Aridus Wine Company: Pursuing a Dream in Southeast Arizona
Scott and Joan Dahmer had always dreamed of starting a vineyard and winery, and they found the perfect location in southeastern Arizona. In 2009, they purchased a 40-acre property along Turkey Creek in Pearce, which sits at an elevation of 5,200 feet.
At the time, the wine scene in the area was still emerging and not as expensive as other parts of the country, making it the perfect place for the couple to pursue their passion. They named the winery Aridus, a play on the Latin word “arid” (meaning “dry”), paying homage to the desert surrounding them. As part of building out the winery, they rehabilitated an old apple processing facility into their winery, ultimately becoming Arizona’s largest custom crush facility.
In 2016, they hired experienced winemaker Lisa Strid, who has a wealth of knowledge from working with small producers in Oregon to large corporate wineries in California. In the cellar, Lisa’s approach to winemaking starts with cleanliness and sanitation. She works to pick grapes at the ideal sugar, phenolic, and flavor balance, and then ferments and ages the wine in barrels, touching it as little as possible to avoid contamination. Just before bottling, she blends and filters the wine to minimize time in tanks. Overall, Lisa’s approach to winemaking is simple and focused on preserving the unique characteristics of the grapes grown in southeast Arizona.
One of the wines that Lisa makes is a Syrah, which is typically the first red wine of the year. “We’re generally going for a Rhône style,” Lisa said. “We used to blend in some Viognier every year for a Côte-Rôtie style, but since we stopped purchasing grapes and shifted to estate vineyard production, we ran some trials and prefer a 100% Syrah version from our site. So the style will be shifting somewhat from the 2019 release onwards. It does quite well here in the desert, and we love the flavors of olives and dried herbs that we typically get from it.”
Aridus also produces a Sauvignon Blanc that is made from three different clones of the grape. When possible, these clones are harvested and vinified separately to create a wine with a range of citrus and tropical fruit flavors, including papaya and passion fruit. After harvesting, they blend the different clones to create the final Sauvignon Blanc, bottling it immediately and aging any leftover wine in barrels for their Fumé Blanc program.
The vineyard at Aridus is split in half by Turkey Creek, and the soil on either side is quite different. On the north side is a mixture of dark grey and reddish brown, while the soil on the south side is rich, red loamy sand with river rocks. The property is home to a variety of wildlife, including fish, reptiles, and mammals, and the vineyard is planted with different varieties and rootstocks to suit the unique climate.
Like much of the western United States, Arizona is experiencing drought conditions and a lack of water. However, Aridus is located in an area with an aquifer, which provides some natural water sources. They also benefit from seasonal monsoons that offset some of their water needs during the hottest part of the year.
While they do irrigate their vineyard, the biggest issue they face is a large, out-of-state agricultural operation that is pumping a significant amount of water from the aquifer, causing issues like earth fissures. To address this, policies need to be put into place that prioritize local businesses and regulate water usage for out-of-state operations, which may be more effective than individual conservation efforts.
Aridus is also keenly focused on tying their wines back to the local cuisine of the Southwest. “While we mostly focus on making the best wine possible from the grapes that our vineyard produces, our wines do tend to go really well with smoky, grilled flavors and if you take the approach of thinking about the beverage enhancing the spiciness of chiles, rather than trying to dampen that sensation, then our wines provide a really fun interplay,” said Lisa. “I, personally, love the way that the Sauvignon Blanc plays with habanero–the fruitiness of the two work great together, and similarly, our Cabernet Franc goes great with any earthy peppers like anchos–I’d happily drink just about any of our wines with a plate of tacos.”
The Arizona wine scene is diverse, rapidly growing, and attracting more tourists every day. This growth is likely due to the many different styles of wine and the unique personalities. Aridus has made an effort to appeal to a wide audience by offering tastings at their winery, a separate tasting room in Willcox, and a satellite location in Old Town Scottsdale to get the word out there. Overall, the Arizona wine scene is thriving and continues to offer opportunities for growth and development for those willing to try something different.
Disclosure: The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives was provided from wineries or importers for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative and unbiased reporting.
2019 Syrah- Purple in color with aromas of dark fruits on the nose and flavors of pepper, blackberry and a hint of blueberry. Medium-bodied with silky tannins and a long finish.
2020 Malbec- Aromas of stone fruit on the nose with flavors of blackberry, tobacco and black pepper. Chalk tannins with a nice acidity. This full bodied wine has a nice, long finish to it.
2019 Viognier- flavors of melon, pear and honey. Crisp and medium-bodied with a nice balance and a soft mouthfeel.
2021 Sauvignon Blanc- flavors of melon, orange and lemon tart. This wine has nice acidity and a refreshing mouthfeel.