arizona with a central focus on the neighborhood community. #arizona @garage.east

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This is Sonoran white wheat, one of the oldest varieties of cultivated wheat in North America, with its roots in Arizona. It had been essentially lost as newer, high yield varieties took over wheat farming in the last century. Then 20 years ago ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan inadvertently located it while speaking to a small-crop farmer in Mexico. She had a coffee can full of seeds Gary had never seen before so he traded her for them. The seeds were propagated in Arizona and studies of the straw in the state’s ancient adobe structures showed it to be the same variety. Today Sonoran white wheat is cultivated by a few small-scale farmers in Arizona where it is being used to make local, artisanal foods like heritage pasta, bread and even the pizza dough for Pizzeria Bianco. #arizona @pizzeriabianco @haydenflourmills

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Jeff Zimmerman grows heritage grains in Arizona and mills them into flour, distributing it to artisanal food producers throughout Arizona, while also packaging and selling it throughout the United States under his label, Hayden Flour Mills. His work with Sonoran white wheat has helped make the heritage variety available to chefs and bakers throughout its home state. He has also helped keep durum wheat in Arizona. Arizona durum is considered the highest quality durum in the world with at least 90% of the state’s durum crop being exported for use in Italy. Farmer-millers like Jeff though have made it available for pastas, breads and pizzas here. In Phoenix, for example, Hayden Flours go into Pizzeria Bianco pizza dough and bread (Jeff started Hayden Flour Mills in the back of a Pizzeria Bianco restaurant), as well as FnB breads, pastas and grain salads. Jeff also makes him own durum pasta sold to restaurants throughout the state. Here we caught him in the midst of his weekend Flour clean up. #arizona @haydenflourmills @pizzeriabianco @fnbrestaurant

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Sonoita. #arizona

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Tasting with Kelly and Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas in Sonita, first from barrel and tank and then across current releases in can and bottle. The wines across the board have a pleasing freshness coupled with generous flavor but most of all they taste completely of Arizona. The fruit notes changes but a kiss of agave nectar, a sprinkle of cocoa powder, flavors of molé and even the dusty red earth of the desert appear throughout. These are very much wines of place. The Bostocks are also doing exciting things making fresh wines with Brian Ruffentine for Garage-East that are breaking the mold by exploring making refreshing and charming young wines ideal for quick release as a thirst quencher for life in the hotter parts of the Arizona desert. Cool stuff. #arizona @doscabezas @kellybostock @garage.east

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Heading into Callaghan. #arizona @kentcallaghan @callaghanvineyards

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Thing one I like about Sonita: can’t get enough of that desert sky and landscape. #arizona

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Thing C I like about Sonoita… #arizona

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Dinner time get together with Arizona winemakers = taste wines of the world. #arizona

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Cochise. #arizona

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Dude. YES! #arizona @sandreckonervineyard

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Snakeskin in the middle of Rolling View Vineyard on the Willcox Bench. #arizona @piercebarbara @saeculumcellars

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Storm approaching over Turkey Creek. #arizona

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Oh would you just give me a big fat break I love Arizona sky too much #arizona

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Next time you’re in Willcox, eat here. The service is slow but damn the food is good. #arizona Unica on Hackett

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What is it?! It’s a wonder! Mystery of the desert! We saw it. #arizona

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Praise the Lord! We hit up my favorite roadside fry bread spot! Whoo hoo! My favorite. #arizona

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Yum. #arizona Caduceus 2015 Agostina white @puscifer

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This spot is going to be killer. Merkin Vineyards & Osteria opens Tuesday in downtown Cottonwood. They’ll be pouring Merkin wines but also serving a menu made from all Arizona sourced ingredients including produce primarily grown in Merkin gardens as well as pasta and bread made on site using Hayden Flours grown and milled here in Arizona (including Arizona heritage grains). The inside space here looks killer – awesome details throughout including an open kitchen and visible produce storage plus interiors designed and made by local independent designers, builders and artisans. Two years ago I got to see some of the pasta prototypes and this space before all the current innovations. It is really awesome and inspiring to see the development of those early ideas into the current form. #arizona @puscifer @haydenflourmills

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One of the most special spots I have gotten to spend time in any where, my second time visiting the 5000 ft elevation, steep slope terraced Judith Vineyard in Jerome. Last time we were able to follow it up with a vintage vertical back to 2008, including barrel samples. This time we followed up on a few of those vintages and tasted some of the newer varieties too, like this Nebbiolo planted in absurdly rocky, shallow soils of volcanic and caliché rock (read calcium, i.e. Limestone) – its first fruit vintage, 2015, is distinctive and delicious from barrel, super energizing and fresh. The site shows a totally unique dusty, almost chalky, glittering minerality across varieties, including the Malvasia. #arizona @puscifer

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Pro tip: get the fry bread again and always go for the powdered sugar option. #arizona

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Amazing. Arizona Vigneron Alliance live auction led by professional auctioneers. #arizona

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Brand new. Get on it. 33 Degrees. Malvasia Bianca and a Rhone red blend. Slurp. #arizona @puscifer

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Now entering a completely different world… (we ordered a mojito and margarita as safe bets.) #arizona @melktaylor

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Oh yes, Flagstaff, let’s do this. #arizona @flg_terroir

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Make a wish. #arizona

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Filling the need. #arizona @firecreekcoffee (that guy right there used to be my DJ. A few years ago one of my best friends unbeknownst to me lied to he and his DJ brother saying it was my birthday. Suddenly I had magical powers. If I called out a song they played it. We started with Prince and worked our way to AC/DC. I had no idea why the hell people kept bringing me drinks, asking me to dance and smiling at me until the DJ’s opened my favorite song with a HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELAINE!!! and I got excited to find out who the other Elaine was. Our faux-birthday dance party successfully filled the bar and the dance floor, got my other friend asked out on a date, and got me into one of my only bar fights. The guy was three times bigger than me and I made him scream like a hyena (don’t mess with a woman’s hat) then they kicked him out. All thanks to that guy. Marty. He used to be my DJ.) for anyone curious, I ordered an almond milk mocha and it’s the most bitter awesome thing ever. (Also, I only ever get in bar fights in Alaska or Arizona. You know how it is.)

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Life is so very full of blessing when we open to it. I just spent 45 minutes listening to a Hopi man named Elgean as he shared with me his people’s religion, his clan’s belief system, what family means for him and how his name means he always has somewhere to go, people who love him. Elgean is from the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America with structures carbon dated to the 12th century. He taught me how to read Hopi painting and kachina – here a mural I have walked by so many times and never understood and others here in Flagstaff too. Here in Flagstaff I am not truly part of this Native culture but because of how I grew up it has been as if I see into two worlds. It has sometimes meant being called to intervene on others’ behalf only from being willing to interact calmly with Native people and because I am also non-threatening for non-Natives since for most I pass. One of the worst situations I broke up a fight provoked by a non-Native and helped the Native man home to a safe place again. The teaching “for the grace of god go I” was really driven home for me living here in Flagstaff – seeing that it is merely coincidence that makes my life easier than many people that are mistreated by prejudice. Today Elgean shared so much time with me, it turned out, simply because I smiled and was willing to listen. His teaching me to read the murals and telling me about his clan’s history and values was his way of thanking me even though all I gave in return was a willingness to listen. Before we went our separate ways he prayed a blessing for me, taught me the words for it and gave me prayer corn to make my life stronger. We can be as angels to each other. May we all continue to rise again and again to the occasion and listen, show gratitude and in that way love. #arizona

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Dude. Currently drinking Colorado Cinsault. And I’m drinking it. #arizona #colorado Sutcliffe 2013 Cinsault on tap.

