Monday, December 24, 2007


It has been an eventful year. Our Farm Festival in April was our kick off event and brought together other SE Arizona winemakers and local farmers, authors and artisans. We opened for reals September 22 and have had a steady stream of visitors since then. The past few weeks have been cold and miserable weather in Sonoita/Elgin but the hearty souls that ventured out were serious about wine and frequently repeat customers. Joan and I, and Kathryn enjoy the tasting room and the opportunity to educate people about Arizona Wines. In early December we had our first Christmas and Holiday concert, featuring Oro de Suenos, which was a smashing success for our friends and neighbors and a moving tribute to my mother who died this year.

The year to come will bring pruning, spring planting of our remaining three acres, a repeat of the sparkling experiment, bottling, harvest, and so on as the rhythms of this life wind another cycle. I am especially excited about the wine from the 2007 harvest that is now quietly resting and coming together in the barrels in our winery (see December Tasting Notes).

All of us at Canelo Hills Vineyard and Winery wish for a healthy and prosperous year for you all and peace in our world in 2008.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Winter Wonderland

Yes, this is Southern Arizona! After two consecutive cold, rainy, windy week-ends the sun came out to unveil the Santa Ritas topped with snow. Our grape vines have finally gone into their dormant winter sleep. That means it is time for me to get back to work. Starting with the new year I will return to my farming activities which start with the pruning of all 3500 vines!

In the mean time, I will be working week-ends in the tasting room. Come visit and try our Chardonnay, Riesling, Sangiovese, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Arizona wines are a great gift giving idea.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dec. 2 Concert

We had a wonderful start to the holiday season with a concert performed by the Suenos de Oro Quartet and goat cheese logs and tortes provided by a local producer, fiore di capra. It was such a success we are thinking of doing it again next year.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Help! Again

When our good friend, Jay, decided to visit from Washington, D.C. little did he know he'd be working so hard this past Saturday. Thanks to all the new people we met, it was a very busy day. Jay ended up working very hard. So, once again we were saved by one of the wonderful people who are in our lives. The bounty of friendship never ceases to amaze me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Food and Wine

This Friday, November 9, from 5-7pm, I'll be pouring three of our wines to pairings of Thai Food at Vila Thai Cuisine, Main Gate Square, 972 E. University Blvd. , Tucson, AZ 85719 , Phone: 520-903-9777. Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards will be joining me pouring his wine as well. The cost is $10. I think you'll be surprised at how compatible wine and Thai food can be when in the hands of masters.


This past week-end my two usual tasting room partners, Tim and Kathryn, were not available. Friday I managed until the end of the day when the tasting room was busy and a case of wine needed to go out the door. In walked our friends, Ann and Ron, fellow grape growers, who were more than willing to help out. Saturday Nathan, who has been a volunteer since the second season of planting, again came through and worked the tasting room. Actually, he is so good I went and sat down for a while! Once again, I am thankful for all the wonderful folks I know.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

50 Years

Sometimes our winery and my wines will delight, surprise, and even startle the people who come to taste them. Sometimes someone who comes into the tasting room does that to me. “Hi, you probably don’t remember me, I used to baby sit you 50 years ago”. Thus was the introduction by Charlotte (Albrecht) Gamble and her husband Mike. When I was a wee lad living in Seattle, she was a teen and looked after my sibs and me. Catching up on 50+ years of time made me reflect on the journey of life, especially the one Joan and I have taken. The youthful romance of “having our own winery” is replaced with the reality of the challenges of farming and being a mom and pop business. But basically Life is good and there will be much to be thankful for as we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner in a few weeks.

Monday, October 22, 2007


A couple weeks ago, I transferred the last of the new wine into oak barrels. The week before, I had let the wine settle and finish fermentation - or so I thought. This weekend as Joan and I were labeling some of the 2006 Sangiovese bottles, we heard a loud POP. Upward went flying a bung from one of the Nebiollo barrels. A quick inspection revealed that the wine was still bubbling, albeit rather weakly. That made me decide to check the remaining barrels and for the most part I was able to vent just a little pressurized carbon dioxide. However there was a particularly stubborn bung in one barrel of the Estate Syrah and as I struggled with it, it finally gave way with an explosive sound followed immediately by a geyser of carbonated, delicious, fragrant, inky black wine. As Joan mopped up the mess, I groaned. This is one of ways that barrels get that beautiful purple embrace.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Last week was the end of the active phase of harvest. Coincidently the Harvest Moon occurred on the same night Joan and I pressed the last of the Sangiovese. It was a spectacular sight rising over the Mustang Mountains at dusk and setting behind the Santa Ritas the next morning. As exciting as harvest and crush is for us; it is totally crazy busy - bringing in, receiving and harvesting grapes, crushing them, punching down a couple times a day, pressing the must, then after settling for a day or so moving them to the barrels that will be their first resting place. Did I mention cleaning up before and after each step? The fruit this year look fabulous, even better than last year – both our own and the grapes that come from our growers in Cochise County. I’ll keep you posted as the wine progresses.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Grand Opening Success!

