Posted by: runningwinegirl | May 23, 2012

A Vertical Syrah Tasting in the Arizona Mountains at Keeling Schaefer Vineyards

It’s hard to believe that next month will mark my first year here in Arizona. It’s been a busy and adventurous year as I continue to acclimate to the desert climate. I’m having fun exploring the wineries down in the southern part of the state. Recently I had the opportunity to attend Keeling Schaefer Vineyards Syrah vertical tasting and knew as soon as I got the email I had to go. I first tasted their wines back in November at the Festival at the Farm at South Mountain. I brought home the 2007 Three Sisters Syrah, which was a standout red from that festival for me.

I also met winemakers and owners Jan and Rod at that festival and was fortunate to see Jan again at a wine festival last month. I’ve been staying in touch with Rod’s daughter Cecilia via Twitter and was thrilled to discover she’d be at the vertical tasting with her sister Connie helping out.

Keeling Schaefer Vineyards is in Pearce, Arizona, an hour south of Tuscan and truly in farm country. The winery has a tasting room in downtown Willcox and holds club member events at the vineyard. I was so excited to visit Pearce and not only see the vineyard but this is the first time I’d taste at a vineyard and not just a tasting room in town. Arizona is different in that right now, wineries have tasting rooms offsite of the vineyards, which for me, is very different. In Virginia, it’s all right there and that’s part of the fun of visiting wineries all over the country. My FIT held up so well going down the very rocky, dirt road that led into the winery. I was early and got a full tour from Jan while everyone was still setting up.

Three stations were set up for the vertical tasting and inside the tasting room was a gorgeous buffet of hor d’oeuvres prepared by Café Roka in nearby Bisbee. It was recommended I begin with the Three Sisters Syrah, which consisted of the ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’10 vintages. All were unique but I’ll stick to my standouts. The 05 was drinking fantastic. Rod told me as I was sipping it was how he wanted it to be and was far better than when originally released. This was a pretty ruby red and was medium bodied with plenty of dark fruit and a smooth finish. I had to bring this home as well as the 09 and the 2010. I’m laying both of those down. They were both a tad tight but had great structure, fruit and complexity. I can’t wait to try them down the road.

I decided after tasting the six wines to give my palate a break and eat some of the delicious food. The stuffed red peppers with goat cheese were by far and away my favorite out of everything but the food was outstanding. Onto the second station to taste the 06, 07 and 08 Home Place Reserve Syrah. Sadly only the 08 was available to buy but wow these were all three delicious. The 06 was my standout favorite and I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have grabbed a bottle of the 08 to lay down. I hate to admit this but the tasting notes I took for these somehow disappeared. All I know is they were all fuller-bodied wines, with a touch of spice, each had different notes of dark fruit and structure. I am usually so careful with my notes but simply put, the wines are made from Arizona estate grown grapes grown at 5,000 feet above sea level in the Chiricahua Mountains. If you haven’t tried them, you must!

The final station featured the 07, 09 and 2010 Keeling Brothers Shiraz. All I can say is, if there is any 2010 Shiraz left, go get it. Wow, what a wine and it’s still young. This is full-bodied, lots of dark fruit, a tad tight but I love the touch of vanilla spice with a velvety finish. Two bottles of this came home with me as I talked to Rod about aging it. He recommended laying the 2010 down for a year but says it can be aged for far longer. My plan will be to open a bottle next year and go from there. That’s part of the fun of aging wine, at least for me.

The end of the tasting brought us to the best part of the event. A live auction of a half case of wine consisting of two bottles of the 07, 09 Keeling Brothers Shiraz and two bottles of the 2010 Keeling Brothers Shiraz, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Caitlin Robb Foundation for Pediatric Cancer in Tempe.

I continue to be impressed with the young wine industry here in Arizona. It always baffles me when people ask me where Pearce, Willcox and Elgin are here in Arizona. I can’t believe as a newbie to the state I’m answering that question. It’s such an easy and pretty drive from the greater Phoenix area as well as a tad cooler. I had a wonderful meal and wine tasting at Coronado Vineyards that night following the event. I got a great run in the next morning and Baxter was welcome everywhere with me. I do keep him on a leash. I had so much fun visiting the tasting rooms in Willcox and of course started at Keeling Schafers. I highly recommend going. However, if you can’t make the trip, I know you can find the wines at AJ’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Total Wine and at restaurants throughout Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe.



  1. Thanks for the wonderful write-up on KSV. So glad you enjoyed it. It was great to see you both days that weekend and hope to see you again soon. -Kathleen Benyak, Tasting Room Manager

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