Discover AZ Wines: Great Wine Begins In The Vineyard

Peggy-headshotBy Peggy Fiandaca

Great wine begins in the vineyard. Terroir is the French word that refers to all things that can impact the vineyard – climate, soils, elevation, water, wind, etc. Finding the perfect spot, then planting the right grape varietals and maintaining the vineyard’s health is critical to producing that great bottle of wine.

How does the terroir influence wines? My vineyard is at almost 5,000 feet in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills. The peaks of the Chiricahua Mountains reach 10,000 feet behind the property. The mountains create their own weather that impacts the vineyard. As the vines mature and reach deeper into the Rhyolite granite, they are picking up the minerality from the volcanic soils. The current releases are already expressing the depth of flavors as a result of the unique terroir at Lawrence Dunham Vineyards.

“There are definitely some major differences in the three main growing regions as far as climate, soil and exposure is concerned” says Kief Manning, winemaker of Kief-Joshua Vineyards in the Sonoita/Elgin area.  Customers are pointing to the earthy and peppery notes among the Arizona reds that seem to set them apart from other places. Kief predicted, “I think as the industry matures even further we will have a better understanding of the uniqueness of the different terroirs of Arizona.”

Mark Beres, owner of Flying Leap Vineyards, grows grapes in two of Arizona’s wine regions – Sonoita/Elgin and Willcox – and finds the growing conditions very different. According to Mark, “Without exception, it is much easier to grow wine grapes in Willcox than Sonoita/Elgin. I believe this is a result of lower elevation (4,300 versus 5,000 feet), lower calcium in the soil and less alkaline water.”

Other differences mentioned by Mark include severe freeze and late spring frost in Sonoita as well as the yields are higher in Cochise County regions. All of which contribute to different taste profiles.

Sam Pillsbury, owner/winemaker Pillsbury Wine Works, says, “Arizona’s conditions make brilliant wines. Our whites are viscous, with bright fruit, aromatic, crisp. Our reds grippingly clean, fragrant, layered and complex.”

We do everything in our power to preserve and sustain the soils, water and everything else that are the essence of our unique place. We analyze the soils to ensure that the nutrients remain in balance and we augment them from time to time to ensure maximum plant health. We also believe we have planted the right grape varietals that will flourish in this terroir. We love Pinot Noir but this grape varietal will not do well on our property. We are finding that our terroir is best suited for Rhone varietals and the Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier have been very successful so far.

Only time will tell how Arizona’s unique terroir will influence the wines being produced. As Chris Bianco says, “You can taste the struggle.”

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