Out on the crush pad at 7 a.m. on a cool and glorious Arizona morning, winemaker Curt Dunham of Lawrence Dunham Vineyards brings out a hot pot of coffee before the day begins. His thriving vineyards surround the winery against the backdrop of Chiricahua Mountains, with the peaks of Dos Cabezas and Mount Graham visible in the distance.
Along with affable assistant winemaker, Frank Price, the men are focused on organizing their well-sanitized equipment for a day of harvesting and de-stemming just as the process is about to begin. A crew of six have been harvesting beautifully ripe grenache grapes by hand since well before dawn, and now the first giant one-ton tub of grapes is brought in on the forks of a tractor.
It was a cool night at this mile-high elevation and the first picked grapes are bursting with sweet juicy flavor. Wielding a special pitch fork and a flat-bottomed shovel, each tub of thirteen in total is emptied into the mechanized de-stemmer as the clean-picked stems dump neatly out one side while the slightly mashed grapes (now referred to as “must”) make their way up a 4″ diameter clear tube rapidly filling a 300 gallon, slightly translucent industrial vat. “25 Brix,” is the first report of sugar content, about what Curt expected of Mother Nature’s produce.
Nine full-fledged wineries now operate in Cochise County alone. Five more are in the process of being planted as this very special terroir is being discovered. Rich volcanic soil, and the moderating influences of elevation and nightly temperature swing contribute to Arizona new status as ‘wine country.’ It is a joy to witness the surprised and pleasant reactions of our European and American visitors alike as they taste Arizona’s new craze crop–amazing wines!
Much of this corner of southern Arizona area is counter-intuitive, beginning with the quality of wine (and people!) one can already discover here. Talented wine makers such as Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca; Rod Keeling and Jan Schaefer; Sam Pillsbury; Bob Carlson and his family; Rob and Sarah Hammelman; Mark and Rhona Jorve and many more are perfecting their wines for all of America to discover.
For the adventurous tourist, one might also think of southern Arizona as the wrong place to visit in summertime. After all, who hasn’t seen those extreme temperatures on the Tucson and Phoenix weather maps?
Think again! At over 5,000 feet in elevation, August and September are actually very enjoyable months of the year to visit. Largely gentle monsoon rains create verdant vistas, flowers bloom and grasses come alive, and first-time visitors are stunned to see flowing creeks and filled ponds–in Arizona! For both wine and visitors, the cool evening temperatures work their magic.
The giant vats are carefully loaded into Curt’s huge chilled storerooms–the winemaker’s craft well underway. Curt’s enthusiasm is overflowing, and his impeccable attention to detail is obvious. The future of Arizona wines is very bright indeed.