LivAbility Magazine

Accessibility by the glass

Photos by Clinton McDaniel

Summer temperatures in the Valley are the perfect excuse to escape to the (relatively) cooler Verde Valley area. Although one can choose from a host of activities to easily fill a weeklong vacation, the 360 Creative Team had one day to explore. We chose wine and the town of Cottonwood.

We pulled onto Main Street in Cottonwood around noon, after a leisurely 90-minute drive up from Phoenix. We easily found accessible parking in a public lot. Although there are some challenging inclines for a person pushing a manual wheelchair, we found overall good (but not great) access. We were immediately struck by the changes from just a few years ago. Wine has brought a renaissance to Cottonwood. The streets are now lined with arty boutiques, quirky specialty shops and tasting rooms.

The juxtaposition of old and new Cottonwood brilliantly revealed itself as we passed two traditional cowboys, their horses “parked” in a shady parking space while they enjoyed a coffee bar latte on the patio, a herding dog lazing at their feet.

Jennifer Longdon sits in her wheelchair, holding a wine glass in one hand and a bottle in the other. Another bottle rests on a barrel in the foreground. Photos by Clinton McDaniel

Our first stop: Arizona Stronghold Vineyard tasting room. Located on Main Street, ASV comfortably blends past and present. The space is small; with 15-20 people in there, it’s packed. Eye candy fills the room, from the local art on the walls to polished hardwood floors, cozy leather couches and board games. There are sparkling rows and rows of wine bottles and portraits of Apache leaders hanging in a place of honor. The vineyard is in Wilcox, Arizona, thus the winery’s name honors Cochise’s Stronghold and the Apache heritage of the region. Many of the wines and label symbols reflect Apache history.

The staff was friendly and very knowledgeable without being snobby. You can choose wine by the glass or a tasting flight (a progression of five different wines). We also ordered a cheese plate and skewers.

They were all quite good, but the duck was outstanding. Do grab a bite while you’re there.

The restroom is roomy but not set up for a lateral transfer to the toilet. The patio is vibrant but covered in deep gravel, so a manual chair user would have great difficulty pushing to a table. Nonetheless, we found this tasting room well worth the visit and left with several bottles and a club membership in hand.

Before heading for ASV’s sister vineyard, Page Springs Cellars, we wandered Main Street for a while.

If wine is not your thing, try Desert Diamond Distillery Tasting & Cocktail Rum & Vodka Room or THAT Brewery for craft beer. Some of the shops that stood out to us included Christy Fisher Studio and Rainbow’s End – both boutiques featuring local clothing, jewelry and gifts; Little Moo’s Gourmet Market; and Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders. Outside of wine tasting, Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders was our favorite, with vat upon shiny stainless steel vat of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars. We have to confess to splurging on their black truffle sea salt and shaking it on everything ever since. Our one disappointment on Main Street came when we inquired about the jeep tours, train rides, kayaking and horseback rides. The shop itself was not accessible by wheelchair due to a high step, but a staff member did step out to talk with us. We inquired about accessible tours and she asked, “Are you always handicapped?” It was our single most disappointing moment of the trip.

Twenty minutes later, we pulled into Page Springs Cellars, an “estate vineyard” that grows, bottles and sells its own wines. The place feels like a family business. Everyone we met was warm and welcoming, clearly knowledgeable about wine without pretense. These people love the land, the sun and their grapes. The tasting room is spacious compared to ASV, with plenty of nooks to bask in a good glass of wine. We enjoyed an impressive tasting flight and sips of a few bottles that interested us. The flatbread pizzas were divine; the fungi topping was a homerun paired with our flight of deep reds. The balconies look out over the vineyards, but we found the members’ balcony a bit small for multiple wheelchairs; we could not maneuver to the rail for the best view. The bathrooms, however, were roomy enough to bring a caregiver inside or make a lateral transfer.

We toured the estate with Leslie as our guide. The terrain was challenging for those of us in wheelchairs, from deep gravel to black diamond-steep slopes to deep soft loamy ground where we couldn’t get traction. This place is not “first date with a wheelchair user” material but it was worth the risk and effort to reach the creek. There’s a newly-built deck overlooking the vines for live music and receptions. With effort and a lot of trust in our companions, we made it to the deck that overlooks Oak Creek. We lingered in the cool shade with the rush of water below us as we watched heron and squirrels. PSC offers picnic baskets for patrons to bring down for a romantic meal al fresco. We passed bocce ball courts, the estate spa, and a massage tent as we wandered the grounds. None of us were eager to leave.

All-in-all, the Verde Valley Wine Trail is worth the trip. We found access challenges in terms of the natural terrain and the age of some of the built environment. This is a place to go with creative and trustworthy companions willing to pitch in and push and pull to help move a chair along safely. None of the wineries or tasting rooms allows smoking. We did not find any braille menus available. Most places were quiet and tranquil, but offer live music on the weekends. When we head back, and we will return, we’ll go on a quiet weekday and avoid the crowds that make accessibility in tight spaces even more challenging.

While we spent a day in Cottonwood, Jerome and Sedona are each within a half hour’s ride. This area is rich with things to do from jeep tours and hot air balloon rides, to exploring the ancient ruins of Tuzigoot and Montezuma’s Castle. Cottonwood is an ideal base to visit Slide Rock, the Verde Canyon Railroad, Out of Africa and a host of museums, parks and casinos. Go for the wine, stay for the week.

Learn More

Red or white? Cork or screw cap? Stemmed glasses or stemless?

Wine doesn’t have to be complicated.

At each stop we asked, “What’s your best wine?” The reply was universal: “What do you like?” Bree Nation, Wine Club Manager for Arizona Stronghold Wines, gave these tips for getting to know wine.

Enjoy regular wine tastings – either organized events or at home with friends.

Look, smell, swirl, smell, taste.

Look at the wine in your glass before you taste it or smell it. In general, lighter colors have lighter, brighter flavors and darker wines become rich and full-bodied.

Put your nose deep in your glass and deeply inhale. Close your eyes to block distractions.

Swirl your wine in the glass for 5 to 10 seconds to aerate it and release more flavor. The swirl can be more a matter of fashion than function. Do what works best for you. Just don’t spill it.

Smell deeply from your glass again. As the wine “opens” do you learn more about it?

Now, taste it. Let the wine bathe all of your taste buds. Hold the wine in your mouth for a pause before swallowing to get the full flavor.

Observe the differences in the wines you taste. Do you taste smoke? Fruit? Pepper? Spice? Jam? Duskiness?

Track your observations in your own wine journal.

There are plenty of guides to suggest which wine to pair with what food. Generally, the lighter the flavor of your food, the lighter the wine you’ll want to serve. Relax. Enjoy. Drink what pleases you most.