The Grape Escape

Here at Dragoon Mountain Vineyard, we use only free-range grapes. They are treated with tender loving care, the utmost respect and adoration. They are never abused, bruised, thrown about or yelled at. This does give rise to a little elitism on their part, so harvest isn’t as easy as you might think…

The Grape Escape Video

February Vino

Arizona Angel Wines
Arizona Angel Aritage Red
Arizona Angel Wines
Arizona Angel Aritage Red


By Marge Graziano

Easy to pick up most anything today at the store, especially if we are familiar with what we are buying. A bottle of wine is no different than a box of cereal. Corn Flakes are corn flakes, right? Do you even wonder where the corn was grown or how it got into the box on the shelf? The name of the grape, or the trade name, or familiar name of the wine is what we see right off. However, behind the name of the grape is only the “cover of the book” The wine label is the introduction to what is beneath the cork. That mysterious liquid, that unless it is Champagne, will not explode and throw liquid all over you, walls and the floor like soda pop will, if you turn the bottle over, shake it a little and even up-end it! Wine is patient and understanding and can hardly wait to flow with slippery legs to the bottom of your waiting glass. As you swirl the glass to aerate the wine, especially reds, do you ever wonder: “Just what the heck is in this stuff, anyhow?” Along the journey the grape has made over centuries, the juice has spent time in clay containers, wooden barrels, glass bottles, boda bags (I am sure somewhere along the way someone on a camel carried his juice in a leather bag), plastic, stainless steel, maybe canvas bags, and even in the individual grape on the wine, which containing natural wild yeast, will ferment itself. The Label on the bottle is the map to the liquid inside. I will briefly take you down the label road. If you like the road I have mapped for you, pick up “WINE FOR DUMMIES”, 2nd Edition by Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan. So, rev your engines, here we go!

EVERY bottle of wine must have a label. The label tells us where we start and finish, the legal rules, mile markers, the pit stops, the terrain, road conditions, speed limits, rest areas, vegetation, and the good and bad stuff along the way, such as legalities we must be aware of, to name only a bit of the info we get. When we encounter detours, it all gets very complicated, so we need the map and a compass.

The BACK LABEL is the name of the wine and is meant to attract attention with color, drawings, photos, logos, fancy names, etc., kinda like a book cover. The FRONT LABEL is the meat of the book. The government has yet to define front label from back label. Certain stuff must appear on the front label, however, will the real front label please step forward. Truly, the front label is the info on the wine, legalities and all, but the back label, with all the pretties, is what we see facing us on the shelf. Confused? Remember, the front label, now facing backward, is where the ability to read comes in. Mandatory is the following: a brand name, indication of class or type, (is it table wine, dessert or sparkling), percentage of alcohol by volume, (Table Wine can be less than 14%), name and address of the bottler, net contents in milliliters, (standard is 750 ml,-=25.6 ounces), the phrase CONTAINS SULFITES, and of course the blessing of the government warning us of not drinking while pregnant, or some such notice, that most people ignore. If that bottle comes from outside the US and is sold in the US, it must have the phrase “imported by”. Wines made in Canada, Europe, and other wine producing areas all have their own sets of Government rulings regarding labels. The EU wines fall into a European category called QWPSE (Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region), known as an Appellation of Origin, (and that my wine loving friends is fodder for another article another time). Wording on Labels is, at times, meaningless, ambiguous and confusing. The year, with vintage or not), is optional. Reserve, a favorite meaningless word appearing on many American labels, is a shell game conveying prestige that the wine inside the bottle is special! (It may not be). In some countries it means extra aging. Estate Bottled is a sweetheart word that says the company that bottled also grew the grapes and made the wine. It does not mean that the wine is exceptional, good, bad or a bargain or over-priced. The Vineyard name can define the Terroir of that vineyard as unique. If labels interest you, start collecting them! Lots and lots of people buy the bottle not for the wine, but for the label. Most every wine we make has its own label, unique to that wine. Label making and assigning that label to a particular wine is an art that requires creativity, originality, artistic ability, a good eye, a graffic designer, knowledge of what is inside the bottle, where the wine will be marketed and sold, and a lot of money and luck. Labels can be in-expensive, where you see the same label on every bottle and just a different wine name, or each bottle can own its own label, (that is where they get pricey). Labels can define if that wine is feminine or masculine. Most reds tend to be masculine, however, Sultry Cellars are all red wines and they are all feminine. Go figure!

