Ten Days in Arizona Wine & Food

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!

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Sonoita. #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Heading into Callaghan. #arizona @kentcallaghan @callaghanvineyards

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Thing C I like about Sonoita… #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Cochise. #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Dude. YES! #arizona @sandreckonervineyard

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Storm approaching over Turkey Creek. #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Yum. #arizona Caduceus 2015 Agostina white @puscifer

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A video posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Make a wish. #arizona

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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.)

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

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

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Cheers!

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Outstanding coverage and insight into what is happening TODAY on the Arizona Wine and food scene. I found it most informative and I like your casual style.

  2. Any particular reason that a little town called ‘Tucson’ was not included? Yes, we eat and drink here, also…

    • Thanks, Craig. It was a wine trip focused on the wine regions of the state, but I added in food stuff along the wine trail and then tagged on Flagstaff at the end to visit friends. Tucson has so much amazing food heritage work happening these days that I would love to see. The UNESCO food city designation is really significant and should be celebrated.

Leave a Reply