Monday, September 27, 2010

Just a vignette from the WineFest...

  So there comes to our tasting table this very handsome pair of ladies. Clearly a mother-daughter duo. Dressed to the nines in "Santa Fe" style. Long flowy dresses, big custom 30's style cowboy hats, seriously valuable concho belts and POUNDS of antique indian jewelry. Shod in custom made multi-colored cowboy boots worth more than any vehicle I own. Mama is shy, I'd guess about 75, long black locks going to grey. Daughter does all the talking. Pays her ticket and discribes Mama's tastes in wine. I suggest Ray's Red. I always suggest Ray's Red, everybody likes it. Hija samples it, pays another ticket and samples in again. Mama does not indulge. Consultations in Spanish ensue and a bottle is to be purchased. I pack the bottle. Thirty dollars and 90 cents I say. Daughter opens her Louis Vuitton wallet and pulls a hundred off a stack of the same that was AT LEAST 2 inches thick and hands it to me. I make her change and we exchange pleasantries and they're off. Two incredibly gracious and friendly women.
  Bet you thought I was gonna say they told me to keep the change. Nope, this is better. About an hour later, I took a break and went to use the Port-O-San out in the parking lot. As I was walking back the two ladies came out of the tent heading to their car, which, as I couldn't resist sneaking a peak after them, turned out to be one of these, sure enough with NM plates. They both got in the car and started it, but didn't leave. I got tired of pretending to look for something under my driver's seat and went back inside. About a half hour later, daughter comes back in without Mama. She wants to buy another bottle of Ray's Red. "My Mom LOVES it!!" She says.
  The image of a septagenarian doyen of Old Santa Fe swilling Ray's Red in the parking lot in her new Mercedes kept me smiling all afternoon.

What exactly IS a "winery" anyhow?

  I guess for most of us, myself formerly included, "winery" means a place where wine is made. Only...ummm...maybe, maybe not. At the Sedona Winefest this past weekend, I learned that "winery" can mean many things. I'm not going to mention any labels here in the interest of remaining as neutral as possible.  Verde Valley wines, it turns out, run the gamut from estate bottled wines that are grown and produced completely locally all the way down to at least one so-called winery which is buying what are termed "shiners". Shiners are pre-bottled wines. You want a nice Cabernet? How 'bout a Shiraz? Merlot? Gotcha covered. Wholesale prices by the case, slap your own label on and you're set to go. How does a "winery" go from scratch to over 30 bottled wines in just a few years? Easy. Buy your wine from somebody else who sells in bulk, label it and call it your own. You can tell people anything you want about your grapes and where they come from. Who's gonna go to Wilcox, Elgin, Sonoita or anyplace else and check out your story? Certainly not the casual tourist or even the average serious wine buyer as long as the wine is passably good and comes with a good story. I think if somebody is truly interested in Verde Valley wines, they'd do well to check things out pretty well.
  The big hurdle in truly local wines here seems to be the price of land. We've got perfect soil and perfect weather here, but even with the downturn land is still prohibitively expensive for winemakers without extremely deep pockets to go out and buy and put vines on. A vineyard planted today won't make any significant amount of wine for three to five years, meantime, you've got to pay to water, weed, feed, prune, protect and nurture that young stock. There are lots of new grapes in our area, and some winemakers are making a sincere effort to eventually produce all their wines from grapes grown right here. Meantime, like any business, they've gotta have cash flow. So they source their grapes from California, or hopefully, and more often than not, from the Wilcox area of the state. They make their wines here for the most part. This is perfectly understandable in an industry as young as this one. The phonies, on the other hand, can only hope to scam the tourists so long. Eventually, this valley will grow AND produce enough quality wine to make their "shiners" glow-in-the-dark-obvious.

Sedona WineFest Day 2 bits and pieces

   I'm going to break this up into shorter posts over the next few days as there's so much to talk about that it's kind of a categorical nightmare. How to organize it all so it doesn't take pages and pages to tell? Sunday was a much more relaxed day all in all. Fewer people than Saturday and a lot more locals, which necessarily meant slower bottle sales. I had the extreme pleasure of spending the day with Ray Freitas, the owner of Freitas Vineyards, whose wine I was selling. I got to be her bottle monkey most of the day, pouring samples while she did the talking.

  Most of us have known a person or two in our lives who is a true master at something. These folks, no matter what it is they do, share some characteristics:
  Their craft, whatever it is, often borders on obsession.
  Their path in pursuing this obsession has often been fraught with serious obstacles.
  They're not "dabblers", but are usually single-minded perfectionists
  Their path is not monetarily driven, in fact it's often costly; a labor of love.

  Ray Freitas is now on my very short list of those people. She and her husband started their vineyard on 5 acres in Cottonwood 12 years ago. This makes her vines the oldest in the valley. She's now a widow, works a full time job in health care in order to continue her real passion, which is making wine. Her wines were arguably the ONLY truly estate wines at this show. Virtually every other winery present was using at least some grapes sourced from someplace else. Not Ray. A question that often came from the samplers who came by the table "where do you source your grapes?" was easily answered by her, "My back yard".
Here's a picture of Ray and two tasters from yesterday. Ray's on the left.