Those of you who made it down to Sonoita for our opening day celebration know what a fun day it was. Thank you all for coming and making it successful with your good cheer. It was great to see old friends and to meet new people. We look forward to seeing you all again and to meeting those of you who have yet to visit our tasting room.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


We're ready for our opening on September 22! Come on over! Joan and Tim

Thursday, September 13, 2007


We spent last week-end pressing the grapes we had destemmed the previous week-end. By late Sunday we were through. Tim disposed of the pomace in our compost pile. We will mix it with alpaca manure when we get enough of both. So, what is pomace, anyway? It's only a fancy name for the pressed grape skins.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The grapes are harvested!

Whew! The past week has been a busy one. Tim and I had planned to spend the week-end labeling our wine and getting the building ready for our Sept 22 Grand Opening. Then Tropical Storm Henriette threatened both our vineyard in Sonoita and our grape suppliers' vineyards in Willcox. We all made a quick decision to get most of the grapes off the vines. So, Tim and I had several long days, from before sunrise to after sunset, picking, destemming and crushing. The winery now smells of fermenting grapes but Tim will write more about that as he is the wine maker. As the farmer in the family, it is a good feeling to have the grapes in bins. Now I can get back to preparing for the opening.

Friday, August 31, 2007

What IS Tim doing?

You may be wondering what this thing is that Tim is looking through. It's called a hand refractometer. It is one of the many tools a winemaker uses during harvest season. I think it is an amazing little thing and is used to measure the sugar level in grapes to see if they are ready to harvest. It's very handy because it can be used right in the vineyard and only needs a drop of juice. Our grapes are not quite there yet. They will need another couple of weeks on the vine.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Vineyard Workers

As I walked up the vineyard rows Saturday to take pictures of the sun setting I noticed this spider busily at work building its web. That made me reflect on all the living critters at work in the vineyard and made me once again appreciate how complicated nature is and how interdependent we all are on each other.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One Month Until Opening!

Our Grand Opening is in one month and we are busy getting ready. All the wine Tim made last fall, the Syrah, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Malvasia, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Riesling is in bottles and will be available for tasting. The labels are in and the glasses have been delivered (actually, they are sitting next door on Callaghan's porch until Tim and I can get over there to fetch them). Last week-end Ian and Rhain visited from New York City and consulted on designing the tasting area. Tim and I are working on that. Kathryn and I are planning a fun event starting with a blog scavenger hunt. The first item to find will appear on our web site soon. So check back in the next day or two to start collecting the answers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


A lot is happening this time of the year. The air and sun are getting Fall'ish. The mornings start out just a bit cooler. The daytime shadows are just a bit longer. The sunsets seem to linger just that tiny bit more. The white wine grapes from Willcox are getting close to harvest. The grapes at our vineyard are becoming increasingly purple - that intense black, purple that only grapes become. The yeast and fermentation supplies have arrived from the suppliers. The wine from last year is nearly all in bottles, making room in the winery for the new juice that will come soon enough. Magic.

Farm dogs

I can't say our dogs are the hardest working of vineyard dogs but they sure are the most adorable, don't you agree? Lisa, next door at Callaghan's and Sarah, up the road a piece at Rancho Rossa may disagree but I'm going to stick my neck out here a little and claim that little Emma and ol' Cassie are the most adorable vineyard dogs this side of the Canelos!

