When people think of Arizona, they don’t typically think of wine. Desert? Yes. Searing heat? Yes. Wine? Not so much.
Now, you can offer wines from the Grand Canyon State in your restaurant. And they’re not for cooking. The best way to keep customers coming back is to create memories that they will talk about forever. Show them something new, including wines from the up-and-coming region of Arizona.
Andrew Stover, sommelier of Oya Restaurant in Washington, D.C., who has carried Arizona wines for more than two years, says the consumer expectations toward Arizona wines run the gamut.
“We get all types of reactions to Arizona wines, from people from Arizona excited to see the wines outside of their home to guests shocked that I would put Arizona wine anywhere in between,” Stover says. “The skeptics don’t have much to say once they put it in their mouth. It really turns heads because it’s an alternative to Chardonnay.”
Oya Restaurant sells about a case a week of the Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Tazi white blend (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Malvasia Bianca, Pinot Gris, and Riesling) it serves by the glass. Stover says the wine practically sells itself. “People gravitate toward local, off-the-beaten-track wines,” he says. “It is great for people that like rich Chardonnay, but want to get out of that box. It is a full-bodied, creamy wine with tons of fruit characteristics. It’s not about the oak flavors, but rounding out the flavors of the grapes.”
Paula Woolsey, CSW, national sales manager of Arizona Stronghold, says the wines are available in 35 states but weren’t available in California until early this year. The largest market outside Arizona is Calgary, Alberta. Arizona Stronghold is in its fifth vintage and growing. Sales have consistently increased 100 percent annually for the past four years. According to Woolsey, sales will continue to grow another 50 percent this year.
And to what does this new frontier attribute its growing success? “No offense, but who needs another California Chardonnay?” Woolsey explains. “People’s expectations are so low. They compare the wines to ones they’ve had in Michigan. They don’t even know how to react.” She, like Stover, says it is a great alternative to California Chardonnay, which is a saturated market.
Arizona Stronghold focuses on organic and sustainable wines. The vines are planted at high elevation, similar to conditions in Argentina. Arizona has the second largest diurnal shift, or the most extreme variation in temperature from the highs of the day to the cool of nights, outside Argentina.