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Flagstaff classic: Diablo Burger. Meat will get us through. #arizona

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Old school bricks look like brownies made from local soils in downtown Flagstaff. #arizona

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Look what I have… Congratulations, @puscifer ! Looking forward to the read! #arizona

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And this run through Arizona is finally coming to a close… #arizona

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Growing Arizona Wine with Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan, JeromeMaynard James Keenan in his Judith Vineyard, Jerome, Arizona, November 2014

“No one knows if Nebbiolo works here, so why not just try it?” Maynard James Keenan tells me. “If it doesn’t work, I know Sangiovese does so I can graft over.”

We are walking the terraces of Keenan’s Judith Vineyard on a steep slope side of Jerome. The terraces are edged by white limestone boulders pulled from the site’s calcium laden caliche soils, and decomposed granite. We stand in direct morning sun. In the distance, red rock formations cut through stark blue sky. It feels like walking a moon scape carved with technicolor edges.

Keenan moved to Jerome in the mid-1990s, beginning to establish vines a few years later to bottle under his Caduceus Cellars, and Merkin Vineyards labels.

Though he is known more widely for his music career with Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer, Keenan has dedicated his attention these last ten-plus years to helping grow the health of the Arizona wine industry. While we’re there to discuss his work in wine, he spends much of the day helping me taste the work of other Arizona winemakers, then finally helping me connect with them for interviews as well.

As we cross terraces, Keenan points out small plantings of Malvasia, Tempranillo, and Aglianico. The site was originally planted to Cabernet before it had to be pulled due to Pierce’s Disease.

Finding Inspiration Through Wine

Maynard James Keenan in Marzo VineyardMaynard James Keenan discussing AZ wine in Marzo Vineyard, Cornville, Arizona, Nov 2014

As we move through the vineyard, I ask Keenan what made him want to make wine. The conversation begins first with how he fell in love with wine.

“Everyone has that bottle of wine that opens their palate for the first time.” Keenan says. For him that bottle came in a gift from his friend, Tori Amos, a 1992 Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet enjoyed alongside a steak in the mid-1990s.

Though his wine awakening came with the bottle from Amos, Keenan credits a close friend from his early 20s as preparing him to experience that moment. The friend, Keenan tells me, used to bring home wine for meals. The bottles were, in themselves, nothing special but together Keenan and his friend would do things like grill fish on the roof of a Boston apartment building, then enjoy it with wine for dinner.

The simple combination of wine with a meal established for Keenan the foundation he needed to realize the beauty of that early-1990s Silver Oak. When he tasted the Cabernet with steak, he explains, he recognized what his friend had been up to. Food and wine simply go together. Later it would prove to be Sangiovese and Bordeaux that took the experience a step further into making wine.

“It was a 1990 Soldera Reserva, and a 1982 Leoville Las Cases,” he tells me. “Those were the wines that made me want to make wine.” Soon after, he began planting the Judith Vineyard to Cabernet. Later Keenan would begin establishing other varieties.

The food and wine combination also cemented for Keenan the importance of tasting his wine with food and wine experts. “I like doing winemaker dinners,” he says. “I learn a lot about my winemaking by tasting with chefs, and somms that know what they’re doing.”

“I like approachable, ageable wines that go with food, and don’t beat me up.”

Over the last decade-plus, Keenan has been honing his approach in winemaking, and establishing the health of his vineyards. More recently he’s begun working with vineyard manager Chris Turner. The partnership clearly bolsters Keenan’s excitement for Arizona wine.

“I feel like I’m finding my way in the cellar, and finding my signature approach,” he explains. In the last few years, Keenan has honed in on using submerged cap fermentations. The technique seems to mesh well with the structural qualities of red varieties in the state giving both an intensity, and also a suppleness to the tannin. “Having Chris in the vineyard, I feel like I’m that much closer to being able to say, oh yeah, that’s who I am through the wine.”

We return to discussing the vineyard.

“I’m pretty excited about the Nebbiolo we’re growing,” he continues. “For me, my favorite bottles of wine, they’re Brunello, and then everything under that ends up being Barolo and Barbaresco. If we can get the Nebbiolo to work, I’ll feel like we won.”

What it means to win for Keenan includes surpassing what could seem like impossible odds.

Though the history of Arizona wine reaches back to 16th century Spanish monks making wine for sacrament, today’s industry remains young. Quality has been hard to predict. Many producers have relied on buying bulk wine already bottled elsewhere then labeled in state, rather than facing the challenges of winegrowing.

At the same time, a few producers have dedicated themselves to establishing quality. In recent years, their efforts have led to greater consistency found with certain wineries, and outside attention has followed.

Wines from Arizona have begun receiving recognition as more than just a novelty. Keenan’s Caduceus has won numerous awards in the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Jancis Robinson showcased Arizona Stronghold while touring her book with Linda Murphy, American Wine. Jon Bonne included Arizona’s Sand Reckoner 2012 Malvasia in San Francisco Chronicles‘s “Top-100 Wines” for 2013. Just this month in Food & Wine, Ray Isle lauded Dos Cabezas Wine Works, Sand Reckoner, and Callaghan Vineyards as part of the world of wines “New America.”

That shift in perspective has come thanks to a dedicated few, Keenan included, excited by the resplendent challenges of a state with every extreme — hail, monsoons, lack of water, unbearable heat followed by freezing temperatures in the same day, intense winds, high elevation, and snow. Much of the work has rested in simply researching and testing varieties best suited to such conditions.

Growing Arizona Wine

“From 1990, when we started, until about,” Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards starts then pauses. He’s describing the trajectory of vineyard work he’s seen in the Arizona wine industry since he and his family started planting their vineyards in 1990. “Well,” he continues. “from 1990 and still, it’s just been about finding varieties that work well in the state.”

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Arizona’s wine industry was experiencing its first swell of growth with vineyards being established in the Southeastern portions of the state.

It was during that time one of the state’s wine pioneers, Al Buhl, purchased a 20-acre vineyard on 40-acres of land in the Elgin area. Though the site had already been planted to a mash of primarily Bordeaux varieties, Buhl’s decision to plant the remaining half to his own tastes, including both Italian and Spanish varieties would help change the state. He was the first to plant Malvasia, one of the varieties that’s brought attention to Arizona’s wines.

It was Buhl who would establish Dos Cabezas, and hire Callaghan as its first winemaker.

Callaghan’s influence too cannot be overestimated. Listening to the leaders of the Arizona wine industry, Callaghan’s name is mentioned repeatedly. Rob Hammelman of Sand Reckoner got his start doing vineyard work alongside Callaghan. Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas Wineworks was inspired to start making wine after tasting one of Callaghan’s whites made for Dos Cabezas before Bostock started there. Today, Callaghan, and Bostock also pair with Keenan, and Tim White of Iniquuis Cellars to make the collaboration project, Kindred, a wine that showcased the state’s incredible structure in 2011, and its quaffability in 2012.

KindredKindred, a wine collaboration between Todd Bostock, Kent Callaghan, MJ Keenan, Tim White, Nov 2014

“The industry was small in the early 1990s,” Callaghan explains. “There was a little burst of growth when we started, and then another burst of growth in the mid-2000s. In the middle, it was pretty brutal for a while.”

