Javelina Leap Winery’s Unique Tour
Learning about wine making from a scientific perspective at a Verde Valley winery
Arizona’s wine industry started with just one vineyard in 1973 and there are now over 60 bonded wineries in the state. The majority are located in the south, but there are a few further north, in the Verde Valley.
On a recent visit to Sedona from the Phoenix area, my sister and I decided to visit one of these wineries. We chose to stop at Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery in Cottonwood because it offers food (we figured we’d be ready for a bite by the time we got there) and because it offers tours on Fridays and Saturdays (we visited on a Friday).
I’ve enjoyed tours at other wineries and expected something similar, but the Javelina Leap tour was unique and fascinating.
The tour consisted of a sit-down with one of the owners, Dr. Russel Balda, who talked to us about the making of wine, the growing of the grapes, the history of the winery, and the vegetation in the area. A retired biology professor from Northern Arizona University, he approached the story of wine and grapes from a scientific perspective. His passion for the land and the wine-making was evident.
A few things I remember from his talk:
- Grapes need time to take root. Dr. Balda described the method of growing grapes in the rocky limestone and volcanic ash soil as the “Oh Shit” method. Grapes try for about 4 years to spread out their roots. At that point, they think they are going to die (“Oh, shit”) and turn their energy to producing good grapes and seeds for future plants. The secret to continuing to get good grapes is fooling the grape plants into thinking they will die every year.
- Dr. Balda talked about terroir: the combination of geography, geology and climate interacting with plant genetics. This “sense of place” is what gives wines from different regions their unique characteristics. At Javelina Leap Winery, native Arizona plants are intermixed with the grape vines, improving the nitrogen, water and mineral absorption capabilities of the grapes.
- Wine fermentation occurs when yeast consumes sugar and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Dr. Balda told us fermentation can occur without added yeast using yeast spores present in the air and the yeast naturally present on grape skins. Fermented drinks were made long before Louis Pasteur discovered yeast in the late 1860s. But adding yeast speeds up the process and allows winemakers greater control. Today’s winemakers have developed personal preferences for the type of yeast they add.
- After the primary fermentation, most red wines and some white wines go through a secondary fermentation, where bacteria is added to convert tart malic acid to a softer lactic acid, which Dr. Balda equated to the rich taste of butter.
- The winemaker decides when the grapes are ready to be picked based on a combination of four factors: sweetness (measured by the Brix scale), seed colour (which should be brown), a ph of 3 to 3.5, and taste.
- Red wines are fermented from skins, white wine from juice.
Javelina Leap is a small boutique “mom and pop” winery, in business for 9 years, run by winemakers Rod and Cynthia Snapp. They make full-bodied reds, using a mixture of Zinfadel and Cabarnet Franc grapes grown on the property and grapes obtained from southern Arizona. They have just made their first white wine. Wines range in price from $28 to $50 a bottle. I liked each of the four wines I sampled. All had a rich, vibrant taste.
There is a tasting room in the front, an Arizona room in the back, where food is served, and a patio off the Arizona room.
Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery is open 11:00 am to 5:00 pm daily with tours available Friday and Saturday. It is located at 1565 Page Springs Road, Cornville, Arizona.
There are three other wineries in the Verde Valley:Alcantara Vineyards, Page Springs Cellars, and Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery. Maybe next time, I will have a chance to visit the other wineries.
What interesting or unusual wine tours have you taken?
Hi Donna. Thanks for a very informative summary on the science of wine making. I suppose people are a little like grapes in that we sometimes produce our best work or have the most inspiration when we feel time is limited and are conscious of our mortality. I particularly like the photos on this post and the rounded edges make for a very nice presentation.
Thanks Paul. I like your analogy to people producing best work when time is limited. Although I’ve never considered myself one of those people who waited until under the gun of a looming deadline, I know there are times an upcoming deadline has made me focus on finishing and editing a piece of writing. I am currently working under time constraints to clean out twenty years of clutter from my home. It’s amazing what you can get done when a deadline approaches.
I couldn’t agree any more with Paul on this one. We also get motivated most of the time using the “Oh Shit” method and it’s amazing how powerful that method is 🙂
Thank you Donna for sharing the process of wine making with us in such a beautiful way. I enjoyed going through your vivid description and pictures added a lot of value.
Have a great week!
I’ve only been on a few winery tours, but am hoping to do many more in the years to come. Southwestern Idaho produces a lot of wine, and I want to take advantage of visiting as many wineries as possible before I move in the next year or two. I still kick myself for not touring a winery when I was in northern California, but I’m bound to make it back there eventually.
I only recently learned that Idaho produced wine. You should definitely try to visit some of the wineries while you are there. I find it interesting to see how each winery tries to set themselves apart, what unique twist they give to their wine, their marketing and their vineyard.
A cheese tray and wine tasting flight? The Javelina Winery tour is tailor made for me!
It definitely made for a relaxing break in an otherwise busy day.
Food, wine, and a good talk…love it. I also love the name…who doesn’t love a javelina?!