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Sometimes the monsoon brings a gentle rain. Sometimes it's a dramatic electrical storm that is visible in the distance and is a treat to watch from the front porch. Sometimes it's crash bang right overhead. Crash bang overhead is bad when it's full of falling ice. Hail beats the crap out of plants and bruises grapes. Sometimes it's just a deluge. We haven't had the irrigation turned on in a month due to the monsoon rainfall. This storm last week that dumped 2.3 inches was a bit much.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My (and Emma's) Favorite Job

Every year we get behind on putting the wires up on the trellising. So we do it little by little, usually at the end of the day. My job is to watch the wire coming off the spool and fix it if it gets tangled while Tim walks up and down the rows attaching the wire to the poles. I sure have the better end of this job!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Cover Crop

In starting our vineyard I had a goal of impacting the natural environment as little as possible and if I could, even leave some of it in better shape. One of my goals has been to use a cover crop between the rows for soil fertility and vine nutrition. This is hard to do in an arid area as I didn't want the crop to use the precious irrigation water. With lots of expert help I chose tepary beans, a legume grown in Southern Arizona by the Tohono O'odham people for centuries. This is the second year we planted them just before the start of the monsoon rains. The beans are growing with only the natural rainfall. As soon as they flower the beans will be tilled into the soil to enrich it with nitrogen. We also planted some on the side of the winery building for harvest. So far the experiment is going well.

Monday, July 23, 2007


The purpling begins imperceptibly at first. Out of the corner of my eye as I walk through other vineyard tasks something looks a little different. Is it really turning? Seems early this year. Then a few yards along there is more color, then more. Then over the course of the weekend the unmistakable change occurs. The rhythm of the vineyard amazes me, and especially the critical turning points. Veraison is one of them. Fully ripe grapes will follow in a month or two; then harvest begins.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


There are many painful things about farming, most of them are things that happen to us - weather, equipment failure, unwanted animals, nutritional problems, and insect pests to name a few. The worst ones are things we do to ourselves. What sense does it make to remove fruit from the vine? How can I make wine if the farming end handicaps the winemaking by dumping perfectly good fruit? Grape vines live to make grapes and young vines are particularly fruitful. Getting the grapes perfectly ripe for making wine is not the plant's goal and they don't think much about the future the hedonistic creatures that they are. Most of our vines are young so this year they set way more fruit than is healthy. So the excess fruit has to go. That means checking out each plant, making some assessment of how strong it is, guestimating how much fruit it can bring to complete ripeness while still remaining strong enough to withstand the rigors of winter and our pruning, and then dropping the rest bunch by bunch. Joan, who spends much more time with the vines than do I, says I'll get used to it. Ouch, ouch, ouch . . . . .

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sonoita Monsoon Rains

The summer rains have started. I have to say I don't quite have the darting inside part right yet. Sunday while Tim and I were working on putting wires up I heard thunder and looked south to see rain in the distance. I could feel the cool wind sending the clouds our way. I thought, is this the time to go inside? I then looked north over the vineyard and saw, well, blue skies! So we kept working. This time it was the right decision. My neighbor, Kent, says he goes inside when the lightning cracks over his head. Somehow I don't think he has it right either!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Gathering Storm

The Monsoon storms are on their way. During monsoon season the morning starts out warm with very clear blue skies. As the day progresses clouds start popping up over the mountains and gathering into dark thunder heads. A favorite path they take is over the Huachuca Mountains. I can watch them from the vineyard and dart inside the building when the thunder sounds as though it is moving my way. The rains are a mixed blessing. Grape vines love the moisture falling from the sky. The nitrogen that is released turns the leaves a dark green and it is always nice to ratchet down the irrigation. On the downside, the damp can start the growth of powdery mildew, the winds can cause damage to the vines and sometimes great bursts of hail plummet and bruise the grape clusters. In spite of these things I get a thrill when I see the first clouds appear over the mountains.

Monday, July 2, 2007


We got up at 5am on Saturday to do some tractor work in order to beat the heat and wind. The tractor didn't start. Dead battery. The battery guy said they only last about 2 years in this desert climate. The sunrise was nice but now what? Flexibility seems to be the grape farmers mantra. I can't recall how many times Joan and I have organized some sort of schedule of tasks only to be derailed by rain, lightning, heat, wind, bugs, malfunctioning equipment, new disasters, blown up irrigation, simple repairs gone horribly wrong, injuries, bad moods, you name it. This may be Arizona wine country, but it's pretty isolated out here. I can't exactly call the Winery Cooperative Tractor Repair Guy or Gal to come give me a fix. So a dead tractor battery meant postponing that piece of work. Cursing my skinned knuckles as I wrestle the old battery out of the tractor. Dropping a chunk of change on a new battery. Anticipating more skinned knuckles getting the new one where it belongs. Waking up at 5 am again, etc, etc. You get the idea. But in truth I feel pretty fortunate to be fighting this battle and not some life/death struggle in the Middle East, Africa, or some other part of this earth. Peace and Happy Independence Day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Screw the cork or Zork the cork?

