Northern Arizona is home to both an emerging art scene and a number of serious wineries that are beginning to make waves on the national stage. The two combine in a novel public art exhibition: Painted Barrels on the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
The Painted Barrels are a collection of 40 wine barrels from Arizona wineries that have been painted and, in some cases, reworked by artists from the region. The barrels are displayed at attractions, businesses and points of interest throughout the Verde Valley and surrounding region.
The combination of wine, art and the beauty of the region - with the added fun of a treasure hunt - come together as an enjoyable weekend road trip.
Starting my trip early Saturday morning, I left the Valley heat and traffic behind, armed with the Painted Barrels map I obtained from the Verde Valley Wine Trail website, www.vvwinetrail.com/. Exiting off I-17, I made my way to my first stop: Out Of Africa Wildlife Park. I chose the park as the first stop because I learned through its website that Maris Cummings, the artist who painted the barrel at Out of Africa, was going to be on site. Each artist in the exhibition hosts an Artist Day, when they create and sell art at their barrel's location.
I met Maris by her barrel, a piece of artwork with images that reflect wine and animals. I was amazed at the level of detail on the barrel; it was fascinating to see a museum-worthy painting on a common wine barrel. Meeting the artist and seeing the quality of the artwork made me more determined to check barrels off of my list. The hunt was on.
My next stop was Old Town Cottonwood. This historic part of Cottonwood is home to an array of shops, tasting rooms, restaurants and galleries. It also boasts the highest concentration of Painted Barrels anywhere on the trail.
I went in and out of the shops and buildings, looking for barrels. Some were prominently displayed, like the one on the sidewalk outside Pillsbury Wine Company. Others, like the one sitting unobtrusively in the corner of the Arizona Stronghold tasting room, were harder to spot. It was clearly going to be a challenge to find all the barrels. At Crema Coffee and Creamery, I had lunch next to a barrel engraved and inlaid by artist Kelley E. Foy. A potted plant sat on top of the barrel, making it functional artwork. At Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders, I saw a stunning barrel by Navajo artist Baje Whitethorne. I learned that more of Whitethorne's work was on display at The Manheim Gallery, a short walk away. There, I found another barrel, this one converted into a working sundial by artist Leo Shakespeare. Gallery owner Patt Manheim showed me around, and I felt I was starting to get a feel for the art scene in the Verde Valley.
After leaving downtown Cottonwood, I had marked eight more barrels off of my list, as well as the "art" portion of the trip. It was time to appreciate the other aspect of Painted Barrels: the wine.
But prior to that leg of my trip, I checked into the Pines Motel, a family run operation where, right outside the front office, I found a barrel painted by artist Joan Bourque and motel owner Anna May's family.
The next day, I checked off a few more barrels on my way to Cornville, where you can find three Arizona wineries: Javalina Leap Winery, Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery and Page Springs Cellars. After checking off the barrel at Javalina Leap, I met a group with a Painted Barrels map. We traded barrel-hunting notes as we tasted wine. My last stop was Page Springs Cellars, a vineyard with an excellent tasting room, beautiful grounds and a deck that overlooks Oak Creek. The Page Springs barrel was hiding in plain sight in the entryway; I almost missed it.
At dinnertime, the fact Cornville's Manzanita Restaurant had a painted barrel played a part in my choice to stop there. With a beautifully appointed dining room and a Swiss-inspired menu, the Manzanita was a welcome surprise.
The next day, after breakfast at Old Town Cottonwood's Red Rooster Café, I was determined to see as many barrels as I could before heading for home. Keeping an eye out for brightly colored cylindrical shapes, I felt like a kid on an Easter egg hunt.
Off I went, swinging by the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale and finding a train-themed barrel by the station. Up the winding road to Jerome, I saw a detailed, photo-themed barrel at Jerome Winery, In Sedona, there were a few more barrels, and at Cliff Castle Casino, in Camp Verde, I spotted one near a bank of slot machines. My last stop was the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce, where a historical-themed barrel is displayed in the visitor's center.
The Painted Barrels will be on display until Spring 2012. After that, they'll be auctioned off starting at $100 apiece, with the proceeds going to Yavapai College's wine studies program in Cottonwood.
In two days, I had seen an impressive 32 out of 40 barrels. But more important than checking off barrels on a list, I had seen some great art, met wonderful artists, tasted amazing wine and took in the scenery of the Verde Valley and Sedona. Hunting Painted Barrels was a great weekend getaway by any definition.
For more information on Painted Barrels and to see a schedule of Artist Days, visit the Verde Valley Wine Trail website, www.vvwinetrail.com - you can see pictures of the barrels there as well, but I suggest seeing them in person.
• David Landau is a freelance travel writer. He can be reached at landauTDM386@gmail.com