What proves impressive about Callaghan’s work is not only that he started growing grapes in Arizona at a time few others did, but also that he survived the decade long economic dead zone that visited the state’s industry after his family started. In the middle, he continued to improve his winemaking.

Today, Todd Bostock owns Dos Cabezas Wineworks along with his family, and also collaborates with Dick Erath who started Cimarron Vineyard near Willcox. Erath is best known for his Erath Winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon, where Bostock also made his first Pinot Noir.

Bostock stepped into winemaking in the midst of what Callaghan called the brutal period. In the early 2000s, when he started with Dos Cabezas he worked several years essentially unpaid while also commuting several hours to a day job in Phoenix.

“I would stop off in Sonoita and talk to Kent,” Bostock tells me, describing how he coped with the years of working two full-time jobs in order to step into wine.

“One time I think he gave me $40,” Bostock says laughing. “I was crying to him that I had no money. We’d talk, and trade bottles.”

Once Bostock was able to relocate full-time to winemaking, he tells me, he found alongside Callaghan a community of local winemakers that would spend time tasting and talking about wines from around the world. When I mention Bostock’s story to Callaghan he’s surprised at first, and then agrees.

“There was this core group.” Callaghan says. “People that really love wine. We were spending a lot of money on other people’s wines, and drinking it. It’s like this process of osmosis. You know when your wine is great, and when it’s not subconsciously.” He reflects for a minute.

“You know, that [winemakers tasting wines from all over the world] more than anything else has probably helped the industry improve.” Callaghan says. “That’s how you discover new varieties to try planting too.”

Nikki Check, Director of Viticulture at the Southwest Wine Center of Yavapai College in Verde Valley, emphasizes the importance of varietal choices as Arizona continues forward in wine. Check’s background rests in sustainable agriculture emphasizing soil nutrient dynamics.

“A lot of our vineyard sustainability,” she explains, “comes down to how much we can make better decisions on our varietal selections.” Varieties that are better suited to a region need less intrusive management. “Then it’s a matter of having more reasonable crop estimates,” she continues. “Because together that would then result in less water usage, less pest potential, and all those things.”

Bostock and Callaghan both are experimenting with small plantings of a wide range of varieties.

When I ask Callaghan to name a few showing well in his vineyard he immediately lists Tannat, and Graciano. They’re the newest of his plantings, but already thriving. He’s also trying Gruner Veltliner, he tells me just to see how it does.

Bostock has found Petite Sirah to be well suited to his site, as well as Rhone varieties both reds and whites. He’s experimenting now too with Picpoul Blanc.

Thanks to Keenan’s efforts, Buhl’s Vineyard is also getting revitalized with a range of both Italian and Spanish varieties.

In discussing inspiration from other people’s wines, Bostock, Callaghan, and Keenan each also mention the work being done by Ann Roncone at Lightning Ridge Cellars.

“Her new Aglianico is the best I’ve had in Arizona in quite a stretch,” Callaghan tells me.

Cresting the Wave with Quality

Maynard James Keenan, Southwest Wine CenterMaynard James Keenan discussing his acre of Negroamaro growing at the Southwest Wine Center, Nov 2014

The ground swell of quality that’s been rising in Arizona led in the last few years to establishing a two-year Viticulture and Enology degree through the Southwest Wine Center. Keenan established the first acre of vineyard, a Negroamaro block, for the Center that helped secure its status as an official program, rather than just a series of classes.

The program is also just beginning to partner with University of Arizona. With both programs already known for their work in agriculture, the partnership raises exciting questions about if they might work towards a future four-year viticulture degree.

“I think we’re at the crest of a wave where hopefully quality is taking over,” Michael Pierce, Director of Enology at the Southwest Wine Center, explains. “There is an awakening of knowledge, and [recognition of] what to do [to make quality wine].” Pierce also makes wine for his own label Saeculum Cellars, and his vineyard partnership with his father, Bodega Pierce.

After gaining winemaking experience in New Zealand, Oregon, and Tasmania, Pierce credits Tim White of Iniquuis Cellars for helping to bring him back to Arizona wine. Both White and Pierce previously worked for Arizona Stronghold before leaving for other projects. White’s work with Stronghold helped establish the quality that gained it national recognition. It was during that time, White offered Pierce a job, but it was the unique conditions of Arizona that brought Pierce back.

“There is a unique terroir here,” Pierce explains. “We get a lot of dried herbs, desert spices, the scent of palo verde in bloom. As people get a taste for it, and see quality producers are there, the attention will continue to grow both in state and out.” Palo verde is a tree common through the Southwest and unusual for its ability to photosynthesize through its bark, rather than only its leaves.

“The thing I really like about Arizona is our unique terroir,” Check, agrees. “I think it’s about low fertility soils. We get a lot of chalky, earthy tones, rather than the real fruity tones you might get elsewhere. I feel really lucky to be part of the boutique style production happening here that’s really setting the standard for quality in the state.”

Maynard James Keenan pouring JudithMaynard James Keenan playfully “somm’ing it up” as he pours Caduceus Judith, Nov 2014

Back in Keenan’s cellar Gillian Welch is playing. We’ve just tasted through some Caduceus whites, and a dry Lei Li rosé of Nebbiolo Keenan named for his wife. He’s opening now a vertical of the Caduceus Judith bottling, wine from the vineyard where we started the day, and he named for his mother.

The first vintages of Judith pour 100% Cabernet. As the vines began dying, however, Tempranillo was planted. In the middle vintages, then, Tempranillo begins to accent the Cabernet, then the roles switch and Cabernet accents the Tempranillo, until in recent vintages it disappears.

Tasting the vintages I am struck first and most by the site. I can taste the hillside we walked earlier. The fruit flavors shift with age, and as we move from the Bordeaux to Spanish variety, but more than that the site shows through. It’s a scent of chalky earth moonrock, dried herbs, and light spice, lit up from behind by the fruit of its variety.


This week’s article “In Defense of Natural Wine” was rescheduled to next Wednesday to allow this piece on Arizona wine.

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In October 2012 while visiting Arizona, I met Brittania, a young woman that a former professional colleague of mine knew well. Her family story struck me at the time as one that was important to listen to within the climate of Arizona’s series of anti-immigration reform bills, including but not limited to SB 1070.

Arizona SB 1070 makes it legal, during law enforcement stops (which need not be documented), for a law enforcement officer to demand papers from an individual “suspected to be an illegal alien” to prove that that person has a right to be within the United States. Failure to have adequate papers immediately counts as a misdemeanor, thereby forcing the individual to court, where further lack of proof could lead to arrest and deportation.

I did not share Brittania’s story in October 2012. However, with the recent protest on the US-Mexico border reuniting families that have been separated by deportation, as well as the discussion on immigration reform that has begun this week, I decided now was an appropriate time to share it.

The question of immigration is also relevant to wine country, and the U.S. agricultural industry more broadly (one of the top forces of the U.S. economy), as the legal and political climates surrounding the issue impact the available work force within wine country, and agricultural regions more broadly. California wine regions, in particular, have suffered increased challenges with finding adequate work forces to harvest when desired. The Napa Valley Vintners recently made a formal statement in support of Immigration Reform in the United States.

Though aspects of Brittania’s story may appear particular to Arizona, it highlights the reality of concern for families dealing with immigration issues more generally. While Arizona has received a lot of media attention on immigration issues in the last several years, California went through serious changes immediately prior and during, and numerous other states throughout the nation have as well. In other words, it is a national reality.

