Az Winemaker Series – Pillsbury Wine

What: Arizona Winemaker Series
Who: Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company
Where: Wilcox, Arizona
How to get it: Click here

By: Jack Bulkin

Sam Pillsbury has led a very interesting life.  Born in Connecticut 70 years ago, he and his family moved to New Zealand when he was barely a teen. He was schooled down under in New Zealand where he formed a love for Movies. He joined that Nation’s National Film Unit with many other young filmmakers. Specializing in documentary films he made an acclaimed documentary film in the late 70’s called “Birth with R.D. Laing.” He later filmed award winning Comedy horror film  “The Scarecrow” which was the first award winning New Zealand produced film shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France. After a number of years of film Production, he followed his Professional passion to Los Angeles where he directed, produced and conceived 31 series TV dramas, Network TV Movies, Cable movies and feature films.  In the late 1990’s he was assigned to Arizona for production of a TV Pilot and fell in love with the Geography and natural rocky appeal of the high desert in Arizona. While living in New Zealand, Sam had oftentimes marveled at the unique terrain of many of the famous wine producing regions there.  He had recently become aware that oftentimes Wine Grapes successfully were harvested in unusual places. He saw a unique geography in the Arizona High Desert and wondered whether wine grapes could be successfully grown here. A bottle of a Kent Callaghan made Chardonnay in the late 1990’s convinced him that Arizona did have the terroir to make excellent wines. He immediately located and bought 40 acres near the Vineyard in the Willcox Branch in Cochise County, AZ in 2000 next to the vineyard where those Chardonnay grapes were grown. He planted root stock for Rhone varietals in that 40 acre parcel. He now owns and manages 100 acres of vineyards for wine grapes in Willcox, AZ of which  20 acres are vines of Rhone varieties.

He has tended to those acres of vineyards as if they were his children now for 11 years. From his website at Pillsbury Wine Company it can be seen that Pillsbury currently produces 18  100% Cochise County Arizona Wines.  Gambling that the high-altitude coolness, extra UV, endless sunshine, sandy loam, and dry desert would make for the perfect terroir, he began planting Rhône varieties at 4300 feet in Cochise County in 2000. Using 100% Arizona fruit and an original boutique style.  Sam has won some very high critical acclaim for Arizona produced wines.  He was named Best Local Winemaker by Phoenix magazine, Best Arizona Winery by MSN.com/foodandwine, and was named “one of the rising stars of the Southwest by Wine Spectator Magazine. Jancis Robinson wrote in her 2013 American Wine Book that Sam “makes some of Arizona’s finest wines”, and Hugh Johnson in his 2015 Pocket Wine Guide stated that Sam’s Wild Child White and Roan Red were excellent blends.

Sam now grows in Willcox Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Symphony (a sweet white wine) Rousanne and Chenin Blanc (a wine from white wine grape variety from the Loire valley of France.). Most of the grapes grown by Sam in his Willcox vineyard  are grapes best known as Rhone varietals. The Southern and Northern Rhone are located in Southern to Central France from just North of the Mediterranean Ocean. Wine Regions Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape.and  Côtes du Rhône in the South, primarily are Grenache and Mourvedre based wines. The Northern Rhone is known for Hermitage, Cornas  and Crozes-Hermitage  which produces red wines from the Syrah grape, sometimes blended with white wine grapes, and white wines from Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier grapes. Sam chooses to make wines that are not overly large scaled, highly extracted high alcohol wines that affect the drinker’s palate.  He instead chooses to hand craft wines that pair well with food rather than dominate the meal.  He uses mostly wild yeast for his wines and seeks a balance in every bottle. My recent tasting of his Diva Wine which is 14.1% Alc. and consists of  Petite Sirah 40%, Syrah 30%., Mourvedre 20%, Grenache 10% is a testament to the success of his mission statement.

Pillsbury Wines in the past year have won 35 Medals in 3 competitions including 6 Gold Medals, in the local AZ Grand Wine Festival, 2 Golds in the Invitation Only Jefferson Cup, and 2 Double Golds in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Sam is married, has two grown sons, a 10 year- old son, two Grandchildren, and divides his rare spare time between New Zealand, Los Angeles and Arizona.

Pillsbury Wines can be tasted at both Pillsbury tasting rooms in Cottonwood and Willcox, AZ as well as purchased in many AJ Fine Foods Markets, Whole Foods Markets, AZ Wine Company Stores around the Phoenix area, Total Wine Stores in Maricopa County, and numerous outlets in Tucson.  The wines are poured at numerous Valley Restaurants including The Four Seasons Resort, Elements at the Sanctuary and Nobou in Phoenix , Pizza Bianco and Bar Bianco as well as numerous others.

Pillsbury offers  a Rose, Chardonnay, Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre as well as White and Red blends with interesting names like Wild Child White Wine, Roan Red  and Rose One night Stand.  I encourage everyone to try a Pillsbury Wine on their next Wine search at their chosen Restaurant, Store or Market.

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Erik Merkow
Founder and CEO at Az Food & Wine
Erik: a father, writer, entrepreneur, son, photographer, corporate guy, friend, brother, and foodie wine guy



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