Sunday, March 12, 2006

Callaghan Vineyards

There's a sign by the road, once you get close to Sonoita/Elgin, that says 'Entering Wine Country'. But there's no vines to be seen. Scanning the vast plains of straw colored dead grass, I'm thinking, okay, I see lots of country, so where's the wine?

Another turn, another country road, a bend to the left and another to the right...I'm looking for what Kent Callaghan described as "a tan building". Dude, all the buildings are tan, and set way too far from the road to assess their relative size or function. Fortunately, there's a sign that says 'winery' and points to Callaghan Vineyards.

The wind is really fierce, ruffling the golden fur of the vineyard dog who comes to greet me. It's too blustery outdoors for a picture or a scritch behind the ears, so I'm headed to the door. Sorry, pup.

Once past the homelike facade, the building is a warehouse full of stock with a tasting table set up diagonally a few yards inside. Just inside the door, the Callaghans have put a large collection of their own favorite wines: Italian, Californian, French, a wide variety of styles. All the bottles are empty, of course; a testament to their enthusiasm for the Beautiful Juice.

Interview, Kent Callaghan

C&D: It seems like Arizona wine is really set to take off. You yourself have gotten great reviews from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator...
Callaghan: Inconsistent press. Timewise, anyway. We went through a rough middle period. But, yeah. It's a good place to grow grapes.

How did you get started?

Initially, I didn't have any idea what I was doing, my dad and I really started the place. He'd been a home winemaker for a couple of years...I took several UC Davis extension courses, but we made a huge number of mistakes, although we were lucky, early on.

When you say mistakes, what sort of mistakes did you mean?

In '95, it was the result of trying to cope with a series of devastating frosts in April. We had a succession of frosts, perfectly spaced to wipe out the next wave of buds. So the crop was really small and I didn't have any experience with trying to deal with that kind of thing, so my natural inclination was to try to get a crop. So I added more fertilizer, which wasn't too bright, and watered more, which had the result of incredible vegetative now you've got these green (tasting), hideous wines...I still get people who say they love the '95's, but they were horrible wines. But we started to pull it around in '97.

Do you still have the same varietals now that you started with in the beginning?

No. Out of seventeen acres...we're getting rid of merlot next year, we're going to replant petite sirah, two and a half acres of cabernet is getting ripped out in favor of tempranillo...

Why that change?

Tempranillo's great. Cabernet's...a great blender, we used to have nine of our seventeen acres, originally Cabernet, too much Cabernet. It's not that great here, it's too warm here.

So you're basically going to varietals that are better suited to where you are.

Yeah. Yeah, that's the only thing I think we...once we figured out what we were doing...I don't care about marketing, planting things that are hot...that's the only thing I've done intelligently, is not trying to follow that. We just plant whatever we want, whatever we think's gonna work.
It's like Mourvedre. People were asking me what the hell I was thinking, people can't even pronounce the's one of our most popular wines. Mourvedre.

Lisa and Kent Callaghan

What's your yearly case production?

About 2,000. Eighty percent is sold here, the rest is distribution.

Let me ask you the question I'm asking everyone: what does the word 'terroir' mean to you?

There's no question that site is incredibly important, anyone who's ever worked a vineyard knows that. When you're picking fruit yourself, you see that.


The Callaghan's wines are quite good. They're full without being jammy, the tannins are mostly quite supple, and the aromatics are true to the varietals. My favorites:

2004 Zinfandel: big, rich, evenly balanced.

2004 'Lisa's Selection' White (60% Viognier, 40% Reisling) the whites I've had thus far have often lacked the nose associated with the varietal. This one smells great.

2004 'Back Lot' Cuvee (62% Mourvedre, 38% Syrah) Someone loves the Rhone....

I'm finding that I'm meeting more people and learning more than I can post evenly, so the next post will come right on top of this one. And on a Monday, no less. Oh well. You don't have anything better to do of a Monday, right? Right?



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