The trip to Arizona was supposed to be about vacation, time spent relaxing, visiting Michael’s family. So when we went to check out the state’s three main wine regions it was supposed to be for the fun of it.
So, naturally, we stumbled onto Sonoita Vineyards. It was the first winery in Arizona after Prohibition. They make a wine with one of the most unusual grapes out there, the Mission grape. And the winemaker is a woman.
Well, it took a while, but Anne finally connected with Lori Reynolds, the winemaker, who told us how Sonoita Vineyards was started by her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Duff.
“We had a thriving table grape industry here in the sixties and seventies,” Reynolds said.
However, she explained, competition from the California table grape industry was undercutting the Arizona grapes. So the governor went to the University of Arizona and met with a team there that included her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil specialist who had been working with the table grape farmers.
“My grandfather said that if table grapes will grow in Arizona, then wine grapes will,” Reynolds said.
The winery was started in 1974 and opened in 1983. Reynolds came on as winemaker after she got her bachelor of science, then realized that she wasn’t as interested in becoming a veterinarian as she’d thought.
“I was having a hard time finding something to do,” she said.
But her grandfather insisted that she was born to make wine, so she studied winemaking through the U.C. Davis Extension, became the assistant winemaker, and in 2013, finally took over the job on her own. She works with her husband, Robi Reynolds, who took over as vineyard manager around the same time after an injury interrupted his plumbing career.
The vineyard grows grapes on 40 acres of the 60 acres they have, Lori Reynolds said. But the most interesting grape they have is a little-known variety that used to be widely planted across the Southwest – the Mission grape.
According to the experts we know, the Mission grape is a hybrid of a grape brought from Spain by Franciscan missionaries in the Eighteenth Century. And, actually, they were growing it in Arizona before it came to California.
We have an unusual connection to the grape via Deborah Hall and Michael’s project with the old vines in downtown Los Angeles. So to taste some of Reynolds’ wine was a treat, indeed. And it was quite tasty.
Reynolds doesn’t ferment her Mission wine to full dryness. Instead of letting the yeast eat up all the grapes’ sugar to make alcohol, she stops the fermentation leaving what’s called residual sugar behind.
“It’s very bitter and astringent without the residual sugar,” Reynolds said.
It can be a bit of a trick to get folks to try the wine until Reynolds explains what to expect.
“I always let [customers] know it’s not dry,” she said. “I also let them It’s not very deep in color. It’s always a ruby red. I let them know that it’s a lower acid, it’s got the sweetness and it depends on the vintage. The 2016, it smells a little like chili pepper. And my ’15 is very clove and cherry with some cranberry.”