From the beginning we had planned to use screw caps as the closure for our wines. Corks were a great improvement over sealing wax and cotton plugs a few hundred years ago, but there are more consistent alternatives these days. Small guys like us just can't afford to sacrifice 5-10% of our wine to the spoilage that accompanies corks. But we couldn't swing the cost of the screw cap machine with everything else we need and we already had the gear to stuff corks in a bottle, so for the next year or two we are buying the cleanest corks we can and keeping our fingers crossed. Along comes the Zork closure - a new fangled idea from Australia. Joan told me to check them out a few months ago, but I paid no attention until Will returned from Australia and sent me a photo and testimonial. The technical data confirm it has no risk of cork taint as might be expected from a plastic device, and is more like a screw cap that a cork in terms of oxygen ingress and premature aging of wines. Maybe we'll try a few hundred and see how they fair in the tasting room. Check them out at:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sangiovese Day

Yesterday we bottled about 80 cases of Sangiovese. This yummy Italian grape is in your favorite Chianti, and it's the first Canelo Hills red to be put in bottles. Tiffany and Tristan came down to help. Since they were such troopers, we filled, corked, and boxed a case of wine every few minutes.

We took a break for lunch and some barrel-tasting of the Syrah and Cabernet which have a little more stewing to do before they're ready for bottles. Already pretty tasty, though!

At the end of the hot day of work, we were ready for long naps, but as you can see, the dogs were still ready to rumble.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Yeah, right. Typical of males,Tim gets to praise the grapes that magically appear and grow on the vines. I, of course, am left with the daily task of tugging, coaxing and demanding they grow up right. Right now our third year Syrah is in its adolescence. It wants to grow up way too fast and thinks the direction it wants to head in is the right one. In this picture I am trying to keep up with the growth, clip its exuberance back and direct it in a way that will sustain it for many years. This is not an easy task as they are already towering over my head.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Early Childhood Development

In about 100 days the vines go from looking totally dead to offering up fully ripe grape clusters. It's a miracle really. I'm mostly down at the vineyard on weekends, so the changes are more dramatic to me then they are to Joan who toils several time a week and experiences more incremental changes. Watching the vine tendrils lasso what ever they feel like (I'd prefer they lasso the trellis wire) is the most amazing, almost sentient activity the vines undertake, but to me the growth and progress of the grape clusters is the most exciting. I suppose that's because I make the wine. These are some fine looking Syrah grape children.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Winters are rough on grape vines and this year was no exception. There was a period of time in the winter that the temperatures dipped down to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Grape plants don't like that very much and when combined with the challenging growing conditions in our part of the world the added stress was just too much. Grape farming is all about renewal. So I had to rip out the dead old plants to put in the new ones. Actually "rip" is the technical term. I dug the dang things out. Farming provides lots of time for meditation and my mediation as I struggled with stubborn root systems is that a shovel is the tool I have used most in the vineyard. This is what a grape vine cemetery looks like.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Usually I don't help Joan much in the vineyard this time of year. For the past several years it's been building construction and trellis work that has occupied my time. (Oh I shouldn't forget madly putting up a deer fence last year.) But this year I have been helping with the important task of training and shaping the growing vines. One morning, early before the wind stated to pick up, I noticed a sweet perfume in the air. It was like a very faint honey smell. I had never before smelled the scent of grape flowers. The vineyard is full of tens of thousands, probably even millions of grape cluster flowers now and it didn't take long to identify them as source of the aroma. Heavenly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


It’s taken me a few days to write this entry. First there was Denial – “Tim, when I was down at the winery today it smelled a lot like sparkling wine. Maybe one of the bottles leaked”. Then there was Anger, accompanied by a lot of cuss words. I tried to Bargain – well maybe not all the bottles leaked, maybe if I just do a super tightening redo job on the crown caps it’ll preserve the pressure that is remaining in the bottles, maybe it was just one bottle that was defective and blew up under the pressure. The Depression stage is just lifting as I’ve stopped busying myself with meaningless and repetitive tasks to distract myself from Accepting that almost all 45 cases of sparkling wine were lost because of a defective bottle that didn’t allow a pressure tight seal for the secondary fermentation and essential carbonation that occurs in the bottle. I did learn that the yeast build up was successful and the secondary fermentation was progressing full steam. My dad asked what I learned. “There are a lot of ways to screw up winemaking.” (Apologies to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Vineyard Work