The following is a transcript of parts of my conversation with Brittania.


Listening to Brittania


“My mom moved here when she was 20 years old with my dad. They have 3 kids. We were all born here. I am the oldest. I have two younger brothers. One is in high school, the other is 10. On September 26, my mom was stopped by a cop. She was driving to work. On the way there she looked back to double check on my brother.

“Every day my 10-year old brother bikes to school, so my mom goes the same route to check on him. She turned to look at my brother on his bike and a cop pulled her over. He said she was going too slow. She was going 40 in a 45. But the ticket doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say why he pulled her over. There is no violation claim, only that she has no Arizona ID.

“He started asking a lot of questions–where she lived, what she was doing here. He asked a lot of questions, but none about traffic. She has an Oregon license. We lived there. It is valid, and she has insurance. The ticket has no charge. It only says she has no valid Arizona license, and that she has one month to go to court and get one. She can’t get an Arizona license because of how the law works here. But if she doesn’t get one she could be deported.

“I am trying to help. My mom has raised us. She raises my brothers. I am in college. My youngest brother is 10. My parents were divorced last year. My dad lives in Utah. I talked to lawyers. They said she can be held and detained, or she could be let go. Here they don’t know. But she could be detained. There is no one else to take care of my brothers.

“My mom has been in the country continuously for 20 years. She works in customer service. She has been in the same job for the last 5 years. We were in Oregon, but we moved to Arizona when I was a freshman in high school. My parents came into California 20 years ago. My dad had family here in the US. They all got Amnesty. They are all citizens, so my parents came too. But Amnesty ended and my parents didn’t get it.

“When I was 6 my dad started a residency case, trying to be legal for the whole family. He would go to court every year, show his kids were in school and had good grades, that he had a business. It took more than 10 years for him to get residency, but it didn’t go to my mom.

“My dad is a resident. All three of her kids are citizens. In a year I will be 21, then I can open a case for my mom. But now because she was pulled over, my mom is forced to open a case on her own. We’re trying to figure out what to do. My mom has never committed any crime. She’s been here 20 years. She has always worked, and paid her taxes. She has 3 kids. She raises them. But a family petition may not work. She might not have all the requirements. I am trying to do what I can to help.

“When I graduated from high school, I told my mom I wasn’t going to move for school because I wanted to stay and help with my brothers, but she told me no, that now I was supposed to go to college. She told me I’m supposed to go to college.

“My mom does everything for us. My brother is a Junior in high school, and a football player. The team had a trip planned to go to Ireland to play football. She wanted him to be able to go. So she worked extra for 2 years to save money so they could afford for him to go. She talked to local businesses and they helped raise money for him too. She worked for more than 2 years to save $4000 so they could afford for him to go to Ireland in his Junior year for a one-week trip.

“She gives all her money for her kids, and tries to help my brothers get what they need to feel like they fit in. My mom is always in positive attitude to keep the kids up beat. She maintains herself for the sake of her kids. She calls her mom back in Mexico. It’s the only time my mom will cry. I think she is the nicest person, so respectful, always looking out for others, and now she needs all the support she can get. I am just trying to do whatever I can here.”


From the NY Times: “According to a recent study by Colorlines, a news Web site focusing on racial issues, about 205,000 people who were deported between 2010 and 2012 had children who were American citizens and living in this country. There are no solid estimates of the number of deportees’ children who are not citizens.

When we met, Brittania was a sophomore in college majoring in Special Education, with a focus on Elementary Education. In her Freshman year she took a Seminar course on immigration in the United States, visited a detention center, and attended a conference on immigration. The experience changed her views of the issue, and made her realize the difficulties of her family situation. Since, she has chosen to do organizing work to raise awareness of immigration issues in Arizona. Outside her own classes, she also volunteers in elementary schools, working in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms helping students that need assistance with reading, or homework, and also assisting teachers.

Prior to her mother’s deadline, an immigration lawyer was able to help change the ruling so that Brittania’s mother did not have to appear in court. The reality of Arizona law, however, is that if her mother is ever met by another law enforcement officer, she could find herself in the same situation again, facing deportation.


A debate on overhauling current U.S. immigration legislation has just begun in Washington. Obama spoke this week in support of the overhaul. To read more:

To read more on the recent US-Mexico border protest:

To read more on the role of immigration on the U.S. workforce, and economy:

* Unions’ views:

The question of immigration is foundational to U.S. wine country, and agricultural work more generally. To read more:

The Washington Post on Immigration and the Economy:

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Visiting Flagstaff in March: Mixed Signs of the Season

Jr and I are back in Flagstaff, Arizona visiting friends for her Spring Break. Though I’m born and raised in Alaska, I grew up in Flagstaff. Our lives here included more than seven years with me going from being simply a graduate student of Philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, to becoming a professional philosopher teaching at Northern Arizona University here. It’s been over a year now since I resigned from my position in academia, about nine months since we moved from the Southwest. The thing about Flagstaff? It stays much the same. Nice most of all to be back here with friends.

Per request from some friends and a few readers, tomorrow we’ll be driving South to Cottonwood to taste with AZ Stronghold, and Pillsbury Wines.

Here’s a few photos from walking around town that give you a feel for the place.

Classic AZ-Drive Thru Liquor

Classic Arizona: All Signs Point to the Inessential Drive-Thru Liquor Store

Buds not yet open

March offers conflicted signs of the season: buds not yet open

Multi-colored leaves

Leaves of the bush in colors still turned from Winter frost

Fir and Sky

What kept me in Flagstaff so long: sky sky blue blue sky. The clarity and high contrast colors of life at elevation

Birch and Sky

Winter Birch cut against the blue blue sky


Stopping by my friend’s place for an afternoon chat: Caleb Schiff’s Pizzicletta

Caleb Delivering Bread to the CSA

Walking with Caleb to deliver Pizzicletta’s bread to the local CSA

A town still ready for snow

A town with no snow still ready for winter: it’ll come again soon. It always does.

Sugar Mamas Bakery

Visiting another friend’s, Lisa Born, bakery, Sugar Mamas

Some of the Sugar Mamas goods

Their first day open two years ago I bought out all the cupcakes and brought them to campus for the Existentialism class. Sisyphus’s rock is easier with frosting

The town defined--Route 66, the Mountain, 4x4 truck, and the tracks

Flagstaff defined: old shops on Route 66 in view of the Sacred San Francisco Peaks, with a 4×4 truck crossing the trans-continental Railroad line



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In one 24-hour period I just went from the following in Arizona (full disclosure: these pics I actually took two weeks ago just prior to my trip to New York. Trust me. I drove through this same scene last night after landing in Phoenix from New York).

To this afternoon, with Katherine, the following in California.

(Have I mentioned there is no water in Arizona?)

Quick version of the story: we’re happy. Also, how smart am I? To drive across the Mojave Desert I brought Katherine, and she brought homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Tomorrow: photos from an amazing visit with Angela and Jason Osbourne of A Tribute to Grace. It was honestly one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had. They’re beautiful people, and the wines are more appropriately named than I could explain. Write-up to follow.


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Chateauneuf du Pape: The Appellation and Style

click on comic to enlarge

Thanks in part to the special attention of Robert Parker, the Southern Rhone appellation Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP) celebrates a meaty International reputation. Incredibly, this one appellation of Southern Rhone produces more wine than all of Northern Rhone. However, it also hosts a wider selection of grape varieties than its sister appellations in the North.

