One of the nice aspects of moving cross country is the prospect of making new discoveries. Michelle and I have enjoyed the opportunity to seek out restaurants, theater and retail stores in our recently adopted hometown. Some of these local finds have been intentional; chosen by research or recommendation, while others are just happenstance. The same applies to the world of wine. I take great delight in uncovering something special; even more so when it is, more or less, in my own backyard.
This month I would like to share with you a recent "find" and one which I became aware of by almost pure chance. While I have heard the name Aridus before, it was only in passing. I had never seen their bottles in local stores, read about them in trade periodicals, nor received any recommendations on their wine. Fortunately for me a colleague within the wine industry connected me with Lisa Strid, the head winemaker for Willcox-based Arius Wine Company. Lisa has been with Aridus for three years, coming to them after a stint in the research and production division of one of the largest wine operations in California. My conversations with Lisa left me with the impression that her work at Aridus has been nothing short of exceptional. I had an opportunity of tasting four of Lisa’s wines, finding them well balanced and with a level of complexity rarely found in Arizona wines. One of these wines, a 2016 limited production Syrah could have easily held its own against well-known and highly rated Syrahs from California and Washington costing twice as much.
Aridus was established by Scott Dahmer in 2012, planting a vineyard on 40 acres in Pierce and later purchasing a historic apple processing barn in Willcox and repurposing it into a state of the art winemaking facility. The name Aridus was chosen in homage to the high altitude desert setting where the vineyard is based. In February of this year Aridus was named as one of the industry’s "Hot Brands" by Wine Business Monthly, being recognized as a producer that has been making a statement in the wine industry. The winery facility itself received an award from the International Interior Design Association’s Southwest Chapter for excellence in design. While Aridus currently sources some of their grapes from other producers the long term goal is to become an entirely estate-sourced operation.
In the vineyard Aridus employs sustainable and organic farming practices wherever possible, using drip irrigation to conserve the region’s precious water resources. In the winery Lisa is committed to continuously improving the company’s processes, stating that “we’re extremely dedicated to quality and as such, perform extensive trials every year in order to identify the practices that will allow us to fully express who we are as a winery.” Aridus is by no means a small winery, with a production level that places them in the top three operations within the State and their wine club has more than 900 members. The company offers an entry level "Tank" series of blends; the mid-tier "Aridus" series, and has plans from a signature level "Barrel" series.
Sampling wines from Aridus currently requires a road trip as they are currently unavailable in the Tucson market. You can either head south to their tasting room in downtown Willcox, or plan a day browsing the galleries of Old Town Scottsdale, then dropping by their tasting room at 7173 E. Main St. Either way it is definitely worth the drive. While I’m ordinarily loath to navigate the traffic in metro Phoenix, the thought of sitting down with a glass of Aridus Graciano, Malbec or that heavenly Syrah makes the trip far more palatable. For additional info check out their website: adriduswineco.com.
This month’s wine challenge varietal is Chenin Blanc, a grape with its roots in the Loire Valley of France. Wonderfully focused with flavors of apple and pear and possessing a mineral driven acidity, the best Chenin Blancs tend to be from the appellations of Vouvray and Savenniéres. Served chilled, Chenin Blanc is a refreshing warm weather wine. A Loire producer that I highly recommend is Domaine des Baumard. In the southern hemisphere, South Africa is known for producing affordable, easy drinking Chenin Blanc. Spier, a major producer in South Africa, bottles a reasonably priced example that you can often find for less than $10.
The month of May tends to mark the departure of our seasonal residents. For those heading toward more temperate climes I wish you safe travels and an enjoyable summer. Feel free to keep up-to-date with my wine musings and monthly challenge selections at saddlebagnotes.com/wine-lovers.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to answer your wine questions at email@example.com