Having only one day off in a while can make it tough. But sometimes you make it worthwhile by visiting a vineyard you’ve never been that’s at the edge of the wine industry… with that in mind, I decided to visit one of the (very) few Vineyards in neighboring Gila County, Bruzzi Vineyards. This vineyard happens to be one of the most unique in the state. Why? Bruzzi Vineyards the only vineyard exclusively devoted to higher-elevation hybrid varietals. It is also the only vineyard in Pleasant Valley that is truly sourcing their fruit exclusively from Pleasant Valley, providing an authentic examination of terroir from this unique region. Let’s get to it.
Here I am with James Bruzzi, the owner of this site. James actually started the vineyard as a hobby, after escaping the city of Phoenix. The vineyard began as an idea of vines around the driveway but quickly expanded across most of his acerage. One of the reasons for this was the desire to find out what varietals would work in this high-elevation site.
After trying to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, and Marquette, James stumbled across a perfect fit. His vineyard is the first site in Arizona to grow Vidal Blanc. This varietal is a grape known for extreme hardiness in the face of late frosts and cold weather. Both of these are the major challenges of growing in Young, Arizona, in the center of fertile Pleasant Valley. So far this grape has been rugged enough to survive–indeed, thrive–in this rugged landscape with a rugged history.
The vineyard is small when compared to the larger vineyards of Willcox, but as one of the only vineyards in Gila County, holds the seeds of promise for the future. (The only others I am aware of are a small, private vineyard on top of the rim, and a vineyard recently planted in Globe). James plans on expanding their planted acreage…
In this particular plot of land, all prepped and tilled, James plans on planting 50 Baco Noir vines, a cold-weather adapted varietal normally associated with the Niagara Escarpment region of Canada and New York State. It is a varietal which I’ve had my eyes on for planting in sites along the Mogollon Rim for a while. I’m happy someone else had the same idea. There are plans to plant Seyval Blanc as well, which has proven to be very successful at D. A. Ranch.
The soils here are very rich and fertile with a long history of agriculture. Pleasant Valley was inhabited in prehistory by various clans of Ancestral Puebloans (Mogollon and Anasazi cultures, specifically), who planted crops of corn, bean, and squash in the area. According to James, this particular vineyard site was once planted with Pinto Beans. Today, James also plants several rows of crops such as pumpkins, as well as several rows of raspberries and blackberries, seen here. To reach water, one needn’t drill as far as you would in Willcox–James says the average depth before striking water is a mere 28 feet.
The growing season here starts later, and harvest is finished up by mid-October, most years. Most telling for me is that most of my vineyard friends down in Willcox are frantically posting pictures of bud break, often coupled with expletives, while the Vidal Blanc vines here are quietly slumbering, and will do so until mid-April. Pruning hasn’t even started yet. (This means I may be able to get my pruning in after all, this season.) The harvest yield is about 1.5 tons per acre.
The landmark windmill on the property is something that will, James hopes, be part of the label for his wines. Here James Bruzzi himself gleefully stands in front of his vineyard, a jewel of Pleasant Valley. His wines are currently made at the Arizona Stronghold facility in Camp Verde; indeed, I reviewed the first vintage produced. James plans on continuing this relationship with Arizona Stronghold indefinitely, and profusely thanks both Corey Turnbull and Eric Glomski for coming to his aid with his first harvest in 2015.
I also tasted a sneak peak at the 2016 vintage that will be poured exclusively at the Bruzzi Vineyard tasting room. Fruit from this vineyard will end up also in the Tazi from Arizona Stronghold at about 3%. In addition, there will be another vintage under the Page Springs label. I found the 2016 vintage to be bright, and crisp, with bright apple notes. Slightly sweet, it struck me as a great white wine for hot summer days. I look forward to sitting with a bottle later in the year. The tasting room is open on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at noon.
I also popped into Trident Winery, as no trip to the Mogollon Rim country is complete without a visit here. Both wineries can be visited within the same day, as they’re only about an hour apart from each other. I highly recommend doing so. Why? The drive alone is worth it, as you will be traveling through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the state. That, and good wines can be found at both. Here is a preview of the Amber Chardonnay that Ray made, which is also pretty tasty.