by Mike Lavelle

In previous issues I have written articles on trips in the southwest area of Arizona and New Mexico. However, this past 21st of July, I decided to attend the 2nd annual “Spanish Summer Night” event at Flying Leap Vineyards and Distillery. I reasoned that since my wife and I had no special trips planned this year, and a visit to Spain was out of the question, perhaps we ought to experience “A Spanish Summer Night.”

One of the main features of the night was paella, a traditional Spanish dish, served in a Cazuela (earthen dish). I was fortunate to meet a local woman whose father was born in Spain and she was able to inform me that there are many different versions of paella (often using regional meats or seafood). What is common to the varieties is rice (short grain Spanish rice in this case), which is a core ingredient, and the use of a large pan over an open fire, often with a wood that has aromatic properties.

In addition to the paella, (and other appetizers) they also had a “Spanish tortilla,” which is a dish of eggs, potatoes, and spices. In my “non-gourmet” sense, it was sort of like a wonderful cross between an omelet and a quiche. Among the wines served were Flying Leap Vineyards’ “Spanish Fly” (a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Graciano), “Trio” (a white blend of Malvasia Bianca, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul) and Mourvedre. Worthy of special mention, I was able to sample the 2014 Petit Verdot. I am told that our warm climate and long growing season produce excellent (award winning) Petit Verdot vintages, resulting in a tawny dessert wine with a smooth, rich texture and distinctive notes of raisin, dark chocolate, black current and orange peel.

However, as much fun as it was to taste wine, eat new foods, listen to live Spanish guitar music, and find an excellent dessert wine, what I found most fascinating is the story of how Flying Leap Vineyards’ winery began.

Co-owners Mark Beres, Marc Moeller and Thomas Kitchens were Air Force Academy graduates. They all met at the academy where all three graduated with engineering degrees and embarked on their own Air Force careers. Although they seldom saw each other and lived long distances apart, they remained close friends until the winery came together in the fall of 2010. Three pilots, three Air Force careers and now operating vineyards and making wines and spirits – a classic case of “you never know where life is going to take you.”

When asked what makes Elgin an area good for growing wine grapes, Mark Beres said that it is the unique high desert (4,500 feet above sea level) soils that have mineral properties (some of it from volcanic activity) that lend themselves very well to growing grapes that are good for winemaking.

Apparently, much credit to wine growing in this area goes to Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil scientist who worked at the University of Arizona. Interested in not only soil science but, winemaking as well, Dr. Dutt’s work led to Arizona’s first commercial vineyard in 1979, and he opened Sonoita Vineyards in 1983. Dr. Dutt noticed that the soils of the area were very similar to the soils of Burgundy France, which apparently lend themselves to winemaking. Accordingly, the Sonoita and Elgin area is Arizona’s first federally recognized American Viticulture Area, with many wineries producing a variety of fine wines. For more information on these wineries, visit

Finally, if you cannot make it to Hawaii in the coming months, Flying Leap Vineyards will be having an “authentic Hawaiian luau” on the 3rd of November. At the event, there will be live Hawaiian music (from a 3-piece band being flown in), and dancers presenting cultural dances of the South Pacific Islands. More information can be found at:

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Lucretia Free