From the vineyard to the winery, innovation to traditional style, Lisa Strid does it all as winemaker of Arizona Winery Aridus Wine Company in the Willcox AVA. She is the backbone of both the winery and custom crush facility. Her goal is to “usher the grape from vine to bottle.”
Scott and Joan Dahmer purchased 40 acres in Willcox in 2009 and started their Aridus winery in 2012. The 28 acres of vineyards consist of a mixture of loess and volcanic soils. With winemaker Lisa Strid at the helm, the winery produces about 3500 cases of wine.
Lisa Strid, Winemaker
Growing up in Wyoming, Lisa’s passion for winemaking grew when she assisted her uncle in the vineyard and winery in western Washington. Knowing she wanted a career in wine, Lisa got her degree in enology and viticulture from Oregon State University. While in school, she interned at Alexana Winery in Dundee Hills. After graduation, Lisa moved to California to work with the specialty winemaking team at E&J Gallo. Later she transitioned to the research winemaker, focusing on innovative equipment, new technology, and process-driven changes to affect different wine styles. Her position opened the door for her to join Arizona Winery Aridus Wine Company in 2016.
Lisa feels that the winemaking process revolves around a cycle, and along the way, each harvest has surprises and challenges, giving every vintage its unique character.
Lisa likes to experiment both in the vineyard and at the winery, as you will see, especially with the Viognier. She works with twelve different grape varieties.
Aridus The Name
Aridus comes from the Latin word meaning dry or arid. The name is befitting because of the climatic conditions of Arizona.
Willcox obtained its AVA designation in 2016. The Willcox region lies in the southeastern portion of Arizona, closer to the New Mexican border. The soils are alluvial, colluvial, and composed of loam consisting of sand, silt, and clay, which retain enough water to hydrate the vines. The diurnal variance results in a 50-degree change between day and night.
The vineyard is located along Turkey Creek in Pearce, Arizona, at an elevation of 5200 feet. In 2015, white grapes were planted along the north side of the creek and red grapes on the south side. The first harvest of estate grapes occurred in 2017. Farming utilizes sustainable and organic practices along with drip irrigation.
Viognier Vineyard Management and Winery Processing
An example of the creative concepts that Lisa incorporates into the vineyard and winery is apparent with Viognier. Viognier is susceptible to sunburn because the grapes hang low, sometimes below the canopy. For this reason, at Aridus, they tested a range of UV-blocking netting. On one lot, they used thick bee and wasp netting, another utilized Chromatinet Red 30% UV blocking, and the third Chromatinet Gray 30-35% UV blocking. The lots were picked and fermented separately.
Lisa experimented with yeast and fermentation vessels. Usually, Aridus ferments its whites in stainless steel vats, but in 2019 they fermented an experimental lot in a sandstone jar. And another lot in an acacia wood barrel in addition to one lot in stainless steel.
Although they loved the results of the sandstone jar, they also loved the blending of the different lots and thus chose the combination which ideally suits the program moving forward.
When I learned about the use of sandstone jars, called Vin et Terre “Zen” Jar, I wondered if they were similar to the amphora that has become popular with winemakers. They are different as Lisa describes, “It’s made of a sandstone clay that is naturally high in silicon dioxide. We chose to go with this type of jar, rather than, say, concrete or another type of clay because of its low porosity – they’re under 3%, which is lower than the porosity of an oak barrel. So it allows a very small amount of oxygen exchange.”
The Arizona Winery
In 2009, the Dahmers purchased a 28000 square foot apple warehouse, built in 1982, that they refurbished to become the largest Arizona winery facility in the state. The building won the Design Excellence award from the International Interior Design Association’s Southwest Chapter in 2014. The award was for Sustainability, for “Interior Design Excellence.” The winery building incorporates reclaimed lumber collected from old barns and homesteads located around the town of Willcox.
The Willcox tasting room exterior uses reclaimed Wyoming snow fence lumber, while the interior is light by retro-style ‘naked’ bulbs.
Aridus Wine – Whites
I first sample the Aridus wines in 2021. At the time, my favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc and Graciano.
I sampled Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Graciano, and Syrah this year.
2019 Viognier: The unique process, as noted above, resulted in a rich and round Viognier, where you could taste a bit of the Acacia and the typical aromas and flavors of honeysuckle along with florals and stone fruit. The wine also exhibited a sweeter finish. All in all, this wine was a favorite of the four I sampled this year.
2021 Sauvignon Blanc: Utilizing grapes from its estate vineyard, the Sauvignon Blanc aged in 90% stainless steel and 10% neutral oak. I found a fruity wine with citrus and stone fruit on the nose. On the palate, the wine displayed citrus flavors, mostly orange, mixed with stone fruit, primarily peach, and ends in a sweet finish. The Sauvignon Blanc results in a fabulously refreshing summer wine.
Aridus Wine – Reds
2019 Graciano: The grapes for the Graciano came from the Alba Vineyards on the Wilcox Bench in Arizona. The Graciano blends Graciano primarily with a tiny bit of Petit Verdot. The Graciano utilizes only free-run juice, which ages for 16 months in oak. The result is a wine with aromas of violets and blueberry. I found dark fruit flavors, especially those of blackberry pie, accented with pepper notes. Although, a minute portion, I could taste the Petit Verdot, which I felt gave the wine elegance. The wine is rich and full-bodied.
2018 Syrah: Aridus sources Syrah grapes from Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards and Juan Alba’s Arzberger Road Vineyard. The Syrah grapes combine with about 10% Viognier. The wine ages 50% new oak and 50% neutral barrels for 32 months. On the nose, the wine displayed aromas of smoke, blackberry, and sage, making the wine very fragrant. On the palate, I found blackberry accented by pepper and baking spices, including cinnamon on the finish
Aridus Wine Tasting Rooms
Willcox Tasting Room
145 North Railview Avenue
Wilcox, AZ 85643
Summer Hours: Thursday-Sunday 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Winter Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Scottsdale Tasting Room
7173 East Main Street
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Tasting Room Hours: Monday-Saturday 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Featured Photo: Aridus Wilcox Tasting Room. Photo courtesy of Aridus Wine Co
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.