A Local Food Writer Celebrates Arizona Wines In Her New Book
Christina Barrueta tours the state in search of fine vintages.
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Phoenix-based award-winning food, beverage and travel writer—and Phoenix Home & Garden contributor—Christina Barrueta shares her passion and knowledge of Valley’s burgeoning winegrowing industry in “Arizona Wine: A History of Perseverance and Passion” (The History Press). The volume presents the compelling evolution of viticulture in the Grand Canyon State and includes stories of the individuals who pioneered Arizona winemaking and those who are forging its present and ensuring its future.
“We are at a unique time in our history when our support is helping to shape and develop a new and respected wine region,” says Barrueta. “My hope is that this book encourages readers to get out and explore what is happening right in our own backyard.”
Phoenix Home & Garden: Why this book at this time?
Christina Barrueta: I think it’s important to know that we have something special happening in Arizona. A new wine region is being formed right in our backyard and we have a wonderful opportunity to be a part of it and support it. In 2005, there were only nine licensed wineries. Now there are almost 115. I think that’s a surprise to a lot of people. Our winemakers are bringing home double gold medals and best in class from some of the most prestigious international wine competitions, and wine tourism is now a multi-million dollar industry for Arizona.
PHG: What inspired you to undertake this project?
CB: One reason is education. I still get negative responses when I mention Arizona wine, but usually from someone whose only exposure has been to novelty wine or something they tried a decade ago. I’m hoping this book encourages people to learn more about our wine scene. I didn’t want to write a dry history book, so my aim was to share our present-day winemakers’ and winegrowers’ narratives along with historical accounts. I want people to visit the tasting rooms and feel like they now know the people behind it. I’d love for the book to inspire readers to get out and explore – visit our northern and southern Arizona wine regions, go to their first wine festival, attend an Arizona wine
dinner or a meet-the-maker event. Our winemakers are being recognized internationally but we need more local support. For example, this year Sam Pillsbury entered 14 wines at the prestigious 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and came home with 14 medals. And there are many, many more wineries collecting accolades and awards.. I’m always slightly bemused when someone says, “I tried Arizona wine once, I didn’t like it.” With the number of wineries now flourishing, it’s the perfect time to find that bottle that is going to shift your perception.
PHG: What were the most surprising things you learned?
CB: I had always been a fan of Arizona wine but researching this book and conducting interviews really impressed upon me the passion and tenacity of those who shape our wine industry. Amongst our winemakers you’ll find a former mechanical engineer, film director, math teacher, stockbroker, Grammy award-winning musician, journalist and chef. Everyone is from such diverse backgrounds but all are bound together by a shared learning process and a true love for what they are creating to represent Arizona. I think everyone should plan a visit to wine country. I’ve especially fallen in love with Cottonwood, a beautiful Verde Valley town that has exploded in recent due to the wine industry and the areas’ many tasting rooms. And the varietals the winegrowers are experimenting with are fascinating – from obscure French varietals, to lesser-known grapes from Italy, Spain and the Mediterranean. For example, I think our Malvasia Bianca is incredibly unique.
PHG: What are the most important things to know about Arizona wines and the AZ wine industry?
CB: That is an ever-evolving industry and we’re at a unique time in our history where our support is helping to shape and develop a new wine region. Visit one of our wineries, and odds are the person pouring your wine is the winemaker or a member of their family. It’s a special connection that Arizona can offer as a burgeoning industry. And if we want it to grow and continue to improve, we really need to be supporting these passionate people – attending Arizona wine tastings and festivals to educate ourselves, purchasing their wares, and asking for Arizona wine at restaurants.