Sat, Oct. 19

Where the grapes grow...
Page Springs wineries create mini Napa Valley

Page Springs Road is a winding byway through a bucolic countryside. Although only a handful of miles from Sedona, the area is entirely different from red rock country. Here, in addition to green fields, livestock, a state fish hatchery, and beautiful Oak Creek, there are now three commercial vineyards growing on the high desert landscape. Each has a winery and tasting room where the visitor can sip a glass of full-bodied Zinfandel, a crisp Chardonnay or a bold Syrah.

This mini Napa Valley is a bit of a surprise for the accidental traveler. Recently, Jack Chapman, a resident of Phoenix, turned onto Page Springs Road to have lunch at a local restaurant and happened upon Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery.

"We're from Phoenix and we were just riding around, planning to have lunch at Page Springs Restaurant. But the restaurant wasn't open yet, so we just kept driving down the road and found this winery. What a wonderful surprise," he said as he purchased five wine samples for himself and his wife for $5 each.

Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery was the first to open in 2003 and its specialty is Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandel. The second winery was Page Springs Cellars and its specialty is wine produced mainly from rootstock from the southern Rhone area of France. Their five varietals are Syrah, Petit Sirah, Mourvedre, Grenache, and a rare grape, Cabernet Pfeffer from California. Javelina Leap Vineyards and Winery opened last fall and although the vines will not be ready to pick for three more years, grapes are brought in from Paso Robles, Calif., and the winery makes Zinfandel, Syrah and Petit Sirah.

Though each of the three wineries are working in their own way to achieve success, each vintner speaks about the other two with respect for the product they are producing on the land.

Deb Wahl, the co-owner and general manager of Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery, said of the other owners, "When I opened up in March 2003, it was so lonesome here-maybe I had a guest or two a day. The second year, people who like our wine came back. Then Page Springs Cellars opened up and I was so happy. Now it is just fabulous. We complement one another. It's like going to the mall, where you can pick and choose from the stores where they all sell T-shirts. At Javelina Leap, customers may like their Zinfandel better than mine, but they will come to me to buy Chardonnay."

Wahl and husband Michael Pierce own 10.5 acres on Page Springs Road of which four acres are planted with 3,500 grapevines. Pierce and Wahl got into the wine-growing business because Pierce's childhood friend, Rod Snapp, is the owner of the adjoining 10.5 acres and Javelina Leap Vineyards and Winery. Snapp approached Pierce because he needed someone to help purchase the rocky acreage that had been up for sale for 20 years.

Now, he has 2,500 wine-producing grapes on four acres and a Zinfandel that was the talk among those attending the Zinfandel Festival held this past January in San Francisco.

"I have been making wine for eight years, but I couldn't sell it commercially until last November. ... This year I was legal to sell my wine, so I was able to participate (in the festival)," Snapp said.

The response was overwhelming, with his Zinfandel being selected by the wine media and wine trade people in the top 10 category, the top three category, and then selected as the top wine.

"I thought my wine was good, but ...," he said as his voice leveled off in amazement at his achievement.

The third winery is Page Springs Cellars, and the owner of the 36-acre, 4,000-vine property is Eric Glomski who thinks of himself as a vigneron.

"A great wine is about the grapes. We hear so much about winemakers, but the unsung heroes are all the grape farmers. In France they are called 'vigneron,'" Glomski said.

For Glomski, the land is everything.

"We are farming organically here. It is our mission statement-a way of saying we are concerned about people, place, and community. We don't want our children to be in a vineyard where we spray petrochemicals, and we don't want to put petrochemicals in Oak Creek," he said.

The solution to bugs, pests and weeds is chickens, geese and ducks. He and his workers have constructed what he calls "chicken tractors"-a kind of mobile chicken coop where the animals are moved around the vineyard. Their job is to eat weeds and bugs.

"Wine is like making a painting," Glomski said. "It is a medium ... the soil is different, the temperature. Wine is an expression of the landscape."

And, for these three vintners, Page Springs is the landscape of choice.

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