As our short trip on the wine bottle labels comes to an end, in another article, I will invite you along as we conceive, design, and submit to the Government, wait for approval, (there are some words, pictures, and sayings, etc., that are not acceptable to the folks that approve or reject your label submission). These folks are the LABEL GODS that determine if you re-do or un-do or scrap that label and start over. We then shop pricing upon approval, and await arrival of printed labels that show up in huge rolls, alternating front and back labels. Ever wonder how the label gets on the bottle? I will take you on that circuitous day trip next month. Be sure you bring along your bottle opener, ‘cause corks and capsules are another interesting story.

QUINFO: The labels matter if you are not familiar with that wine. Once you find what you like, enjoy it every time you buy and drink wine. Want to have a wine life full of adventure and risk? Hit the Verde Valley Wine Trail in Northern Arizona; take an overnight trip to Sonoita in SW Arizona, or Willcox in SE Arizona. Grab danger by the throat and try wines at tasting rooms that you are afraid of or have never tried before. That is the fun of tasting rooms where the Soms are full of knowledge about their wines. And, buy AzLo (Arizona Local). Yes, Arizona does grow grapes and our Arizona Growers and Winemakers produce World Class Wines.

Questions, comments? Call me. 480-518-3844.

AWGA Award

Top 10 Hottest Brands in the U.S.

Wine Business Monthly bestowed this honor on John McLoughlin’s collection named Fiddlebender  for its

reflection of his pioneer spirit and his quest to set AZ wine apart from everyone else.

100 % AZ Chardonnay

 2013 Best In Show

In November our vigneron, John McLoughlin received the Gold Growers Cup, the highest distinction for an Arizona winemaker, at the Festival at The Farm

100% AZ Chardonnay
High Priestess

AZ Wine Labels

John McLoughlin’s sassy, Sultry Cellars labels are only one of his select series labels meant to stimulate your perception of AZ Wine. Read Richard Ruelas’ article on

Top Hat
Sultry Cellars “Top Hat”

2013 Best In Show Arizona Republic Wine Competition


Proud mom, Marge Black-Graziano and sister Carrie help celebrate John’s well deserved victory!


AZ Republic Wine Competition

A victory, not just for John McLoughlin, but for  the Arizona Wine Industry. John took Best Of Show with his Bitter Creek Winery series wine, “Death”. Bitter Creek Winery also took awards in the categories of Wine of Distinction and Judge’s Favorite as overseen by some of AZ’s finest chefs, and renowned Sommeliers and Certified Wine Specialists.

John was stunned. “We submitted this year, just to see what would happen, to get a feel for some feedback on the upcoming releases.”

In true John fashion, he quickly credited the victory to his family and staff at the Cellar 433 wineroom in Jerome, Dragoon Mountain Vineyards in Willcox and the heart of operations, “MHQ” in Mesa.

“If it wasn’t for such a great group of individuals such as yourselves, this wouldn’t have been possible.” John said in an e-mail to his entire staff. This victory is especially sweet, as the fruits harvested for these wines came exclusively from Arizona soil.

The victory comes at a time when John is sponsoring an effort to create two American Viticultural Areas, (AVA) for the area around Willcox. On Friday afternoon, Paul Hagar, Special Projects Manager, described the completed petitions that will be submitted to the Federal Government by the end of the month. Members of the industry, who were in attendance, were very supportive of this effort. Commenting on the extensive research and organizational effort required to complete all the materials for filing, Mark Cave, GM of Arizona Stronghold said in an e-mail, “Thanks for all the legwork on this…”

Regarding the AVA applications, approval can take up to one year. We look forward to achieving a recognized status that we can legally include on our wine labels. Exciting Times!


Let’s Get It Together



It all begins here.
Assistant Winemaker, Julie Jallais, (FR)


Good Grief, Charlie Brown…it is 2014!  Harvest is long gone, (a few months), soon pruning will begin and then as the weather warms, the small tendrils will reach out for the wires and before you know it, green will cover the T posts that hold the wires and row after row of vines will be stretching along the supports.  Since not a lot is happening in the vineyard, lots is happening in the winery.  All the juice from last year, and some from this year is in barrels and tanks, either aging or soon to jump into the bottles.  With so many kinds of grapes, we have a lot of different kinds of wines.  True varieties are so good for all their attributes and flavors and the fact you really, for the most part, know what you are getting.  The fun, and the mystery, enters when varieties are married.  To BLEND, is to mix, merge, combine, unite, mingle, intermingle, fuse, compound, meld together, incorporate, coalesce, amalgamate, harmonize, go well, complement, mergence, concoction, compound, and sometimes clash and divide.  Blending is somewhat like opening Pandora’s Box!  The best of intentions can sometimes go awry or truly be the beverage of the Gods.  The fun is not in the destination, but in the journey.  It is very much like taking a drive to a place unknown without a road map.



