There’s a new sheriff in Santa Cruz and Cochise counties, but he has nothing to do with cattle rustlers and shootouts at the OK Corral.
He’s single-handedly put the Grand Canyon State on the winemaking map with big, rich reds and flavorful whites.
Indeed, Kent Callaghan is one astute winemaking hombre, with wines that have garnered national praise from trade journals Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate and been served at state dinners under the Clinton administration.
The recent past president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association (www.arizona wines.org) sat down for a brief discussion about the state of the state’s wine industry. Makes you want to reach for a glass of his Buena Suerte.
Q: A handful of wineries have joined others in the Sonoita/Elgin area, and a couple have sprouted up in Yavapai and Cochise counties. It seems the state’s wine industry is on the uptick. Is that an accurate assessment?
A: The industry is definitely on the upswing. Many new people planting, several on a small scale, but with high quality in mind. Best time in the industry since I started 15 years ago.
Q: What are growers doing to promote themselves outside of the state? How has the wine growers association helped?
A: Growers aren’t actively doing a great deal to promote in out-of-state markets. We have so many winter visitors that we can use them as salespeople, as most of us have small production. Also, publications like The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator help market through reviews of our wines.
Q: Consumers receive mixed signals. Some Arizona wines are great, while others are plonk. What gives? Is it the grapes or the winemaker?
A: Every wine region that is any good has high-quality producers and a significant percentage of others that draft behind them. The infusion of new blood in Arizona wine growing will tilt the balance back to where it should be — quality wine production. There are clowns in Napa/Sonoma (and other regions), too.
Q: What varieties and regions within the state show promise?
A: The three main regions — Sonoita, Sulphur Springs Valley, Sedona/Cottonwood — all show promise. The first two are similar in character, largely because they are geographically closer and at roughly similar altitudes. There are few varieties that don’t work in Arizona — pinot noir, in my opinion, first and foremost. Bordeaux works to some extent — petit verdot and cabernet franc are really quite good.
From Spain, tempranillo is excellent, monastrell (mourvedre) and garnacha (grenache) are showing considerable promise, too. Graciano is just going in the ground. Zinfandel can be one of the best, as can syrah, although it has been problematic in some plantings. Sangiovese can be very good, and I’d expect barbera to excel also. Nebbiolo is just going in the ground this year. Aglianico is also something that should do very well. Todd Bostock, who makes wine at Dos Cabezas, has planted it just down the road from us. And that is just red.
The best whites will be, I think, malvasia, riesling, roussanne, grenache blanc. Viognier can be good, but yields must be controlled, much like zin. I’d love to try gruner veltliner here, and maybe fiano.
Q: Besides your own label, which producers do you admire/respect in the state?
A: I drink wines from Dos Cabezas and Echo Canyon. The Montana and Norte bottlings, as well as the pinot grigio from Dos Cabezas, are always a treat. Jon Marcus’ Echo Canyon syrah, merlot, cabernet franc and zin bottlings are suave and intense. Really beautiful wines.
Q: What are you drinking nowadays, Arizona or otherwise?
A: I’m drinking Palmina’s Bien Nacido barbera 2003 and Turley Grist zin 2002 right now. Still working on some Two Hands Harry and Edward’s 2003, too. Generally, I’m drinking anything I can get my hands on that’s good. Lots of Spanish, Australian and Southern French wine. Bierzos are killing me, as are reds from western Australia. Great depth, lift and complexity in the best examples.