What goes on in the vineyard in the early summer? Lots! Grape vines are not creepers. They start running up and along the wires much faster than workers can keep up! This picture shows Kathryn selecting one shoot to tie up on the bamboo pole. The vines are our second year Cabernet Sauvignon. They will be trained up the pole and along the wire. Unfortunately, second year grapes are too young to crop. We will have to wait until next year to make Cab. wine. Patience in a virtue for grape growers. I am learning.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Making wine fills me with anxious expectations, but even more so the making of sparkling wine. First there's the task of making a sound base wine, in this case a Chardonnay with grapes from Cochise County. Then the yeast has to be "build up", meaning getting it used to living in a high alcohol environment. A measured amount of sugar is added to the base wine (4 grams per liter for each desired atmosphere of pressure) and the built up yeast is pitched to the wine. I always wait overnight to make sure there is some fermentation action, then the sugary, yeasty, base wine is bottled in champagne bottles and sealed with a crown cap. Over the next few months the yeast turns the added sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide, but as opposed to primary fermentation, the production of carbon dioxide is the main goal. The tightly capped bottle prevents the gas from escaping and it becomes dissolved in the wine, AKA bubbles. This is the basis of the methode champenoise. It takes the yeast so long because they don't like the high pressure and increasingly high alcohol environment. When they are done and die the chore will be to get them out of the bottle, but that's the other half of the story.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Three days of planting and tending the growing second leaf cabernet sauvignon was exhausting. Partly it's the up and down all day long, but I'm sure it's also these aged bodies protesting. One reward of long days at the vineyard are the quiet evenings Joan and I get to spend on the winery porch. The wine tasting traffic stops, the wind almost always dies down and the birds and other animals do their end of the day thing. But nothing is quite as spectacular as the sun setting behind the Santa Rita mountains.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Re-Planting Week-End

This year Tim and I decided to concentrate on replanting the vines that did not make it over the last few years. Our daughter, Kathryn, her fiance, Casey, and good friend, Nathan all came to help. We planted Syrah, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the main vineyard. In the experimental vineyard we replanted some Zinfandel and Riesling. Then we all planted two rows of Gewurztraminer. "Gerwurztraminer in Arizona?" you question. Well, it is an experimental vineyard! We'll see how it grows and report back to you all!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Friday, May 4, 2007


One of the exciting things about the festival was pouring my wine for others to sample. I had prepared myself for the inevitable scrunched noses and "hmmm, that's interesting" comments when people taste a bone dry riesling. Yet I was thrilled with the positive reception I received and even ecstatic when I sold some wine. The Dehner's were my first customers. We are all smiling. Suddenly I could sense the tide had begun to turn and Joan and my "winery project" had become a business. Next on the agenda for when my son Ian visits in May, at least in the wine making arena, is to build up the yeast for a secondary fermentation and bottle the chardonnay that is still in barrels to make sparkling wine. We plan a limited and early release of some of it during the holidays. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 30, 2007


In spite of wind, rain, a sand storm and the electricity going out, everyone had a good time! The First Annual Wine and Farm Festival drew people from the greater Phoenix area, Tucson, Sierra Vista, Green Valley, Vail, and Sonoita and Patagonia. The inclement weather did not squash the four wineries' enthusiasm for pouring their wines even when chasing blowing paper and money around. They did, however, envy the vendors who were very comfortable inside the building selling their books, fiber goods, breads and cheese, herb jellies and teas, Native Seeds, jewelry, and fine art. So, thanks to all the people who braved the weather and showed up for our festival and to all the wineries and vendors who cooperated to make the event a smashing success!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


A lot of people helped to make this sign a reality, but the two who played central roles are Rhian Swierat and Chuck Waldo. Rhian did the original design work. Chuck suggested the idea of such a sign, put me in touch with someone who could take the jpg file and have a computerized router carve it, secured and glued up the native red oak that is the material, harvested the oak logs from trees in Pinetop, Arizona that form the supporting beam and posts and provided the advice and consultation to see the project through. I hope I've secured it well enough to withstand the wicked winds that blow down there.

Monday, April 23, 2007


The labels did come in the nick of time. Thank goodness. So this weekend we labeled 28 cases of Riesling. Actually Joan did most of it single handedly. I know I am in one of these pictures, but that was only for the first 10 cases. Joan is applying the front and back labels using the labeling jig she insisted on and I designed. I'm using a heat gun to shrink the plastic capsules on the top - hence the gloves. Emma is half watching behind my back. We are ready for the Festival. Bob Johnson from Colibri Vineyards is delivering wine tomorrow. Come on down this Saturday!!