Just last night, I opened a bottle of Chardonnay and Semillon and I thought the Chard had gotten lost in its partner, as all I could taste was the  semillon, until the Chard gave me that slight hint of buttery oakiness in the finish.  Never would I have thought these two would dance well together, but they sure do.  A lovely desert wine with any kind of chocolate desert, or layer cake, and believe it or not, I had a pineapple Greek yogurt with my glass.  Read the labels as your peruse the shelves of wine after wine after wine.  Ask the specialist in the wine department about blends.  Trust your own judgment on blends of grapes that you normally drink.  A Zinfandel/Syrah blend is full bodied with the chocolate, cherry, fruity taste of the Zin that is carried along so well with the earthiness and spice  of the Syrah.  There is a certain sense of mystery in a blend as the percentages of different grapes can differ from one to another.  Even a 5-10 percent of one wine with higher percentages of other wines can affect the taste.  Live dangerously and get acquainted with grapes you have not yet met.  Seek out a blending party when you, and your friends, with direction from the wine-maker, will put together your special blended wine that will be yours alone.  If you are interested in a blending party, give Brighid a call at Bitter Creek Winery, 928-634-7033 and ask her when the next blending party will be in Jerome or in  Mesa or in Phoenix.   Be prepared that it will not happen during harvest time.



As more and more Arizona grown and Arizona made wines become available, choices will heighten for both the novice and the experienced wine-o-phile!  People around the country are still asking, “You grow grapes in Arizona?”  Yes, Virginia, we do grow grapes, and make world class wines, in Arizona.  Much of Arizona was under water at one time in the history of this State, and as the mountains rose from the movement of the earth, and then the wind and  rain washed down all the alluvial soil into the bowls that the mountains surrounded, vegetation grew.  Farmers came in and planted hay, alfalfa, corn and other crops, and as they grew well, more farmers came.  (I just took you on a journey of many millions of years to get you where we are today in Arizona).  Before too many years, farming changed, farmers grew older, sold the land to grape growers and the wine industry in Arizona took off.  For many years, Arizona was the second largest provider of table grapes in the United States.   The vintners soon found out that the soil was great in most parts of Arizona and excellent in some areas.  Under the ground in Willcox is a large glacial aquifer that provides water to the thirsty crops, including the vineyards.  Exceptional water and nutritious soil are only part of the great combination of, hot summer days, cool nights, wind, four seasons with a freeze, rain and snow,  and the grower completes the circle of life.



QINFO:  Let me go back to the blended desert wine I spoke of earlier.  It is called MADERIZED which is the brownish color and slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized and often nutty character that make it so special  with deserts.


Want to know more about wine?  There is a little pocket book, (I have a 1999 edition), that is available from Wine Spectator, called  “Wine Spectator’s POCKET GUIDE to WINE”.  Very basic, but a great guide to start with as you enter the fascinating and rewarding world of wine.



Questions or comments?  Call me 480-518-3844.


The Emperor

Bitter Creek Winery: The Emperor
Bitter Creek Winery: The Emperor

Wine Name: The Emperor

Appellation: Arizona

Alcohol Content: 14.0%

Blend: 70% Grenache, 10% Pt Sirah, 10%Marselan,

5% Alicante Bouschet, 5% Blaufrankisch

Description: Aromas of cherry, spice and earth with a hint of maple syrup precede a mid-bodied and balanced red with

flavors of cherry, plums and spice.

Winemaker’s Notes: One would expect Grenache to be

playing a supporting role, but in this wine its high alcohol and berriness are fleshed out with with the desired qualities of the other grapes’ known earthy and spice notes and fuzzy tannins.

Pairings: Pomegranate marinated lamb olive tepanade and chevre crostini, or Spanish Roncal cheese.

Read about The Emperor on


you look so young!

are you over 21?