With hot days, cool nights and deep roots, grapevines growing at elevation are yielding stellar vintages. From a desert climate vineyard in Arizona to pre-phylloxera natural wines born from the volcanic soils of Cappadocia to a cool-climate pinot noir from the Okanagan Valley that has all the elegance of Burgundy, these vines need to work a little harder than their ground-level compatriots. But that extra struggle and those lower yields are helping these up-and-coming wineries shine.
Sand-Reckoner Vinyards - Arizona
Photo Grace Stufkosky
Sand-Reckoner Vineyards, located an hour and a half east of Tucson, Arizona, features volcanic soil mixed with and granite and limestone-studded sandy loam. With plenty of sun in daytime and crisp nights thanks to almost 5,000 feet of elevation, the mountainous region produces crisp Vermentino, elegant and age-able Syrah and Orange Roussanne with hints of desert creosote and chamomile for this young winery.
“We were used to working with high desert vineyards and we liked that,” Sarah Hammelman, co-owner with her husband Rob. “We were drawn to Willcox because the soil is really great. There’s this special bench, The Willcox bench. It’s a couple of miles long and high in the Sulphur Spring valley where grapes grow well. They don’t get frost. The soil is pretty much perfect. As the mountains around us have eroded, you get different fingers of soil types. So we have two pockets of clay, but it’s mostly sandy loam. With the clay, you have to be specific and hopeful, because, with the monsoons, that clay-based soil can hold the water and be bad for the ripening. The sandy soil drains the monsoons down and it’s really great.”
Sarah and her husband Rob took a chance when they bought the property, essentially in the middle of the Arizona desert. But their investment is paying off; the couple harvested their first grapes in 2010, got their wines on 10 Phoenix restaurants’ wine lists by 2011 and paid off their personal loan in 2012. And with more Arizonans wanting to drink local, they opened their first commercial outlet in 2017, the Sand-Reckoner Tasting Room in Tucson.
Haywire - Canada
Photo Lionel Trudel
Haywire is the winery lead by Matt Dumayne with consulting winemaker Alberto Antonini.
The cool climate terroir of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is perfect for producing organically grown Pinot Gris, chardonnay, and Gamay as well as sparkling wine using the méthode traditionnelle. Founded in 2005, Haywire is part of Okanagan Crush Pad, a state-of-the-art winery, vineyard and farmland that focuses on natural winemaking.
Haywire’s GVR Pinot Noir 2017 comes from organic-certified vineyard blocks of Garnet Valley Ranch located around 2000 feet, the highest elevation vineyard site in the Okanagan Valley. Made with native yeasts, the wine has elegant tannins and plenty of red fruit and cherries on the nose. It’s available through Haywire’s website. It and a number of Haywire’s wines are also exported abroad.
Gelveri Ltd - Turkey
The only natural wine produced in Turkey is by Udo Hirsch of Gelveri Ltd. His pre-phylloxera grapes (there are about 1,200 different kinds of grapes in Turkey, about two thirds of which are undocumented, he says) come from private fruit gardens located at around 5,000 feet in the volcanic tuff of Cappadocia, known for its 10,500-foot volcano, Hasan Dag. Thanks to the mountainside location, the vines have plenty of space – they range from three to seven feet apart – and need to dig deep for water.
“We have about 300 mm rainfall per year, so it’s a dry area,” says Hirsch. “The temperature change between day and night is quite big and this adds to the building of aroma.”
Fermented and aged in amphora (he’s the only winemaker in Turkey allowed to use the clay Anatolian küps, he says, and two are 2000-year old containers from the Roman empire), his wines have gained recognition, including from Raw Wine, the largest tasting salon for low-intervention and natural wines in the world. Hirsch attended the Berlin event in 2016 and 2018 and will return this fall. He currently has seven wines with a total production of 5,000 bottles, much of which is exported to the US, Canada, France, Italy and Spain. The best selection, however, might be at a number of top Istanbul restaurants including Mikla (ranked 44th on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), which sells his Hasan Dede 2017, Kalecik Karası 2017, Öküzgözü/Boğazkeri 2012, Koku Üzüm 2015 and 2017, and Mayoğlu 2015.
Argos in Cappadocia - Turkey
Photo Amie Watson
Also from the high-elevation Cappadocia region are Argos in Cappadocia’s wines, which are grown with organic grapes from their nearby vineyards and produced by Turasan, one of Turkey’s largest wineries. They’re best experienced at a private tasting or wine dinner in the boutique hotel’s wine cellar, the largest underground wine cellar in Turkey and the third largest in Europe. Built into the mountainside itself, the property’s cellars are integrated into the 2000-year-old monastery, with stone walls, “mountain tunnel” rooms and an exceptional view of the daily flights of hundreds of hot air balloons that float above the region’s much-photographed “fairy chimneys.” The standout of the wine tasting experience was an age-able 2016 Syrah.
Sevilen Group - Turkey
If you’re looking for more Turkish indigenous grapes, easier to get is Sevilen’s Plato Syrah & Öküzgözü 2015, a full-bodied red wine that’s 65% Syrah, 30% Öküzgözü and 5% Petit Verdot.
Grapes are grown at 2200-3000 feet in Denizli province and bottles are available on Turkish Airlines international flights. Talk about “high elevation”…