Wine in a state known for desert and heat? Yes, thanks to elevations above 3,000 feet and a milder climate than in places like Phoenix, 100 miles away. Communities on the wine trail like Cottonwood and Cornville mainly attract staycationers, including Phoenix residents looking to escape to the semi-wilderness for a day or two, but the wines made here are pulling Sedona tourists south through central Arizona’s green landscapes.
From State Route 89A, Page Springs Road takes you to several stops along the trail in Cornville. My co-pilot and I started with a tasting of 2015 sauvignon blanc, 2015 sangiovese and 2014 tempranillo at Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery, where the owners’ son, Lucas Reed, poured and described his family’s wine.
The Javelina Leap wines are made mostly from one type of grape at a time, but at our next stop, Page Springs Cellars, varietals share shelf space with blends. The road here cuts a curvy route near House Mountain, a volcano that erupted millions of years ago, leaving alkaline subsoils, which Page Springs Cellars says are comparable to France’s Southern Rhone wine region.
A small driveway connected to a dusty gravel path leads to rows of Page Springs’ grapevines, and solar panels shade vehicles from the sun while grenache grapes grow nearby. Travelers sip years of local work here while sampling a menu that lists pizzas, salads and cheeses. Winemaker Eric Glomski, who owns Page Springs with his family, greeted us at the outside patio before tour guide Dina Ribaudo took the group through the winemaking process, starting with the vineyard, passing by a deck that overlooks Oak Creek, and ending at the bottling station. After offering samples of a malvasia bianca blend, Arizona viognier and a Tuscan-style blend, she dipped our glasses into a spring for a water break. Ribaudo said the spring is named for settler James Page and flows at a constant 68 degrees from the Coconino Plateau, about 50 miles north.
Our group sipped a Rhone blend called the 2014 ECIPS – spice spelled backward – while walking into a room stacked with barrels. After pulling a stopper from one red-stained cask, Ribaudo siphoned out our final sample of the tour, the 2014 Bordowie (made mostly from Bordeaux wines). By mid-afternoon, the small tasting room parking lots along Page Springs Road were slightly fuller, with an occasional tour group limo among the cars.
The Page Springs Cellars owners are also behind Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, which has a tasting room about 12 miles away in Old Town Cottonwood. You’ll pass several tasting rooms, restaurants and shops in the area before Main Street becomes Broadway and climbs toward the town of Clarkdale.
There, in what used to be a mining company town, the Four Eight Wineworks tasting room is housed in a former bank where a notorious 1928 robbery and shooting took place. This is Arizona’s first winemakers cooperative, a project that stems from Tool singer Maynard Keenan. He’s also behind Caduceus Cellars, which has a tasting room about 5 miles from Clarkdale in Jerome.
The town of Jerome, population over 400, is built into a hillside about 5,000 feet above sea level, marked by a large white J. The former copper mining site is dotted with historic properties. It has a ghost-town reputation and creative community of artists. Surrounded by restaurants, shops and galleries, a coppery chain-link curtain leads to the Caduceus Cellars tasting room.
Danielle Vorves, whose business card bears the title of wine slinger, poured us separate flights of wines with unique names, like The Diddler, a blend of albarino, malvasia and viognier under the Caduceus Cellars Merkin Vineyards label. While Keenan’s playlist layered The XX beneath the voices of several groups of customers, Vorves noted that Caduceus Cellars is close to producing all its wine using only Arizona-grown grapes.
Altogether the Verde Valley Wine Trail includes about seven wineries and eight tasting rooms. We visited three in a half-day and ended our visit with a view at Jerome State Historic Park that stretched for miles, offering a vista of canyons and peaks in the Arizona wilderness.