It is an interesting name. I should have asked about how and why they chose that name. I’ve yet to see a javelina in person. I toured an animal shelter this winter that had one, but the javelina was hiding and didn’t come out.
Wow, didn’t realize there were so many wineries in Arizona! They seem to be popping up all over the country, at least in many parts. We have several in the Finger Lakes region of NYS and also on Long Island.
There are certainly more areas developing wine industries than years ago. It’s fun to find them in unexpected places.
It’s interesting that wineries are popping up all over the country, even in Wisconsin. What surprised me is many wines have blends added from other wine makers. It sounds like this place only uses their own grapes and don’t blend with other makers. You’ve got an excellent memory for all those details. After a few sips of wine, I forgot everything our guides told us.
This winery does use grapes from other vineyards, from southern Arizona mostly. They only make a handful of different wines. At least one is made solely from their own grapes. But others are blends.
I had no idea that Arizona was home to many wineries!! And even more interesting that they don’t blend with others. Great photos…love that smile DONNA! very interesting post!
Jacquie, they do blend, but at least one of their wines is made solely from their own grapes. Most of the wineries in Arizona are farther south than this one. I hope to visit a few of those wineries some day.
I had no idea Arizona would make for good wine country but it’s good to know. My favorite wineries are found in South Africa in the area around Franschhoek. It’s a picture perfect setting and far less expensive than here in the US…it’s expensive to get there though.
I’d love to tour the wine country of South Africa some day.
Wow, that looks lovely. This makes me really want a nice glass of Cabernet right now. I’ve done wine tastings in the Solvang area in California, but never in Arizona. I certainly have never participated in a wine tour and I want to now. I’m impressed you were able to relay so much of what you learned.
Sedona is such a beautiful area, we’ve been several times and always enjoy it. That tasting tray of yumminess looks so good!
The tasting tray was yummy. Sedona is beautiful. I’ve been a few times, but always as day trips.. It would be nice to spend a few days there.
This was a very interesting and informative post. I love tours because they can be such a fun way to learn something new and, in this case, sample the product! Mmmmmm!
Thanks Anita. The tour was very interesting.
Hi Donna – Seeing you and your sister on the patio looked so inviting, I wish I had been there. I enjoy reading about wineries but I had never before read that the secret to good grapes is fooling the plants into believing they are dying. Learned another new thing today.
I don’t know if wineries in non-desert climates with rich soil need to fool the grapes or not. It’s something to check out on other wine tours.
Honestly had never heard about Arizona wines before. Looks like interesing tours you had at The Javelina Leap Winery and Oak Creek Vineyard.
Catarina, I only made it to Javelina Leap this time, but hopefully will get to Oak Creek next time.
I enjoyed your tour! We took a tour of a winery about five years ago in Israel. It was a great fun. We have a great photo of my daughter wincing as she tastes the wine (she was five years old).
I like learning about the fermentation process. I ferment cabbage and salt to make sauerkraut.
I sometimes wonder how people figured out fermentation in the first place. Homemade sauerkraut – yum!
Donna- I have a house in Cottonwood, and never knew that there was a winery there. Your tour was great. I lived in California and would love to go through the small wineries as they are more personal. When I traveled to France I went to a perfume factory and found it interesting that they make perfumes similar to wine
There are 4 wineries in the Cottonwood/Cornville area that you could visit. I enjoyed Javelina Springs and I’m sure the others are good too. Page Springs Cellars has live music, food and wine specials on Friday and Saturday evenings.
I went on a wine tasting tour in Virginia, but I don’t think it was as nice as the Javalina Winery. It was very interesting and although I only had a few small samples I felt tipsy. This looks like a beautiful place to spend an afternoon! The food looks amazing
Taking time between samples over food helped avoid a tipsy feeling. Most wineries have places you can spit out the wine after you’ve tasted it, so you needn’t ingest. A good idea if you’re sampling a lot or driving.
Thanks for sharing your outing at Javelina. The photos bring the reading to life. Your post very much reminds me of a book I read a number of years ago ‘Secrets of the Vine.’ From 1 to over 60 is great growth, and I think there are even lessons in that fact for everyone.
Thanks William. I’ve have to check out the book.
I took a wine tour in Pennsylvania (of all places) and a very small winery and we were able to do a tasting from their entire selection. It was a great way to start the day and made me want to visit more. There’s this one tour here in Korea where you can board a “wine train” and travel to a winery, all the while sampling and seeing the countryside. Thanks for sharing this. You’ve reignited my love for wine and experiences found through that delicious drink.
I like the idea of a wine train. Sounds like fun.
Thanks for the tour Donna. It’s nice to know that I have something in common with my evening liquid of choice. We both work best under a deadline! How nice that Javelina has a sit down with one of the owners and that you got to experience it with your sister. Mine make great traveling companions too.
My sister and I have spent most of our adult life living half way across the country from each other. We’ve never travelled together until last summer when we went to London and Barcelona. My husband and I wintered in Arizona this year. When my sister visited, we did a lot of exploring together. I hope we have more opportunities to travel together. It’s nice that you are able to travel with your sisters.