Succeeding in the wine business requires dedication, creativity and flexibility – you never know what havoc the weather or the economy may wreak.
These three key players in Arizona’s wine scene embody all these qualities, and more.
Kent Callaghan, Callaghan Vineyards
Kent Callaghan (pronounced with a hard “g”) was just out of college in 1987 when his father, Harold, bought a parcel of land in Sonoita – a pioneering place to grow grapes at the time. “Dad enjoyed making wines at home, and we all enjoyed drinking wine as a family,” Kent says.
Father and son planted a vineyard together and took viticulture courses at the University of California, Davis. But in 1996, Callaghan Vineyards became entirely Kent’s baby – which he raised very successfully.
Writers for Wine Spectator and The Wall Street Journal were among the many prestigious critics to praise Callaghan wines early on.
Working outdoors in the vineyards is Callaghan’s favorite part of the business, and he’s learned it’s true that “you have to grow great fruit in order to make great wine.”
Recently, he has found that blogging about wine is a good way to remind himself about the taste characteristics he values most.
Marge Graziano, Bitter Creek and Jerome Wineries
Marge Graziano is quick to explain that she’s not the winemaker at Bitter Creek and Jerome wineries.
“It’s my son, John McLoughlin, who has the palate,” she says, “and he was the one who discovered the family’s winemaking roots as an exchange student in Germany.” But Graziano – laughingly called “La Patrona” – is very involved in both wineries.
She goes down to the family vineyard near Willcox to prune and harvest grapes. And, a booster for the state’s wine industry, she will rattle off viticulture data at the drop of a hat: “Zinfandels love Arizona more than they love California,” she says, adding, “Zinfandel grapes originated in Croatia before Christ.”
She is also a font of information about Jerome, the former mining town turned artists’ enclave perched on the top of Cleopatra Hill and home to both wineries’ tasting rooms.
Her book, Lady Lost, tells how she and her family restored the town’s Honeymoon Cottage, a gift from Jimmy “Rawhide” Douglas – the owner of Jerome’s famed Little Daisy Mine – to his son, Lewis.
Sam Pillsbury, Pillsbury Wine Company
Sam Pillsbury first came to Arizona in 1993 to shoot a TV show pilot called Action Pack for Paramount Studios. “It was really silly stuff, involving a monster truck, but so much fun,” he says.
The series was never picked up, but the successful New Zealand-born director – Free Willy Three is among his long lists of credits – fell in love with a woman and with the landscape.
Deciding Arizona was the place to fulfill his longstanding dream of becoming a winemaker, he invested in a Willcox-area vineyard in southeastern Arizona, and, more recently, opened the Pillsbury Wines Tasting Room in downtown Cottonwood, about 16 miles from Sedona in North Central Arizona.
He sees many affinities between the now established New Zealand wine scene and the nascent one in Arizona, including the sense of adventure and possibility.
He says, “It’s great to ignore preconceptions and look at the fundamentals like soil, temperature, sun, wind – all those things that make up ‘terroir’ – and make decisions about where to plant based on that.”