On the Banks of the Verde River
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Alcantara Vineyard, a Verde Valley wine experience.
Afternoon at Alcantara
Seated in a sun-soaked valley outside the town of Camp Verde, the Alcantra Vineyard lies at the confluence of the Verde River and the Oak Creek. With over 20,000 vines planted, the winery produces 17 different grape varieties on their estate. And at 3,200 feet above sea level, the temperature at the vineyard can shift as much as forty degrees in one day, moderating the hot summer highs.
The vibe on property is Italian villa- a celebration of the owner's heritage that is also reflected in their "Rosso Tosca", a 100% Sangiovese bottling from two different clones. Activities are abundant at Alcantara, which has private access to a beach on the Verde River. Hay rides, vineyard tours, paddle board yoga, massages in the vines, and kayaking are all available. There is a wedding chapel in the vineyard and a restaurant will be going in next year. Lots going on in this little valley.
What I loved about it...
The expansive outdoor seating area overlooking the vineyards that dip down almost to the river and the white rocks and mountains beyond that. The sunset reflected on the white rocks was a stunner.
Cats... everywhere. The tasting room server told me they have close to thirty cats on property. Just careful leaving your charcuterie board unattended. I watched a beige kitty attack a piece of brie like it were a live mouse... impressive.
The winemaker, Ron, who apparently has a habit of making himself fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in the small kitchen behind the tasting bar. I was glad to get to chat with him about the future of the Verde Valley, his experience (he learned winemaking at Javelina Leap) and his most and least favorite wines to make (pinot noir is a notorious pain).
We tasted fifteen wines of varying styles, almost all single varietal. The 2018 Estate Merlot of was soft and plummy with a refreshing tartness to the finish. The 2018 Estate Petite Syrah was noticeably richer, more dense (almost chocolately) than the 2018 Golden Rule Vineyard Petit Syrah which had a tart cran-apple note to it.. Golden Rule Vineyard is in Willcox, the southern part of the state, at higher elevation, closer to 4,400 feet above sea level and the vines sit on granite rather than alluvial deposits as they do at Alcantara.
True to the roguish style of most AZ wineries, they produce 26 different wines of varying grapes- everything from Pinot Gris to Moscato to a Port-style wine. We were surprised to find Chardonnay and Cabernet on the tasting menu, as these well-known grapes are not very widely produced in Arizona, especially as single bottlings.
Verde Valley AVA
Within the next few months, the Verde Valley AVA is expected to be approved by the ATTB, joining Sonoita and Willcox as an officially, legally recognized Arizona wine growing region. Covering 220 square miles in Yavapai County, the AVA will include the towns of Sedona, Jerome, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Cornville, Page Springs and Rimrock. The Southwest Wine Center, an important teaching winery with a 13-acre vineyard, lies within the AVA, as does Caduceus Cellars, famed winery of rockstar Maynard James Keenan.
Soils in the AVA range from limestone in the east, near Rimrock, sandstone near Sedona and alluvial deposits on the banks of the Verde River and Oak Creek. Many may find it surprising that the area falls between Regions Ib and II on the Winkler Index, a scale that classifies the climate for winegrowing regions based on heat summation or growing degree-days. To put this in some context, Burgundy, Loire, Bordeaux and the Willamette Valley in Oregon all fall within this same range. This might seem impossible, as summer daytime temperatures in Yavapai County can exceed 100 degrees for days at a time, but altitude plays a huge role in our region. Extreme elevations (3,000-5,500 feet above sea level) moderate temperatures by enabling large diurnal shifts from day to nighttime. As well, rivers and creeks channel cool air from the mountains into the valley, offering relief to the vines and maintaining acid levels. The area only receives 16-18 inches of rain per year, almost all of it during August to September, in what we call "monsoon season", which has been remarkably mild the past two vintages.
When the AVA is passed, it will be the only Arizona AVA that contains a major tourist hub (Sedona Red Rocks) a vibrant, growing restaurant community and world-class resorts.