Questions & Answers:
Conversations with Rod Keeling
People call me nearly every day wanting to know how to grow wine grapes, in their back yard or starting a new vineyard. Winemaking questions too. For those of you that want to go a bit deeper into the practical viticulture and winemaking methods we have learned at Keeling Schaefer, We have put together this list of FAQ.
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All of our public tastings are now done at our Willcox Tasting Room. Located in downtown Willcox, 154 North Railroad Avenue, we are open for tastings from 11-5, Everyday except for certain holidays. If you would like to visit the vineyard, join our wine club! We hold at least 3 events each year for our wine club that include a gourmet lunch, tours and tastings.
Our Willcox Tasting Room and over 100 retail locations in Arizona.
The Vineyard, Winery and our home are located in the far southeast corner of Arizona. Our address is Pearce, but we’re about 25 miles east of the town, 12 miles south of the Chiricahua Monument and 41 miles southeast of Willcox. Our Willcox Tasting Room is located at 154 N Railroad Avenue in historic downtown Willcox.
SInce 1998. 2020 will be Keeling Schaefer’s 16th commercial vintage.
We made wine at home for 7 years before we started making wine commercially. We found though that making wine from the kits you buy at the hobby store doesn’t work very well. The wine is really pretty mediocre at best. If you want to make a good wine at home you need fresh fruit. You can buy fruit from California, but we really wanted fruit from Arizona. We would come down to Al Buhl’s Willcox vineyard early in the morning – and sometimes I’d pick the fruit myself – one day I decided I wanted 400 pounds of Sauvignon Blanc and I couldn’t quite get it done and it rained on us about two inches in one hour!
I got some of the guys who were working there at the vineyard to help me and we packed it up and put ice on it and I drove all the way back to Tempe. I had two or three of my friends show up at about 7:00 at night and we crushed the wine and pressed it in the garage until about 1:00 in the morning and got it ready for fermentation. It was a long day.
Yes, depending on availability. Since we started out as home winemakers & were lucky enough to have somebody as gracious as Al Buhl who used to own Dos Cabezas Wineworks – he provided fruit for us – we feel we too should pass that on. So we want to pass that privilege on to those home winemakers who want to put forth the effort to come out and pick their own fruit. And I have about 6 home winemakers who come and either acquire or buy grapes from us.
The easiest way to get fruit is to coordinate to pick your fruit up on a day when we are picking commercially. Just drive up, load your container from one of the harvest bins and off you go.
We make many styles of wine at Keeling Schaefer. While everyone has an opinion about which wines they like the best, that is what makes wine a very special beverage. It’s not all the same!
Over the years I have come to respect the winemakers that make wine that they have a passion for, irrespective of the style. Well made wine is always appreciated, flaws are not. While my palate may not be as refined as say, a master sommelier, I do have a sensitivity for the common wine flaws like Volatile Acidity, Hydrogen Sulfides and others. My favorite wines are wines that clean, technically without flaw and are expressive of the fruit itself.
I like Page Springs Cellars. I think Eric Glomski is a great winemaker and a diligent farmer. Eric, the original California winemaker, (David Bruce), to stake out his claim in Arizona and his lead winemaker, Corey Turnbull, make very good wines. They have been the most successful Arizona brand, and deservedly so.
My old buddy Sam Pillsbury. Sam does has the palate of a sommelier and the tenacity of a bulldog in the vineyard. Pillsbury Wine Company is probably the most recognized and awarded brand in Arizona. They sure love him at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bodega Pierce. A family operation that grows the fruit on their vineyard in Willcox. Michael, the head of the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College, is the winemaker. Dan, the dad, is the farmer. Barb, the mom is tenacious in the pursuit of the improvement of Willcox Wine Country. Yes, the wine is worth the trip to Willcox!
Golden Rule Vineyards. Ruth and Jim Graham are long-time Willcox Pistachio growers that have developed a 28 acre vineyard on their farm in Cochise. Mark Phillips, their winemaker is another California wine country transplant and makes very good and highly awarded wine.
We also recommend Birds and Barrels, Coronado Vineyards, Carlson Creek Vineyards and Zarpara.
Saxum Vineyards, Tablas Creek
Turley Wine Cellar
California-Santa Barbara/Santa Maria
Two Hands Wines
Rolf Binder Wines
While that word has been overused the past few years, I do know that this is a place with a unique confluence of clones of the varietals we’ve selected, the rootstock, the soil and the climate along with the winemaking style all come together and make it different.
After 16 seasons, I have come to believe that being in the middle of an ancient volcano, the Turkey Creek Caldera, has created a pretty unique soil profile of upland sandy loam with large ryolite granite cobble. The rocky soil goes deep in our two vineyards and adds a lot to the fruit.
We are also in the Turkey Creek/Rock Creek water and air drainage, allowing cooler air to flow down from the Chiricahua high country at night, which makes our site very cool compared to our neighbors on the Willcox Bench.
We ferment in 1.5 ton fermenters, so we have many small batches. If some of those display a fairly active fermentation early on I’ll add nutrients and let the native yeasts go to work. The only thing we let the native yeasts work on is the Syrah, and it has fermented with as much efficiency as the commercial yeasts. So we let some spontaneously ferment but not all. We want to add layers of flavor to the wine and I think different yeasts add to that approach.
