Monday, November 8, 2010

The Festival at The Farm

I've been curious about The Farm At South Mountain for a long time. Back in the 1920's Dwight B. Heard, most well known as the benefactor of the Heard Museum , bought and then split up a large tract of land between Southern Avenue and Baseline Road in south central Phoenix. Heard was more than just a rich land baron. He had the crazy notion that people could live self-sufficiently on a couple of acres of desert. Projects to bring cheap water to the valley were going gangbusters in those days, the nearby Salt River was still an actual river with real water in it, and with your purchase of 2 acres for about 1100 bucks, old Dwight threw in a cow and fifty chickens to sweeten the deal.

Many of these properties still exist in the area. It's pretty neat to be a few minutes from downtown Phoenix and be able to drive down shady streets and see well tended pastures with big gardens and livestock. Kinda makes you feel like all's not lost after all.

  A retired cow puncher named Skeeter Coverdale got hold of 10 of these acres somewhere along the line and planted them in Pecan trees. He took care of that grove for 40 years or so and then decided watching trees grow and picking pee-cons once a year was just too much work and what he really wanted to do was re-retire to Punkin Center where he could "swat flies and drink beer". I think I woulda liked old Skeeter. Anyhow, he sold the place to a guy named A. Wayne Smith.

  I don't generally trust people whose first name is an initial, but Mr. Smith has really got a good thing going with The Farm. He's preserved the grove, Skeeter's cabin, the original buildings, and added several businesses that are under separate proprietorships. There are several restaurants, including Quiessence , where you'll pay a minimum of 75 bucks a head before drinks, dessert and gratuity for the privilege of having an entirely local, seasonal, organic feast prepared by chef Greg La Prad. This place has won numerous awards, including a very prestigious Zagat top 5 restaurants in Arizona.

  The Farm also has a breakfast place, a place to grab a sandwich, an onsite artisan bakery as well as the required "therapy" place where you can get accupunctured, inhale flower essences and presumably get your palm read and your chakras aligned, or tuned up, or irrigated or whatever it is they do to chakras.

  The Arizona Wine Grower's Association has held their annual fete at The Farm At South Mountain for a couple of years, and I can't think of a better place to do it. Spread out with lots of room among the ancient Pecan trees, everything was absolutely first cabin. Even the Port-O-Sans were plush. Not the plastic kind of outdoor johns that you normally get, the kind where you feel like you're inside a garbage bin, no sir. These had running water, AC, flushable toilets, mirrors and even little vases of flowers.

  Of course, it should have been nice. These folks, and there were LOTS of them, paid 65 bucks a pop for unlimited tastings, wine seminars and lunch. I kept thinking "WHAT RECESSION??"
  The day began at noon, with an hour devoted to trade only samplers. Wine retailers, chefs, restaurant buyers and sommeliers came thru to sample and place orders. Business was brisk and these folks are dying to get Arizona wines into their dining rooms and onto their shelves.

  Thinking ahead, we decided to use our lunch vouchers and eat before the public was admitted. My sack lunch consisted of an amazing sandwich of grilled portobello mushrooms and peppers and gorgonzola on the best slices of Pane Toscano bread I've ever tasted. All grown and baked on the premises. The toasted pecan balsamic dressed pasta salad side would have been great all by itself. The Sedona Wine festival could learn a thing or two rom these folks about the food they provide next year. I can still taste the dirty socks flavor of the cold, greasy flatbreads I paid 7 bucks for from the Hilton's booth there. But I digress....

  The rabble was allowed in at 1, and that's when it got REALLY busy. We had people 4 to 6 deep all day. I had the pleasure of working with Amy, who is a chemist-biologist person in the Page Springs Cellars actual cellar, Justin, who handles outside events for the winery, and Eric Glomski, owner/winemaker. It was the first time I'd met Eric and I have to say, he's just a regular, scruffy kind of guy who I think is probably a lot older than he looks. I think some people (who hadn't seen "Blood Into Wine" anyway) assumed I was some kind of boss as I was clearly the oldest one at the table. To their great surprise I kept having to ask Eric and Justin the answers to their questions. "How many cases of El Serrano were produced?" "How much Syrah is in the MSGp?" One lady asked "So Eric works for you as your winemaker?" Uh, no, I answered. WE all work for Eric. He's the boss. He makes the wine and owns the place. Eric is THE MAN. That's the kind of guy he is. Self effacing, a bit reticent and ever complimentary about everyone.

  Friday night there had been a judging of all the wines by some poo-bahs of the wine world. Arizona Stronghold, Eric's partnership with He Who Must Not Be Named (M.J.K.) did well, but Caduceus really hauled away the trophies. If and when I can get a link to the results I'll post them later. Page Springs Cellars didn't win any awards this year, and Justin was somewhat non-plussed about that. I used a goat show analogy to make him feel better. I said, "look, I can take my best doe in milk into a three ring show and she'll place in three different positions before three different judges. One judge might be a Nubian breeder and have a prejudice against Swiss breeds, whether he's aware of it or not. Another judge might like my goat over another for some hard to define reason. It's all personal taste, one individual show doesn't mean squat, it's got to be the same whether you're judging wine, livestock or flower arrangements." I think he liked that.

  In the final analysis, Eric did well no matter how you slice it. Consider: Arizona Stronghold is now arguably the 800 lb. gorilla of Arizona Wines. They have more acreage than anyone else. Their wines are now for sale in 32 states and two Canadian provinces. They sell excess grapes and bulk wine to lots of the smaller wineries who are still waiting for their plantings to mature. M.J.K. may have had the money, time, drive and creative energy necessary to start Merkin and Caduceus, but ERIC taught him how to grow grapes and make wine. Eric works as a consultant winemaker for quite a few of the smaller wineries. I'll bet, conservatively, two thirds of the wineries represented at this show had been in some way affected by Eric Glomski's expertise. I couldn't help but marvel at his cool after about the 20th time somebody asked him "so what's it like working with Maynard?" I wonder if anyone's ever asked Maynard "what would you have done without Eric?"

  I promised myself I wasn't going to comment on the preponderance of tatoos, piercings and dark clothing on the tasters standing 6 deep all day at the Caduceus table, so I won't. There. I didn't. M. J. K. was not in attendance, you'd think these people would figure that out. He never shows. Puscifer was playing a sold out show that night in Phoenix though, so maybe he was lurking around disguised as somebody else. I do kinda like their version of Rocket Man, click the link to listen to it and see all the weird stuff on their website.

  I don't know why Ray Freitas didn't attend. I'd love to have seen how her wines did in the judging. Pillsbury, who markets for her, had a table but I didn't have even a minute to check out the other tables.
I need to talk to them today to get some Ray's Red for Romano Scaturro at Vince's Little Star restaurant in Cornville, so maybe I'll get some information then.

  I really enjoyed this festival. The drive is a piece of cake. Stay on I 17 till it turns into 10, get off on 32nd street, drop down past Broadway, Roeser and Southern and The Farm is on the right just about a block past Southern. It's possible to wander the grove, look at Maya's 2 acre garden and farm and have a pleasant time without spending a dime. Affordable lunches and breakfasts are to be had at the other eateries on the premises too. You don't have to spend a fortune. I'll bet breakfast there this time of year would be pretty special. I'll have to take somebody else's word for that though. Here are a very few shots I had time to take. Salud!