“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and he let me watch him do it.”
An American writer of short stories by the name of Clarence Budington Kelland once said “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and he let me watch him do it.” As I chatted with Jason Domanico, Owner of Passion Cellars, Salvatore Vineyards and Cabal Cellars in Arizona, this quote came to my mind. He expressed so much appreciation for his grandfather, Salvatore, who made wine in his basement and welcomed the family to watch and take part in the fun if they wished to do so. “He got everybody into drinking it and making it; I can’t think of a time when the family wasn’t drinking wine” Jason said with gratification.
Although Jason’s professional career didn’t start out with wine his grandfather’s legacy ultimately led him to his passion. He worked in real estate and software and just felt like he was going through the motions of life. “In 2012 I asked himself what would I enjoy doing every day? Everything kept pointing to wine.” He visited California wineries thinking he might go there and just work for a winery, when he came across the AZ Vines & Wines Magazine. “I literally visited every tasting room and vineyard in the state of Arizona” said Jason. After about a year of picking brains and tasting Arizona wines, he bought some land in Willcox and decided to test the waters. In 2013, Passion Cellars, the family’s first winery was established in Willcox and was named Salvatore Vineyards. His Mom, Dad and brother all have integral roles in the business. “We began by sourcing fruit from our neighbor’s vineyards so we could start making wine immediately, keeping it local.”
It all started with Passion Cellars which covers the spectrum of whites, roses and reds, as well as sweet dessert wines. It wasn’t long before the self-taught winemaker, who was so enthralled with his Italian grandfather’s experimental spirit, branched into three separate wineries. Passion Cellars continues to produce large volume creative and interesting wines, Cabal Cellars showcases the collaborative effort of his entire staff. They decide what blend of varietals should be in each vintage, how it should be labeled, and take a vote. Finally, Salvatore Vineyards is considered the higher end winery representing age and small batch wines. He is most fond of Salvatore Vineyard’s European varietals, Sangiovese and Tempranillo. The three wineries produce about 3,000 cases combined.
Jason’s newest project is a 40-acre vineyard site in Elgin with a large winery on site. Currently he has tasting rooms in Scottsdale, Jerome and Willcox. “This is all such a departure from my previous life. I now have a creative bent I never had before. I’m not chasing the bucks but if I can keep planting than I’ll be happy.”
Jason is a trailblazing avant-garde soul and is driven to explore unique winemaking techniques using different varietals/grapes. He discovered that the Italian Aglianico grape does very well in Arizona and has been making it with different blends. He names these special wines Cerca, which means ‘search for’ in Italian, and will always have Aglianico in the blend. Something tells me Jason will always search for the best character and quality in wine, and his grandfather is probably beaming with pride watching him do so.
Passion Cellars and Salvatore Vineyards have wine clubs with discounts available to members. To visit any of the three locations check out the website www.passioncellars.comand click on locations. Arrange your visit soon, and remember to keep your ears open for the opening of the new winery in Elgin.
Darla S. Hoffmann
Certified Specialist of Wine