Some yeasts are better at extracting tannins, some are more floral. Our native yeast is more fruit forward. The GRE yeast we use on the Grenache is very fruit forward, and we get a tremendous nose because of that. So we use different kinds of yeast, and we’ve experimented since day one. And we’ve rejected some yeasts. They didn’t do what we wanted so we just don’t use them anymore.
No. We buy our yeast from the laboratory. They are isolates of yeasts from different regions of the world.
It is not organic, we add SO2 to preserve the wine and give it the ability to cellar for many years. Organic wine must have less than 10ppm of SO2. I always tell people that if they find an organic wine they like, don’t cellar it, drink it as soon as you can.
We consider our wine making protocols to be natural. We do not fine our dry wines with animal products or harsh chemicals. Nothing is added that would require our wine to apply for a formula from the TTB.
It’s still evolving, but what we’re trying to shoot for is multiple styles. We have 9 acres of Syrah and I think that’s our focus for making different styles. We have our Home Place Reserve series since 2006 that’s more of a French style – Northern Rhone. We are also making some toward an Australian style with American oak in our “Keeling Brothers” Shiraz series since 2007. We have discovered that our best Grenache is a more delicate style without all the overripe flavors, so we have started picking it earlier to capture those lighter fruit characteristics. But if I was going to say it in one sentence, in all our wines, I want the fruit to dominate.
In 2004, Herrick Grapevines, of St. Helena, California, supplied us with 7200 ENTAV dormant benchgrafts for our April 2004 planting. These plants are Syrah clones; 174, 383 and 877; and Grenache Noir clones, 513 and 362. In 2007-2009, along with our friends and former partners, Roger and Judy Egan, we planted an additional 10,500 vines, on 12 acres of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc on our Rock Creek Vineyard. On the Rock Creek Vineyard, we also planted a UC Davis Syrah2 clone and a Rockpile Petite Sirah clone from Sonoma County.
They are grafted by the nursery in California and grown for one year before they are sent here. For all the wine wonks, most of our rootstock is 1103P, with some of the Viognier on RU140.
Go to Our Wines page for the complete rundown
No I don’t, but I do come from a farming family. I worked summers in High School and College for Montgomery Farms in Casa Grande. Both my dad’s family and my mom’s family have been farmers and ranchers in the Casa Grande area since about 1920. My brother Doug and his family farm the original Montgomery home place and another 4000 acres or so. Our best Syrah is our Home Place Reserve.
My dad’s career was in the military, however he and his two brothers while growing up worked for the Pioneer Market in old downtown Casa Grande. In 1937, they opened their own market in the new town of Eloy called Keeling Brothers, the name we use for our popular big Australian style Shiraz.
There was no epiphany per se. There was an afternoon in 1994 when the chairman of the Downtown association in Tempe that I worked for took me to the one of the first wine bars in the area – P.F. Chang’s – they were one of the pioneers of premium wine by the glass before there was this proliferation of wine bars.
We went in – and I had a lot of wine before that – but I had never really had any good wine. He bought me a glass of Grgich Hills Zinfandel and it was about 8 or 9 bucks a glass, which of course I would have never bought for myself at the time. And I was just shocked at how good it was. Of course it may not have been the best wine in the world, but it was far superior to anything I had ever had before. We talked about it a little bit and he told me the story of how he had restaurants over in California – this is Roger Egan – who is our former partner in the Rock Creek vineyard. We had this wine and I thought, “maybe I could make this stuff” so I started with kits.
I bought some kits – the type you can buy at the hobby store – and of course the wine was horrible. And we graduated from there. The next year I decided I needed fresh fruit, so we hooked up with some of the farmers in Willcox, Al Buhl specifically. I went down and bought maybe 100 pounds of fruit and we made a Sauvignon Blanc and that was my first real step around 1998.
I started out as a professional pilot. That was my first career. I flew for almost every job except airlines. I was also a traffic reporter for KTAR radio in the 70’s in Phoenix. I was a flight instructor, charter pilot, corporate pilot at the end. The company I flew for decided that – since I was the only one on the staff that had been to college – I should be the Vice President of Marketing. I started to work on that and learned enough to know that I was interested in business. Then I started to work for the downtown management business – mostly for non-profits, but I worked for the Arizona Department of Commerce for 6 years. I became a downtown manager and I worked for downtown business associations, primarily the one in Tempe that manages Mill Avenue. It was a $4 million non-profit business association with 45 employees.
Henry Trost and Mary Jane Colter, two early 20th century Southwestern architects, have inspired our winery building and home, both designed by Chandler architect, Mark Vinson, AIA College of Fellows, AICP.
Renowned for buildings like the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon and the Owls Club in Tucson, Colter and Trost defined Southwestern regional style. Trost designed many of the major buildings in downtown El Paso, where I grew up. Learn more about Arizona architecture in Landmark Buildings: Arizona’s Architectural Heritage, co-authored and illustrated by our architect and good friend, Mark Vinson.
Construction on the winery was completed in October 2003 by Arizona Building Systems of Phoenix. Our home on the vineyard was built primarily by Stephen Klump of Mascot Homes of Willcox. Jan and I moved in to our home December 2008.
We picked it as a retirement home location and the vineyard idea started after we acquired the property. We picked the spot because it’s a pretty spot, but as time passes I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is a very special place to grow wine and very possibly the best place in Arizona.