By: Hannah Gardner
My dad has always said that his goal was to sit with a glass of his own wine watching the sun set against vines from his porch. If you get him talking, he’ll tell you that this dream began at the top of a foot stool in a small, dusty liquor store on a campus in Madison, Wisconsin. Badger Liquor. Working with that wine collection and exploring it through team dinners inspired him to create his own vineyard. Together my mother and father spent years searching for their perfect plot eventually choosing the shadow of the Mustangs in 2008.
The first vines were planted in 2010, a test plot entirely made by the friends and family of Ann and Jim Gardner. One whirlwind Saturday our 40 volunteers planted 400 vines, battled one rattlesnake, then spent the night celebrating with a pig roast in our red barn. It would take three more of these Saturdays to build our vineyard as it appears today.
Vines fruit several years after planting, so during this time my father began experimenting in our backyard with small lots. He converted our garage and filled it with bins of fruit and small glass vials. Several times my father would call me over to the lab work table and together we would perform experiments to test ph or sugar content. As an engineer by education, every detail had to be tested to ensure accuracy in his final result. These backyard experiments helped a lot with my high school chemistry grades. Sometimes however, the grapes would throw a curve ball.
One lot, a Zinfandel crop, came to us a little over-ripe, meaning they had been on the vine too long and the sugar content was high. He compensated but the juice had a mind of its own. The fermentation stuck and our largest test lot was ruined. Topping out at over 17.5% alcohol content our Zinfandel had enough alcohol in it that it killed whatever yeast we introduced despite containing a high amount of residual sugar. The full vat was scrapped except for 12 cases salvaged by a family friend who refused to believe, what was family friends and what was nicknamed Triple X, was worthless. As it turns out that Zinfandel has only 1 case left and its possession has been vigorously fought over by the extended family for its smooth finish and strong fruit forward flavor. This bottle benefited greatly from sitting over time.
Putting this perceived failure behind him, my dad pushed forward and entered the Arizona State Fair Amateur Wine Competition winning 3 ribbons for Best in Show 4 years in a row. He grew into larger grape lots from California, scaling up to become professional, and provided the vineyard with its first sell-able wine. I accompanied him in the semi bound for Paso Robles, California early on a Saturday morning. The plan was to pick up our Petite Sirah and make it back for school on Monday. A couple hours into our drive, the rental truck broke down and the agency had to send us a new one. Running behind we carried on and made it to our partner vineyard Sunday morning. On the drive back our second truck broke down stranding us just inside the California border. We and our one tons of grapes ended up getting towed, in the semi-truck, all the way back to Phoenix arriving at 7am Monday morning with absolutely no sleep. That particular Petite Sirah became an award winner and one of our fastest selling bottles.
Today we offer a variety of wines from grapes grown in our estate vineyard. Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Malvasia, Rousanne, and Riesling all have a piece of our hill. The hill provides our family with several micro-climates that allow us to grow grape varietals from all over the world. Alongside this unique terroir feature we choose to operate in tandem with nature. We have bird boxes positioned along the fence line to help contain pests, compost, and do not use a bare earth policy in order to limit both carbon emissions and erosion. As a result our winery is environmentally supportive and offers varied flavor profiles. We encourage everyone to explore by driving down to our barn, taking a tour of our wines, meeting the dogs, and learning about our process. Everyone who works the tasting room has taken part in the preparation of our wines and will be happy to answer questions. Our furry welcoming committee will often escort you down the hill. Nico and Opal, our two white shepherds, love visitors and if you let them will cover you in white fur. These two rescues follow our first vineyard dog Dexter as ambassadors for the Arizona White German Shepherd Rescue and donate all of their tips to the rescue’s efforts.