Winemakers in the Verde Valley pour their passion into their work.
Eric Glomski’s path to becoming one of Arizona’s best-known winemakers began with an apple.
Working in riparian restoration, Glomski walked hundreds of miles in streambeds and over hillsides in the Prescott National Forest. Along the way, he discovered old homesteads surrounded by neglected orchards still bearing fruit. One day, he made a deal with his friend Dick Landis, an internationally recognized weaver, who hung out with artists like Max Ernst and Ansel Adams.
“Dick was an artist and a gourmand, and he said the most educational thing you can do is educate your senses,” recalls Glomski who’s in his late 40s but looks more boyish than middle-aged in his khaki shorts and barefeet. “He made apple wine, so I made him a deal that I’d carry out the apples and he’d teach me how to make apple wine.”
He stands up to point out one of Landis’ intricate weavings hanging next to a topographic map in his tiny Page Springs Cellars office wedged in a second-floor corner of a renovated white barn. The weaving looks as if it’s moving if you stand at the right distance from it. In some ways, it’s a perfect reflection of Glomski whose laid-back demeanor masks a mind and body in constant motion.
So, Glomski headed into the backcountry and picked macintoshes that looked deceptively like red delicious apples, and Landis, who is now 85, taught him how to make apple wine.
“I remember looking at the color of the wine and smelling it,” Glomski recalls. “And the smell was such a profound experience. It was like I was back in the place where I picked the apples. There was the scent of ponderosa pine in the sun, that butterscotch smell, babbling creeks and grasses.”
In that moment, Glomski became a winemaker.
“Here we are interpreting landscapes visually and I was like, ‘This is a liquid medium of art that is about the sense of smell and taste,” he says. “What it really did was give me the opportunity to become an artist. Most of what I was doing was so esoteric.”
So he traded his riparian restoration work for winemaking. Instead of producing scientific reports, he was producing wine. But it didn’t happen overnight. He moved to California for six years to learn all he could about winemaking, landing at the David Bruce Winery in Los Gatos, Calif. He started as a harvest worker, climbing eventually to co-winemaker. When he returned to Arizona, it was to work for Jon Marcus of Echo Canyon Vineyards and Winery. Marcus had opened his vineyard in 1998, becoming one of the first winemakers in the Verde Valley since before Prohibition. One day, after Glomski left work he passed by a stretch of Oak Creek that he had explored as a riparian ecologist. He remembered thinking it was one of the most beautiful places he’d been. As fate would have it, a “for sale” sign stood on the edge of the property, tucked between National Forest land and golden hills speckled with catclaw acacia.
Page Springs Cellars
With financial support from his family, he bought the land in 2004 and launched Page Springs Cellars. In 2007 he and rockstar Maynard James Keenan started Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, a label with national distribution. Glomski bought out Keenan in 2014. His latest project is Provisioner, a wine for the people, he says. At less than $10 a bottle, it’s cheaper and more accessible to the masses than his other labels.
“While a business has to be about money to a certain degree, it has to have a greater goal,” Glomski says. “It has to help people grow, play a positive role in the community. We have a goal of putting Arizona wine on the map.”
Helping Glomski with that goal are six other wineries in the Verde Valley, blanketing the landscape with about 120 acres of grapevines. Most of the state’s vineyards lay farther south, so this emerging wine-producing region has a youthful, frontier-like energy to it.
Across the valley lies Alcantara Vineyards, which got its start in 2005. To get there, you take 89A out of Cottonwood, drive over a cattle guard and down a dusty road where the red rocks of Sedona loom in the distance. And then suddenly, there’s a burst of green on a hillside, as Alcantara’s grapevines race in orderly lines down to the Verde River and Oak Creek, which meet on the edge of the property.
They’re the only two rivers in Arizona that originate in the state and run year round, says Brian Predmore, the vineyard’s chief operating officer and son of founder Barbara Predmore. Along with producing a wine named Confluence, the winery celebrates the rivers rather uniquely. Partnering with Sedona Adventure Tours, Alcantara’s Tuscan-style tasting room is the last stop on a half-day Verde River “Classic Water-to-Wine Tour.” It’s a fantastic way to stay cool, tour the valley and sample its wines.
Before Alcantara, Native Americans lived in the area, and their petroglyphs and ruins remain. Later missionaries planted grapes and kept bees, the honey of which tastes like grapes today. Barbara Predmore sees her role as a caretaker of sacred land that’s deeply rooted in family values. She compares the deep root system of the grapevines that needs to be constantly nurtured to thrive to that of caring for the land, her family, community and the people who visit.
“It’s why I named the vineyard after my grandmother,” she says. “It’s based on the values that have been passed down through my family for generations. Never do anything unless it benefits others.”
Along with her husband and son, she works with Craig Boyd, Alcantara’s winemaker and vineyard manager.
Standing in the 62-degree winery, Boyd and Brian Predmore talk about growing grapes in the valley, which sits at 3,200 feet.
“What grapes thrive on is temperature swings,” says. Boyd. “We drop 30-40 degrees in a day, and grapes love that."
But a big threat is birds that descend on the fields. So Alcantara staff wrap the vines in netting before the grapes start to turn color, and the acid starts to drop.
“They’ll strip a vineyard. Raccoon, deer, elk, javelina—it’s like the Mutual of Omaha. Starlings are the worst," Boyd says.
But as the two men leave Alcantara’s barrel room to the shocking sunlight of a summer day, life seems pretty peaceful. Several hundred yards away, excited kayakers have docked their boats and are walking toward the Alcantara tasting room.
Predmore turns to survey the rolling hills of grapevines covering the family's property and smiles before asking, “How many people get to come to work and have this view?”
Wine Tasting on the Verde Valley Wine Trail
Sample the flavor of Verde Valley between Sedona, Cottonwood and Jerome, at seven Arizona wineries and eight tasting rooms.
3445 South Grapevine Way, Cottonwood, (928) 649-8463, www.alcantaravineyard.com
1151 West State Route 89A, Clarkdale, (928) 634-0443, www.chateautumbleweed.com
Clear Creek Winery
4053 E Hwy 260, Camp Verde, (602) 904-0173, www.rioclarowines.com
1901 N Dancing Apache Road, Cornville, (928) 301-0791, www.daranch.com
Javelina Leap Vineyards
1565 Page Springs Rd., Cornville, (928) 649-2681, www.javelinaleapwinery.com
Page Springs Cellars
1500 N. Page Springs Rd., Cornville, (928) 639-3004, www.pagespringscellars.com
Oak Creek Vineyards
1555 Page Springs Rd., Cornville, (928) 649-0290, www.oakcreekvineyards.net
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards
1023 N. Main Street, Cottonwood, (928) 639-2789, www.azstronghold.com
Burning Tree Cellars
1040 N Main St., Cottonwood, (928) 649-8733, www.burningtreecellars.com
240 Hull Avenue, Jerome, (928) 634-7033, www.cellar433.com
Fire Mountain Wines
1010 N. Main Street, Cottonwood, (928) 649-9135, firemountainwines.com
417 Hull Avenue, Jerome, (928) 649-9800, passioncellars.com
Pillsbury Wine Company
1012 N Main St., Cottonwood, (928) 639-0646, www.pillsburywine.com
Southwest Wine Center's Teaching Winery
YC Verde Valley Campus, 601 Black Hills Drive, Clarkdale, (928) 634-6566, southwestwinecenter.org
747 N. Main Street (Inside The Manheim Gallery), Cottonwood, (520) 477-9463, winery101.com