CDP is firmly intertwined with Papal history, having been established as “The Pope’s New Castle” after the pope moved from Rome to Avignon in 1308. With its famous residents, the area’s wines developed a prestigious and popular reputation surpassing the attention of other wine regions of France. Unfortunately, phylloxera also hit CDP in 1870, earlier than other regions of France and so deeply impacted wine production of the region, though it has now long since recovered.

Records indicate that wines from the region pre-phylloxera were much lighter in style than how they are understood today.

Today, the appellation allows both red and white blends to be produced, though not rose’s. Eighteen grape varieties are allowed in a CDP blend, though thirteen of those are seen as most traditional to the style. The appellation predominately makes red wines, with only 1 in 16 bottles being a white CDP blend.

The style tends to be understood as earthy, rich bodied, with a range of berry flavors, alongside darker characteristics such as tar, leather, tobacco, truffle, herbs, and even garlic. With its darker and fuller style it is rarely described as approachable, and can often present as angular or even coarse in its younger years.  Some even describe the classic CDP as heavy and brooding. Compared to other wine regions of France, this is not a wine known for aging into elegance or grace. However, for many this chewable, dark quality is exactly what makes the wine so alluring.

Well known wine critic, Robert Parker, one of the region’s great champions, who helped increase its popularity in the States and raise its selling price too, outlines the benefits of CDP wine as both intellectual and hedonistic–there are impressive layers of flavor here, alongside a structure and presentation to reflect upon.

The Wine Loft, Flagstaff, AZ: A CDP Tasting

the Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape Wine Loft Wine Tasting Line-up

As a special treat, The Wine Loft, Flagstaff, AZ hosted a Chateauneuf du Pape tasting, offering with it both an educational and hedonistic attention–a balance capturing Parker’s own account of these wines at their best. Unsurprisingly, the tasting was popular here in town showing a significant turn out–the CDP, after all, carries a name recognizable by wine lovers.

* Domaine Pierre Henri Morel 2010 Cotes du Rhone Villages, Laudun Blanc

70% Grenache Blanc, 30% Bourbelanc

The tasting opened with a Rhone white not local to the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation specifically, but from Southern Rhone more generally. The Laudun Blanc from Domaine Pierre Henri Morel showed as an easy, fresh, smooth textured white with just a touch of heat in the mouth.

The wine presents on the nose with citrus zest of lemon and lime, with light accents of lime juice, as well as subtle hints of fresh herbs. The mouth follows with the citrus shifting more towards grapefruit and a fresh candied element. There is nice jaw biting acidity here, 14% alcohol and a medium-plus finish.

* Domaine Pierre Henri Morel 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape

85% Grenache, 5% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre

The CDP portion of the tasting began with the Laudun Blanc’s sister red, the 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape. This wine opens with red fruit of cherry and berry, blended smoothly with vanilla, lavendar, and light white pepper. It warms into dried fruit and spice offering a ripe but not jammy presentation. This red is both approachable and bright, without being too much fruit reduction. Instead, it is an easy, food wine. There is medium-plus acidity, medium tannin, and medium-long finish with 14.5% alcohol.

* Telegramme 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape

90% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre

The second label CDP for Telegraphe, the Telegramme, is a less expensive, lighter bodied style to its more buxom older sister. It offers red fruit of cherry, raspberry, and light strawberry, with spice, light lavender, and faint mushroom accents. The Telegramme is not flabby, but instead pleasantly plump. This wine offers medium acidity, medium tannin, and a medium finish with 14.5% alcohol.

The Telegramme is a popular red for its younger, more approachable rendition of the well-known CDP style. That said, I’ll admit this is not my go to wine. I appreciate the Telegraphe, and would readily buy it when I’m looking for a wine of its type and price range. But I generally want more structure and complexity than the 2009 Telegramme shows.

What the Telegramme has to offer is vivid fruit, on a generally clean presentation. I’m reluctant to recommend it, however, in that you still pay higher prices as demanded by the appellation, even if not as high as the Telegraphe, without getting the rich complexity expected from the style. For that reason, if you’re looking for a red fruit driven wine, I’d recommend spending less on a non-CDP red before grabbing the Telegramme.

* Domaine du Galet des Papes 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape

80% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre, 5% Syrah, 5% Vaccarese, 5% Cinsault

The Domaine du Galet des Papes is a cohesive, slightly strange CDP only in the sense that it wants more age or more air. It clearly carries those angular, less polished elements the appellation is known for. Currently it drinks funky, dirty earth elements, hints of petrol, and with heat in the mouth in front of distinct red fruit.. That said, there is good structure here that will support the overall flavors deepening into a nicely balanced wine. I want to taste this again in several years. The wine offers medium acidity, medium tannin, and a medium finish, with 14.5% alcohol.

* Chapoutier 2005 La Bernardine Chateauneuf du Pape

Mostly Grenache, Some Syrah

The 2005 “La Bernardine” CDP by Chapoutier had the advantage in this tasting of bringing the most age with it on a style of wine that, generally speaking, wants age. I’ve also reviewed “La Bernardine” before but will post notes for it here as it was the culmination of The Wine Loft tasting.

The Chapoutier CDP is the most earthy and grounded of the selection, showing concentrated fruit of red cherry, date, and dried plum alongside licorice, lightly meaty and spiced elements. The acidity here stays up at medium-plus, with medium tannin, medium-plus finish, and 14% alcohol. There is a lot more age in this bottle, and it is drinking nicely now. This is a tasty, rich, well-balanced wine.


Thank you to Fred Wojtkielewicz, and The Wine Loft for hosting this treat of a tasting.

The Wine Loft, Flagstaff, AZ is located at 17 N. San Francisco St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001 USA, UPSTAIRS (it’s a loft). 928-773-9463.

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Though a town of only 65,000 people, Flagstaff features a wealth of local entrepreneurs and artisans. Downtown shows a concentration of shops that bring together the work of local artists, and the investment of residents wishing to run a business of their own.

In the last week, a new example of such effort opened on one of Flagstaff’s main streets–North San Francisco. I was able to interview the owners a mere three days after their debut in order to hear their story of the very early stages of starting a business.

A Brand New Business in Downtown Flagstaff: Flagstaff Soap

the entrance to Flagstaff Soap

Friday 1 June 2012 a new shop opened in downtown Flagstaff featuring all natural, preservative free, handmade soaps, and locally made soap accessories. Many of the products have been made by the owners themselves. Those they have been unable to produce on their own (such as pottery soap dispensers) they have instead sourced from local artisans.

Justin Poehnelt and Alisha Allen

Justin and Alisha helping a customer

Calling Flagstaff home for a little more than two years, Justin and Alisha decided to invest in the community by opening a shop for locally made, handmade soaps and associated accessories. During the recent First Friday Art Walk, June 1, 2012 they opened the shop doors to the public. The cozy downtown location offers not only their handmade soaps and accessories, but also art and goods by local artists. The soap dishes and wash cloths were made by Justin and Alisha; the pottery soap dispensers by local earth artists; and the photography on the walls by local art student Jenelle Cordova (who was able to sell her first print at the recent First Friday Art Walk, thanks to Justin and Alisha showcasing her work on their shop walls).

