Valerie Fisch, a woman wearing many hats at the Pillsbury Wine Company in Cottonwood, Arizona, is very expressive. (See the pics!) The hosts loved hearing her stories, laced with fascinating observations. Since the Pillsbury tasting room is in Old Town Cottonwood, we were curious if they’d participated in the recent and nearby Sedona Wine Festival? (See our earlier show on the festival with Paula Woolsey.)
Valerie’s story about it was telling of the current state of the wine hospitality industry: Staffing was challenging. The festival was always so heavily attended they could count on overflow traffic to visit their tasting room to the north. Sure enough, even though they couldn’t participate in the festival directly this year, they had one of their best weekend’s ever, hosting a large number of guests in their own tasting room.
We wanted to know if Valerie grew up in a “wine family” or had been drawn to the industry for many years before landing a wine job. And as it turns out Valerie gave no thought to a wine career growing up in Southern California. But a family camping trip in 2014 changed everything. She and her family fell in love with the Verde Valley nearby. And wine accompanied the new fascination.
They moved to Cottonwood the same year, seeking out jobs in the wine industry. Both she and her husband were pointed in the direction of Pillsbury Wine Company.
No “dough boy,” Sam Pillsbury grew up far away in Auckland, New Zealand, and became a filmmaker and director, running his own documentary production company. Hollywood eventually called, prompting a move to the states. Then a taste from an amazing bottle of a 1997 Arizona Chardonnay blew him away. He had to investigate wine growing (and then wine making) in Arizona.
Following his documentary roots, a vast research project ensued: Enchanted with the Verde Valley and also the Sulphur Springs Valley near Wilcox in southeast Arizona (where he now grows the estate vegan wines for his brand at a 4,350 foot elevation), Sam Pillsbury’s first vintage was 2006. He’s been building his wine business ever since.
Valerie’s husband landed a wine job with Pillsbury before she joined the company. In 2014, Pillsbury’s wine club had 150 members. Valerie was brought on to organize and manage the club. Today it boasts more than 500 members, much of its growth no doubt attributable to Valerie’s infectious, bubbly personality and inquisitive nature. She’s since added on tasting room management duties to her work.
Valerie told the hosts she just fell in love with the people in the wine industry. She loves learning about wine and is endlessly curious and excited about it. (You’ll hear it in her voice telling stories on the show!)
Today, the Pillsbury wines have racked up impressive accolades, garnering 16 honors in the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, including Best of Class for their 2019 Malvasia; Double Golds for both their 2018 Grenache and Mourvedre; and three Golds for their 2018 Petite Sirah, Syrah, and 2019 Chardonnay.
Inquiring about their signature wine, Valerie immediately cited their very popular Wild Child Red, a co-fermentation of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Sangiovese, made in a Côte-Rôtie style. But there are many other Rhône style wines in the Pillsbury portfolio, made from Pinot Gris and Symphony (in white blends) to Shiraz. And, oh, yes, Arizona Chardonnay…
Returning to the subject of what Valerie sees in her crystal ball for the future and what she hopes to accomplish, she simply stated her focus was her customers visiting the Cottonwood tasting room. She wants them to feel like they’re getting an escape from everyday life, and the wine bar is their second home with cozy sofas and nooks. There, they can visit with their wine “family,” sharing their own stories and making memories.
The hosts’ list of wineries to visit in Arizona just keeps getting longer and more fascinating. It’s wonderful to see this up and coming region flourish and thrive. And as for Valerie, she’s clearly having the time of her life learning new things about wine and the industry every day. With each new guest visit, she gets to make new lifelong friends when they join the Pillsbury wine club. We can’t wait to hear what’s next for Ms. Fisch!
To learn more or visit the tasting room or vineyard, go to Pillsbury Wine Company.