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Sun, July 21

Who needs Napa Valley

PAGE SPRINGS – Arizona is developing a reputation as a serious winemaking region, and in northern Arizona, the Page Springs area is at the heart of it.

A tour along the scenic 12-mile-long Page Springs Road will pass at least three vineyards that have popped up in the past few years, including the Oak Creek, Page Springs and Javelina Leap vineyards and wineries. The Sycamore Canyon Winery also is new in the Cornville area, and the Jerome Winery is nearby.

Off the west end of Page Springs Road down Hidden Valley Road, the more established Echo Canyon Vineyards and Winery has been operating for nearly a decade and is gaining national recognition.

Echo Canyon just won three medals at the American Wine Society’s competition in Las Vegas, Sales Director Jeff Graham said; a gold medal for its merlot, silver for zinfandel and silver for sangiovese.

“That was pretty prestigious for us,” Graham said.

Echo Canyon wines are available at several locations in the Prescott area including Liquor Barn and Lloyd’s Liquors, but the vineyard doesn’t have a tasting room, although owner John Marcus is considering one off site.

The two-mile drive down a dirt road to the Echo Canyon vineyards can be a bit rough and even treacherous during a good rain. The location along Oak Creek is downright spectacular.

Echo Canyon’s secret to great wine lies in the microclimate at the bend along the creek, Graham said. The creek provides a night-time cooling effect, and the rock wall reflects heat back on the vines.

“The idea is to take advantage of day-night cooling,” Arizona Wine Growers Association President Rod Keeling said. At the same time, vineyards need to avoid late winter frosts, and they need good drainage.

Soil is the next most important thing, Keeling said. Too much sand means the soil doesn’t hold water well enough, but too much clay means it doesn’t drain well enough.

Water is the third key, although Keeling is quick to note that his own Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards in southern Arizona need only one acre-foot of water per acre annually.

Keeling believes Arizona can compete with the three top states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Wine grape growing has a long history in Arizona, dating back 400 years to the Spanish missions. Modern vineyards started popping up in the early 1970s.

“There is no reason we can’t compete on a world basis here,” Keeling said.

Arizona wines have recently received press from the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, Arizona Wine Growers Association Secretary Todd Bostock said. His Dos Cabezas wines from Cochise County receive ratings as high as 88 from Wine Spectator.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before people believe Arizona offers a great wine,” Bostock said.

Southeastern Arizona is the hot spot for most Arizona vineyards alongside the Page Springs area. One also is located in the Prescott tri-city area, the Granite Creek Vineyards in Chino Valley.

“There is no question that great wines can be grown in Yavapai County,” Keeling said.

The Echo Canyon site is best for red wines, Graham said. Marcus is starting up the Crop Circle vineyards near Willcox on a site more conducive to whites. He also is opening a wine tasting facility near Willcox within a few months.

Echo Canyon is excited about the other new vineyards nearby, concluding that will help them all market their products.

“What we started 10 years ago is just exploding all over the Verde Valley,” Graham said.

Eric Glomsky, former Prescott Creeks Preservation Association director, started up the Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars with the help of vineyard manager Craig Martinsen, who used to work for the NASA program at Prescott College.

Page Springs is planting on several acres each year on its 52 acres, but it’s not cheap at about $35,000 per acre, Martinsen said. They planted the first vines in April 2003 and hope to start using them next year. In the meantime, they are getting grapes from California and southern Arizona and then processing them on site from start to finish.

The volcanic soil courtesy of nearby House Mountain is great for grapes, Martinsen said.

Vineyards across Arizona are hoping to get some help from the state Legislature early next year, Keeling said.

Right now, the vineyards cannot ship any wines unless the buyer orders them in person at the vineyards or cellars.

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