Originally from Alabama, Alisha took an interest years ago in natural products for the sake of both her own health, and that of the environment. However, after researching ingredients and labeling she discovered two things. First of all, many ingredients named “natural” are not actually that healthy for the body, or for how they impact the environment due to associated production practices. Secondly, legislation allows a great deal of latitude in labeling such that it can be difficult to determine the actual source of many ingredients. As an example, natural products often list ingredients “derived from Coconut” or as a “Coconut Based Surfactant.” The reality of this marker is that an incredibly broad range of chemicals are derived from coconut, including some that are actually irritating for the human body such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS).

Troubled by how unreliable “all natural” commercial goods would seem to be, Alisha began researching what personal and home products she could make herself.

Raised in Wisconsin, Justin chose to pursue a career in the National Forest Service, and began working sites throughout the United States. Eventually invited to work on the Salmon Challis National Forest, a 4.3 million acre management area in East-Central Idaho, Justin found himself in the Western United States, and the massive undeveloped outdoor regions of the West. Included within the Salmon Challis is also the largest wilderness area in the Continental United States, the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness Area, a 1.3 million acre protected zone including massive mountains and rugged rivers.

It was there in the Salmon Challis that Justin and Alisha met, as Alisha worked during that time for the Forest Service as well. Eventually the two of them were relocated to the Coconino National Forest outside of Sedona, one of the most diverse forest regions in the United States, a job that introduced them to the unique qualities of the Southwest, and helped them discover Flagstaff.

Hand and Locally Made Products

Flagstaff Soap’s Laundry Soap, Pumice Stones, and Handmade Washcloths

After several years of making personal and home cleaning products for herself, Alisha eventually decided to see if she could work towards weaning herself off of all commercially made renditions. As a result, together she and Justin have been developing recipes for more effective and healthy soaps for several years. As they describe it, Justin focuses on the technical aspects of formulating the right balance of oils and the best source for necessary ingredients, while Alisha takes on the expressive elements of scent (establishing the right proportions of essential oils) and appearance for their soaps, as well as much of the overall decor for the shop itself. Together they’ve been able to produce not only a range of bar soaps, but also a liquid all purpose soap, and a powdered laundry detergent they say is both more effective and better priced than commercially made ‘all-natural’ laundry soaps. They are currently also testing several other products that they hope to feature in the next couple of months.

After moving to Flagstaff, Alisha chose to leave the Forest Service, and shifted her attention to working within the local downtown community. As a result, she gained perspective into the reality of retail in this mountain town–the best way to manage shop space, and the economic cycles that come with the seasons. After getting her sense for Flagstaff’s local business scene, and recognizing that together they had developed something valuable, Justin and Alisha decided to make the leap and open their own establishment. Today, Alisha’s focus is entirely in Flagstaff Soap. Justin remains working for the National Forest Service but is with them part-time this summer in order to concentrate on the successful start of their venture.

a selection of Flagstaff Soaps’ Handmade Soaps

To keep the overhead low, the two chose to rent a smaller space in the downtown area–a location big enough to invite foot traffic customers in, and small enough to keep rent lower. Additionally, they made all of the display tables and racks for the shop themselves, with Justin building the wooden furnishings and counter, and the two of them painting and creating their distressed styling.

Other products within the shop have also been produced by the two of them with Justin cutting the wooden soap dishes, and Alisha (and her sister) knitting wash clothes.

I asked Justin and Alisha what soaps are their personal favorites, and they both agreed that they enjoy the more earthy scents best–they both specifically named their Patchouli Jo-wood. However, they’ve also enjoyed discovering which scents are most popular in shop. So far, the peppermint (which is already almost sold out till the next batch firms up), and the lemon poppy seed have been the best sellers. They also are big fans of their laundry soap.

Custom Products and Developing the Business

shop owner, Luna

Alisha and Justin emphasize that their interest is in establishing a strong customer focus. For one, Flagstaff Soap has already begun taking custom orders. In the few days since opening, customers have already requested special scents, but also special treatments. As a result, the business has even now begun to fill special orders, including an all natural anti-fungal treatment soap, as well as other custom scented soaps.

They are also able to develop special gift packages for events like bridal parties or baby showers.

In addition to developing custom soaps and gift packages, Alisha and Justin hope to hear feedback from their customers both in regards to their current offerings, and for what other products are wanted. Justin has been developing a shaving bar, but also jokes that he needs someone to test it for him since Alisha won’t let him shave his beard (check-in with Justin if you’re interested). They have plans to work on an especially moisturizing line, but can also steer the other direction towards a more cleaning (oil-cutting) soap.

They’ve also been testing in shop a citrus oil designed to do household cleaning.

To serve the needs of their dear dog, Luna, Alisha and Justin have also been developing their “Luna Line”–products for pets specifically designed to both clean and shine animal fur–that they intend to make available in shop once they’ve perfected it.

Their goals for the business include being completely up front about product ingredients, and offering what the customers need and want. They’ve succeeded in their personal goals of developing soaps they feel good about, and that their friends and family enjoy. Now they want to further discover what works best for their new customers as well.


Take a visit to Flagstaff Soap’s shop front either in person or online.

Flagstaff Soap Company, 21 N San Francisco, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. 928-774-9178.

Their web front is still in development, currently offering a handful of items. They plan to see which products in their Flagstaff shop are the most popular to then offer those online as well. If you are interested in ordering something online by request that you don’t otherwise see featured on the web front, you can also email them: info (at) flagstaffsoap (dot) com .

If you’re interested in requesting a custom order either for scents or treatments, speak with Alisha and Justin directly. Keep in mind that it takes a month to make a fresh batch of soap–the time it takes for the bars to cure well enough to clean and lather properly.

They briefly described the process to me — once the initial formula is mixed the soap sits up to 48 hours in mold. It is then cut into bars but needs to sit for a month to cure. Though their soaps have no preservatives, Justin explains they get better with age. The firmer the soap, the drier the bar becomes, the more it is able to lather and last. Still, it is ready for use after a month of curing.

Congratulations and the Best of Luck to Justin and Alisha!

the happy adventurers

To follow Justin and Alisha’s progress with Flagstaff Soap visit them in person, or read their blog at . There you’ll find pictures of the shop space as it was when they took the lease, and photos of Justin’s progress with making the furniture and shop counter by hand, as well as facts about the products they make, and the reasons they recommend avoiding some otherwise common natural ingredients.

As if that wasn’t enough, the two of them are also just damned photogenic. I couldn’t take a bad photo of them during the morning I spent with them in shop.

Congratulations again to both of you. I look forward to being a witness to how your work continues to develop.



Thank you to Alisha and Justin for talking with me about your new venture! The very best of luck and joy to you. Lots of pets to friendly Luna too.


Next we get back to wine.

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Pizzicletta, South of the Tracks

the wood fire stove at Pizzicletta–custom made and imported from Italy

Flagstaff rests 1/4 of the way between LA and Chicago heading East along the transcontinental tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The town is divided by the line that helped establish its existence. Traffic stops, heading North to South, across the full length of Flagstaff at every road but one, where the only train bridge in town hovers above Route 66 allowing auto traffic through. At the height of its business, in the first half of 2008, before the recession hit the United States, BNSF boasted 120 trains through Flagstaff every day. That’s all cars in town stopping every 20 minutes to let the locomotive go by. Today the railroad hits on average 80 times a day but with a longer caravan and twice as many engines to pull it.

