Verde Valley Festival fetes the region’s best

If guests have used up all their tastings, they can always visit some of the wineries’ tasting rooms right down the road. (Submitted photo)

The Verde Valley Wine Festival returns for its fifth year on Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30, in Cottonwood, promoting and celebrating the region’s wine production.

The festival had a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, but is now returning, in part, to celebrate the Verde Valley recently being declared an American Viticultural Area, an official designation identifying it as a grape-growing region by the federal government.

This year’s event marks the debut of the party at Old Town Activity Park in Cottonwood, says Debbie Hunseder, festival director. As Northern Arizona’s foremost wine and culinary event, the festival will have more than 20 wineries, two breweries and two distilleries. All the vendors are based in Arizona.

“We are looking forward to welcoming everybody to the Verde Valley and to enjoy the fabulous wines that our winemakers are creating for this state,” Hunseder says.

Each general admission ticket ($35) comes with eight tastings. Hunseder says they try to make it easy for guests, and use wristbands to keep track of the tastings. There are eight wine glasses on the wristband that are marked by the various wineries as guests get their samples. Tastings are a 1-ounce pour that guests can choose out of a few different options from each of the wineries.

Calvin Arnold, national sales director of Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards, which has participated in every Verde Valley Wine Festival, says he recommends sampling its Puscifer Queen B Sparkling Malvasia. It comes in a can and pairs well with the warmer weather. He says they will also be sampling a sweeter option as well as its perennial favorite.

“We are absolutely looking forward to it,” Arnold says. “We enjoy taking every opportunity to showcase Arizona wines. Now, we have the pleasure of celebrating Arizona’s newest AVA, the Verde Valley.”

Hunseder says there will be much more than just drinks, though. The festival will also have dozens of food and artisan vendors. Food vendors include Malta Joe’s, a bakery that does meat pies; Emerson Fry Bread; Farm A GoGo, which specializes in farm-to-table foods; and Sally’s BBQ. There will also be gelato, crepes, kebabs and other treats.

In keeping with the festival’s theme, Hunseder says most of the other vendors are also wine or culinary themed. For example, she says one vendor makes furniture out of wine barrels or reclaimed wood and another creates candles with recycled wine bottles. There will also be a few jewelry vendors.

Another popular part of the festival is the photo booth, done by Set Apart Photography. The “booth” is a teardrop trailer where people can pick out accessories and props and get a free filmstrip of pictures, according to Hunseder.

In addition to the vendors, there will be live music throughout the day from local bands to keep guests entertained.

“Our bands are the Guitar Brothers, What’s the Big Idea and Paulo Bravo,” Hunseder says. “All three of them are kind of light, contemporary jazz. They’re not loud and overpowering and have been really popular at previous festivals that we’ve had.”

Hunseder says guests are free to go in and out of the event with their wristband, which gives people an opportunity to experience Old Town Cottonwood. For people who may be visiting to attend the festival from out of town, the area has tons of restaurants, shops and wineries within walking distance from the festival, according to Hunseder.

“We’re considering it kind of an extension of the festival, those tasting rooms that are right there in Old Town as well,” Hunseder says. “People will have the opportunity to come and go from the festival. They’ll be wearing a wristband, so they can leave and go to a tasting room in Old Town or go grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants there and then come back to the festival.”

Chateau Tumbleweed Winery is one of the wineries that are just down the road from the festival and open to guests.

“We do the Verde Valley Wine Festival every year. It is in our hometown, and we like to be there,” says Kris Pothier, co-owner of Chateau Tumbleweed Winery. “The turnout is great, there is wonderful music and food and it is just a great environment to show our wines.”

Pothier adds she would recommend sampling its 2020 rose’ at the festival. It is a blend of Sangiovese, Grenache and Graciano, which she says will fit the warm April weather.

The festivities will kick off with a Platinum VIP winemaker dinner held Friday, April 29, at the Old Town Cottonwood Clubhouse. The event will include premium wine and culinary options as well as music.

Hunseder says they will be auctioning travel and experience packages, such as a winemaker pairing with a boutique lodging experience and a kayak trip or a sporting event paired with a wine tasting. Proceeds will go toward the Arizona Vignerons Alliance and the Arizona Wine Growers Association, nonprofit organizations that advocate for winemaking in Arizona.

“It will be catered by chef Chris Smith, who is the master chef at the Merkin Osteria,” Hunseder says. “We’ll have some winemakers on hand that will be pairing their wines specifically with chef Smith’s food offerings that he will have that night… It’s a great bargain and just a great way to kick off the festival and have a lot of fun.”

Tickets are limited and selling quickly, Hunseder adds. A Platinum VIP ticket includes the dinner and auction Friday as well as a VIP pass for the festival Saturday. VIP ticket holders can enter the festival an hour earlier than general admission, allowing them to skip some of the lines and have a more exclusive experience.

Hunseder says based on previous years and current ticket sales, she is expecting over 3,000 people to attend. Therefore, it’s best to plan and get tickets beforehand, which can be purchased online.

“It’s just a great opportunity to bring people together to enjoy all aspects of the winery — the growing, the making, the selling and, of course, the drinking,” Hunseder says.