Willcox, Arizona, June 20, 2018 --- Satisfying a life-long curiosity about Australian winemaking, Aridus Wine Company’s winemaker Lisa Strid (rhymes with ‘steed’) has just returned from a three-month harvest stint at a winery in South Australia’s Clare Valley.
Here are some questions she’s been answering:
Why were you intrigued to go do a harvest in Australia?
I mostly wanted to learn. The more you expose yourself to different ways of doing things, at different wineries in different regions, the more you learn. Since I jumped right into full-time, year-round winemaking right out of school, I never had the experience of a harvest-hopping endless summer. I’d definitely been itching to make it to the southern hemisphere for a harvest, but the timing hadn’t been right until this year.
What are Kirrihill’s specialties?
Kirrihill is the second largest winery in the Clare Valley, so they produce a whole range of wines, but they’re mostly focused on Riesling (which the region is known for), Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. They do make a few small batch wines – my favorite amongst them being a Nero D’Avola made from fruit sourced from McLaren Vale. Their Peacemaker Shiraz is very nice as well.
What practices were different?
Simply being at a larger scale in a region that’s well established meant that there were a lot of differences to how things are done in Arizona. Nearly all of the grapes brought in were machine harvested. So that means no whole cluster pressing of whites, and no stem inclusion on red fermentation. They had a number of different cap management strategies for the reds – both open and closed top fermenters with automatic pumpovers that could be very easily adjusted and customized on the fly, fermenters with pulsed air systems and rotary fermenters. Because of the sheer volume moving through the winery, it was necessary to get things through fermentation and stabilized as soon as possible, so there weren’t many cold soaks or extended macerations. By the time I left, the regional Riesling we’d made early in the harvest season was ready for bottling. Also, everything’s measured in a different scale there – not just metric, but also sugars were measured in Baume rather than Brix. So I was doing a lot of mental conversion, especially at first.
What was the most fun while you were there?
I liked getting to know everyone. It was a crew from all corners of the globe, and everyone had such great attitudes.
Do they have harvest customs food-wise?
Not really, but The Sevenhill Pub did a harvest worker special every Wednesday evening – burger and a pint for $20. That’s about $14 USD.
What would Americans be surprised to learn from your ‘immersion’ there?
I didn’t even realize how great the rodeos are here in the US until I went to one there. The Aussies have us beat hands down in things like education, public safety, health care, and quality of life, but our rodeos are way better. There are also a ton of vehicles with massive bullbars on them, and at first I thought it was because Aussies are all just really into looking like bad asses, but it’s actually functional. It’s so common for kangaroos to jump out into the road, seemingly from nowhere, that it helps to have a bullbar so as not to destroy your car if you can’t avoid hitting one.
Did you have a favorite food?
Were there kangaroos on the crush pad?!
Not on the crush pad, but pretty much everywhere else! I’m an insect collector, and there were tons of giant rain moths - Trictena atripalpis – in the cellar starting in about mid-February.
What are you eager to try as a new technique at Aridus?
I’ll be judiciously incorporating pulsed air into our protocols.
What did the Aussies ask you about life & winemaking in Arizona?
They were curious about the soils and the weather in the region, and wanted to know what varieties did well. I think I forced them to be curious about Mexican food because I talked about it so much.
Did you develop an accent?!
No, but I did ask a co-worker here, “How are you going?” when I got back without even thinking about it.
Lisa is back at the winery getting ready for the 2018 harvest. This will be the second harvest for grapes from the winery’s estate vineyard in the Willcox appellation in Pearce (AZ). Lisa anticipates that Sauvignon Blanc (and the other white varietals, Viognier, Malvasia Bianca) will be the first varietals to be harvested, approximately in mid-July.
The winery’s estate vineyard consists of 40 acres, perched at an elevation of approximately 5,200 feet and about a 45 minute drive from the winery in Willcox. “This estate vineyard defines a unique mix of mountain and desert fine wine grape growing,” explains winery owner Scott Dahmer. In the 2017 growing season the vineyard experienced 13 inches of rain, 1 inch of snow and temperatures which averaged around 30 degrees in the cooler months to highs of around 94 degrees in the summer.
The vineyard is within the Willcox Appellation. The vineyard is divided by Turkey Creek, which is the largest water flow coming down from the Chiricahua Foothills. The “North Side” was planted in 2015 to white varietals on a 20-22 degree angle and north-south configuration. The “South Side” was planted in 2017 entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon, in an east-west configuration, which was an intentional design to allow the strong winds to blow through the vines but not damage them.
From fish in the creek, frogs on the banks, turtles, lizards and rattlesnakes, to white-tail deer, mountain lions, black bears, fox and javelina, this area has a wide variety of roaming reptiles, birds, insects and large and small predators and prey.
Why farm grapes in Arizona? Proprietor Scott Dahmer explains: “Hot days, cool nights, minerality of the soil. Our state’s motto has five Cs----Climate, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Copper. Why not add a 6th? Cabernet? That said, southeastern Arizona has been compared to the same climate as Argentina with semi-arid desert-like climates, less than 13 inches of rain annually, an average temperature of 90-100 degree days with cool nights in the mid 40s and 50s. Malbec grows extremely well here, as do all Spanish varieties. I believe Arizona is the next up and coming grape growing region which will produce unique, world-class delicious wines.”
The winery also purchases grapes from vineyards in Arizona and New Mexico. This year Lisa and her team expect to crush 94 tons of grapes in total.
Scott and Joan Dahmer founded Aridus Wine Company in 2012. The name comes from the Latin word meaning dry or arid, pronounced air-i-duhs. Aridus makes its wines from grapes sourced from vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico and California. At 28,000 square feet, it is one of the largest winery facilities in the state, and houses state of the art wine making equipment. Surrounded by majestic mountains, the winery is an appealing combination of a historic setting and modern design. The building was once an apple warehouse; it was stylishly rehabbed with recycled local lumber and the interiors feature antique light bulbs and other cave-like design touches.
Aridus Wine Company’s winery is located at 1126 North Haskell Avenue in Willcox. The winery’s tasting room is nearby, at 145 North Railview Avenue and is open Thursday – Sunday from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.; appointments are not necessary. More info: 520/766-9463.
The winery also has a tasting room in the old town neighborhood of Scottsdale, at 7173 East Main Street. This tasting room is open Monday - Saturday 12:00 pm - 8:00 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm. The tasting room stays open until 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays. More info at 520/954-2676 or https://www.ariduswineco.com/Visit-Aridus/Visit-Aridus
The winery’s current releases are:
2013 Vintner’s Reserve Premium Red Blend (Cochise, AZ appellation)
2014 Chardonnay (Santa Maria, CA)
2015 Chardonnay (Santa Maria, CA)
2015 Syrah (Cochise, AZ)
2015 Petite Sirah (Cochise, AZ)
2015 Viognier (Cochise, AZ)
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Cochise, AZ)
2015 Malvasia Bianca (Mimbres, NM) (sweet)
2016 Malvasia Bianca (Mimbres, NM) (dry)
2016 Sauvignon Blanc (Cochise AZ and Mimbres NM)
2017 Tank 19 White Blend (USA)
2017 Tank 22 Rose (NM)
2017 Tank 12 Red Blend (NM)
2017 Tank 9 Red Blend (USA).