Flagstaff rests a mere hour from the Grand Canyon, and offers snow skiing (both alpine and nordic) in the Winter months. As a result, the town celebrates a (mostly) thriving tourist economy. The train steps in here too by defining what residents understand as local versus tourist areas of town. North of the tracks, in the heart of downtown Flagstaff, tourists readily visit with shops, bars, and restaurants drawing on such spending. South of the tracks, however, has tended not to pull in as much tourist attention, and so its come to be known as the locals area of downtown. As a result, businesses choosing to place themselves in this South Flagstaff neighborhood could be seen as making a statement of investing in the local community economy, while also risking surviving on less potential tourist influx. Historically, business turn over in this area has been high.

Interestingly, the economic downturn since 2008 has also coincided with a greater development of the area South of the tracks. Locals began moving their businesses to the neighborhood, partially to save on rent, and restaurants started opening doors in the less popular locale as well. Tinderbox, a highly reviewed comfort food kitchen, was one of the first in this post-2008 period to succeed at such a project, starting first as a local favorite, then soon finding themselves featured in multiple high gloss magazines.

Enter Pizzicletta.

Caleb Schiff

Caleb Schiff dressing a pizza with house-made tomato sauce

Having earned his Masters degree in Geology, Caleb worked for several years running a lab studying climate change at Northern Arizona University (NAU). The work consisted of 3 months spent taking samples of lake sediments in the mountains of South Central Alaska (very close to my home town, coincidentally), and 9 months of studying those samples while also supervising student projects.

Just prior to having started his work at NAU Caleb attended a conference in Iceland where he did a pre-defense presentation of his Geology thesis, then traveled to Nuremberg to visit his brother for a week. Visiting Europe for the first time he decided to take the train to Milan (again, with the trains), where he experienced wood fire pizza and breads for the first time first hand.

Caleb had spent high school and college working in bakeries, and had enjoyed the same work as a hobby through graduate school. With such an interest, the vision and flavor of wood fire ovens stayed with him after his visit to Milan. Beginning his professional lab work for NAU, Caleb was able to purchase a home in Flagstaff, and in so doing realized he could build his own wood fire oven in the back yard. Experimenting with dough and pizza recipes became such a passionate hobby friends began asking him more and more regularly when he was going to take it further.

Finally, with the idea of a pizza restaurant becoming clearer, Caleb began developing a business plan on the side, then flew to New York City to sample pizza places in Brooklyn. Eventually, the reality of his work life hit him–he spent most of his time looking at mud, and not much interacting with people, something he otherwise enjoyed. Reflecting on the value of his established career, in relation to the value of his well-developed hobby, Caleb decided to take a risk. In October, 2010, he made the leap by quitting his job at NAU with the plan of first taking a break biking across Italy (to taste even more pizza, wine, and gelato), and then work towards designing and opening his own pizzeria in Flagstaff.

Opening Pizzicletta

one of the entrances to heaven, Pizzicletta

Upon his return from Italy in late 2010, Caleb had gotten almost all the pieces in place for opening his own restaurant. All except a location. Walking through town one day with his friend Derek, the owner of another local food favorite, Diablo Burger, a For Rent sign showed up on a 650 foot space that had been occupied for several years by a miscellany stuff shop.

Though the space was questionable for its size, decor, and location South of the tracks, Caleb contacted the landlord and had a conversation. After a few weeks of waiting, the landlord invited Caleb to investigate the space. Though it hosted wood paneling walls, and awkward all drop ceilings, he had a hunch he could make it work and took the lease. In April 2011, bringing in an architect/designer, and having secured demolition permits, Caleb’s friends came together and started tearing the space apart. It turned out, behind the space’s 70s facade, Caleb had invested in a beautiful industrial-style venue with impressive light and a demand for focused, smart seating.

On July 5, 2011 Pizzicletta opened with a mere 15 seat capacity in a 650 square foot space. At the end of 2011 Pizzicletta won the Best of Flagstaff, Best New Restaurant Award. By the beginning of 2012, the restaurant had already been featured in several National magazines.

Life As Pizzicletta

fresh ingredients on hand on the pizza station, Pizzicletta

As Caleb explains it, the advantage of hosting a restaurant in a small space is mutli-fold. By keeping the overhead low, the pressure stays low too. With seating for only 15 at a time, he is also able to take the time to focus directly on the quality of his dough, and make contact one-on-one with at least 90% of his customers.

To fit as many people as possible in the space at a time, Caleb opted for a community table. Though he was advised against the idea of sitting strangers next to each other, customers have responded with general appreciation for the approach. Its worked to take advantage of the small space while also emphasizing the friendly nature of his business.

I asked Caleb to tell me what he thinks he offers through his restaurant, and what his goals for the business happen to be. Both questions could be answered the same way.

Caleb explains that he likes making people happy. He has seen in all his baking experience, since high school, that when the pizza is perfect that happiness happens. Additionally, in his view, a good restaurant is equal parts entertainment and great food.

The happiness response from the public has been thorough. Pizzicletta regularly celebrates repeat customers. It’s one of the few places in town where a pizza lover will visit one day, then return the very next day with friends. (My own introduction to the restaurant was by a friend that invited me to have dinner with him just a week after Pizzicletta opened last summer. It was the fifth night that week my friend had eaten there. He’d also been there twice the week before.) Locals appreciate the restaurant being established in the South of the tracks neighborhood, and the idea that Flagstaff’s long standing resident has invested in serving good food in the community. Pizzicletta has also gained enough of a quality reputation that tourists regularly travel into South Flagstaff to enjoy the good food.

In getting his restaurant started, Caleb was invited by Serious Eats, a national food news blog, to write a regular column about the process of opening a pizzeria. What’s shown through the writing is Caleb’s passionate commitment to his Pizzicletta life, and his own commitment to living a life for what he enjoys and believes in.

The story has been inspiring to readers across the country. Most expressive of this inspiration is the family that traveled all the way from Buffalo, New York to Flagstaff, Arizona just because the father had been following Caleb’s Serious Eats column, and they wanted to visit the restaurant one man cared so much to start.

The rest of the story is that running Pizzicletta is also a huge demand. In the summers, the restaurant is open 6 days a week with Caleb doing prep, cooking pizza, picking up wood in Phoenix, and managing the general details of a business. In winter, Pizzicletta is open 5 days a week. Asking Caleb how he handles the busy schedule of a keeping a young business going, he tells me about the associated fatigue, then explains at the worst of it, it is seeing how happy his customers are that makes it worthwhile. Their joy reinvigorates him to do it again the next day. When it comes to choosing to change his life, leave academia, and open a pizzeria, he has no regrets.

Pizzicletta’s Menu: Salad, Pizza, Wine, Gelato (and a bit of beer)

Pizzicletta focuses on simplicity. The pizza menu opens with a Green Goat salad, then hosts a handful of regular wood fire pizza options, as well as nightly pizza specials. In the summer, Caleb has also begun integrating Sunday Farmers’ Market Fresh Produce Specials. The dessert option focuses on a nightly gelato, often with two different flavors featured.

Inspired by his experience in Italy, Caleb has developed a well chosen, quality Italian wine list–a range of whites and reds showing a range of types but each meant to go well with food. Additionally, he serves two beers on tap.

Pizzicletta, 203 West Phoenix Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86001. 928-774-3242.


To read Caleb’s Serious Eats Column “Building a Pizzeria” check it out here:

To see more of the Pizzicletta space, and hear an interview of Caleb discussing his commitment to the project watch this excellent student-made video by NAU film student Austen Lavery:


Thank you to Caleb Schiff for taking the time to talk to me in the midst of his busy prep schedule.

Thank you to the great staff at Pizzicletta for putting up with me while I took pictures in the middle of the dinner hour.

Thank you to Pizzicletta for bringing such good food, and a wine list to match, to Flagstaff. We’re all grateful.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Criollo Hand Crafted Latin Inspired Local Food Restaurant and Bar Flagstaff, AZ

In the heart of downtown Flagstaff, Criollo Latin Kitchen, a casual dining restaurant, welcomes food lovers for brunch (on weekends), lunch, happy hour, and dinner.

The food is reliably tasty, drawing its inspiration from a sense of Latin fusion, and local, sustainably harvested ingredients. The upside of life in the Southwestern United States includes extended growing seasons, while also land locking us out of other items for local harvest. As a result, the menu at Criollo adjusts to these various needs to celebrate a blend of offerings that readily stretch across the year, with other seasonally determined foods, and a few treats flown in (like their cornmeal+coconut, instead of batter, rolled calamari).

The wine list at Criollo remains consistent with the Latin inspired focus, showcasing wines from across South America along with others from Spain or Portugal.

For those wanting only food for lighter fare, or just a drink, Criollo also showcases what turn out to be honestly some of the best bartenders in Flagstaff, as well as a bar stocked with quality liquors.

Getting to Know Criollo’s Bar: House-made Bitters, and Barrel Aged Tequila

* House-made Barrel Aged Tequila

Several months ago, Paul, the owner of Criollo, tasted barrel aged tequila and decided to invest in bringing the flavor to his Flagstaff bar. Seeing I was unsure how much difference the process would offer, Jeremy, one of Criollo’s bartenders offered me a before and after taste.

The bottle Republic Tequila offered flavors of citrus and cactus (we in the Southwest really do know what cactus tastes like, in case that sounds ridiculous to any of you–it’s a kind of pithy green, very lightly sweet touched, mild dirt, hint of bramble flavor), with a dusty heat.

To age their tequila, the bar has brought in a barrel originally used for aging bourbon. After acquiring the barrel they soaked it with water for several weeks, before then draining it and filling it with Republic Tequila.

The barrel aged tequila had significantly changed from its bottled sibling. The flavors had deepened and taken on earthier elements, with a woody character plus cinnamon and spice notes.

* House-made Bitters

Jeremy Meyer, Bar Co-Manager, Criollo

Criollo’s Bar showcases a selection of fine and flavored tequilas, plus a range of good quality cachaca (I love cachaca and its beloved capirihina), along with quality versions of more traditional liquors. In order to better celebrate the subtler flavor offerings of cachaca and tequila, bartender and bar co-manager, Jeremy Meyer, decided to begin exploring and studying mixed drink recipes that would show them off.

A traditional bar ingredient for cocktails like the Manhattan or Dark & Handsome is an herbal bitter to push against the sweet or syrupy elements of the liquor base. The herbal flavor of bitters like Angostura is desirable in darker flavored mixed drinks, like the Manhattan, but often works against the lighter notes of an alcohol like cachaca or tequila. So, Jeremy decided to begin making in house bitters from other ingredients that would be more flexible at the bar, and work alongside those lighter spirits.

The basic process for making bitters, Jeremy explains, consists of first selecting flavor ingredients and then soaking them in high alcohol booze like Everclear for approximately a month. At the end of the month the resulting product is drained and sometimes enhanced with other flavors.

Currently Criollo utilizes four types of house-made bitters most primarily–strawberry with black tea; ancho chili with tamarind; black pepper with black currant; and mesquite with pineapple. Additionally, Jeremy has also made orange with anise; and cherry with grapefruit peel. As summer progresses he intends to experiment with using other ingredients found at the local Farmer’s Market.

I asked Jeremy to select his favorite summer cocktail made from in house ingredients. He chose their Barrel Punch, and shared the recipe.

A Treat From Jeremy: The Barrel Punch, a Mixed Drink Recipe

The Barrel Punch, Criollo, Flagstaff

The Barrel Punch

1 1/2 ounces House-made Barrel Aged Tequila

3/4 ounce Blackberry Balsamic Shrub (explanation follows)

4 dashes House-made Mesquite-Pineapple Bitters (explanation follows)

A squeeze of Lime

Fill the glass with soda water, then box (move between glass and shaker and back again). Pour into glass.

Top with 3 drops of Rose Water.


The Barrel Punch is a fresh, light, rich flavored, and not sweet cocktail that works beautifully for summer. It offers a light fruit and wood flavored opening, with a fruit vinegar mid-palate, and a fruit tang light rose finish. Though the flavors here are rich, the drink avoids any syrupy or too-sweet characteristics that would make it too heavy for summer. I very much enjoyed it.

Blackberry Balsalmic Shrub

As Jeremy explains, a shrub is an old fashioned way to preserve fruit. The fruit is smashed into sugar, then the resulting syrup is drained and mixed with vinegar. Here the shrub is made with equal parts fruit, sugar, and vinegar, with blackberries, and a blend of 1/2 balsamic vinegar 1/2 apple cider vinegar.

Mesquite-Pineapple Bitters

To really push the envelope, Jeremy decided to try making bitters with safe ingredients that aren’t traditionally thought of in relation to food.

The mesquite-pineapple bitters were made by soaking wood chips and pineapple in a blend of 1/2 Everclear 1/2 tequila for a month. At the end of the month the resulting drink was strained. Then, Jeremy grilled mesquite wood chips (the same kind soaked to make the bitters), put them out in the bitters themselves to add an ashen smoke element, then restrained the entire concoction, and finally added agave syrup to help bring out the pineapple flavors without adding genuine sweetness.

Finally (for now) the Bar Expands: House-made Tonic, and Vermouth

As if Criollo wasn’t already offering a host of house-made bar options, they are also making in house tonic and vermouth. Both focus on utilizing the ingredients available here in Flagstaff, including those brought in to the area by the local herbal shop, Winter Sun. Jeremy explained that in developing the following recipes Winter Sun’s owner and long time herbalist, Phyllis, was very helpful.

The tonic results from a mix of Peruvian bark powder, lemon grass, agave syrup, coriander, and lemon/lime zest and juice.

The vermouth is a local favorite. Jeremy explains he researched a typical recipe for making the spirit only to discover a number of the ingredients simply were not readily available in our small mountain town. He addressed the problem by simply adjusting to utilize local plants and herbs as substitute. Criollo’s house vermouth, as a result, draws on the flavors of Ocho root (good for the lungs), Juniper berries (a diuretic and good for fighting infection), and Mormon tea (a decongestant and stimulant), along with the more traditional elements of basil, rosemary, thyme, and citrus zest. It’s fabulous (and I’ve never been huge on mainstream vermouth). It turns out Phyllis is also a fan, even having been a bit skeptical of Jeremy’s plans originally.


For those of you in Flagstaff, get in to Criollo to try the unique offerings at their bar. For those of you visiting the area, definitely keep Criollo on your list of places to enjoy.

Criollo Latin Kitchen, 16 N San Francisco, Flagstaff, AZ 86001 928-774-0541

Thank you to Criollo, Hillary Wamble, and Jeremy Meyer for inviting me to taste Jeremy’s bitters, and Criollo’s other house-made offerings.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to