Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards – Jerome, AZ

Located at 158 Main Street, Jerome, AZ 86331
Open Sun-Thurs 11a-6p, Fri-Sat 11a-8p, 365 days a year
https://caduceus.org

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Northern Arizona is home to a region called Verde Valley, which itself is home to what’s known as a “Wine Trail.” I haven’t brought this up in any of my previous posts about vineyards so far because they were all preoccupied with some bullshit short story or whatever but a Wine Trail is a region that’s conducive to growing grapes for wine production due to its elevation. Arizona has three main Wine Trails and each one has its own handful of vineyards/wineries/tasting rooms.

The Verde Valley region is at an elevation just over 3,000 feet. The other two Wine Trails are in the Southeastern town of Willcox, which is at an elevation just over 4,000 feet, and the Sonoita/Elgin region, which I’ve written about extensively, and is at an elevation of almost 5,000 feet. Separating the state’s vineyards into three distinct regions makes it significantly easier for you to find vineyards near you for a Wine Trail tour, which is a big thing around these parts and has the added benefit of living up to the Classy Alcoholic lifestyle. If you tell a lady friend that you went to four sports bars in one day she’ll think you’re in need of an intervention. If you tell her you visited four tasting rooms for local vineyards while wearing a suit she’ll be super jealous of you and tell you how her boyfriend never takes her to do fun stuff like that because he’s always just going out with his dude friends to house parties and doing keg stands but you sound like a really fun guy and maybe she wants to tag along to your next Wine Trail tour with you and you’ll suddenly find yourself barreling down the highway to the Bone Zone.

Anyway, today we’re in the historic town of Jerome. I’ve mentioned before that I like drinking at places that are off the beaten path and there’s nothing Jerome embodies more than that. This town is pretty remote. The current population there is estimated at just over 400 people. It’s about two hours north of Phoenix, an hour and a half south of Flagstaff and less than an hour away from both Prescott and Sedona. You have to take a curvy, mountainside road to get there from pretty much any direction and the trek is filled with pretty much nothing at all.

Luckily the activity starts to pick up once you enter Jerome and you see a flurry of people, restaurants and art galleries. I described Jerome as “historic,” which, believe it or not, there’s more to say about this tiny town’s history than I can probably share in a single blog post so I’ll give you a condensed version of it all.

Jerome

First I’ll say that Jerome reminded me of the town of Bisbee enough to initially describe it as “Bisbee, Version 2.0.” But the more I learned about Jerome the quicker I realized it was the original Bisbee. If Bisbee is a PlayStation then Jerome is the fucking Atari. Like Bisbee, Jerome had a huge boom in copper mining in the late 19th century but mining started in Jerome around 1876, which beat mining operations in Bisbee by about four years. Since my visit to Jerome I’ve realized that several Arizona residents have visited Bisbee and that those who haven’t gone there have at least heard of it. But none of these people that I spoke to had ever visited Jerome and few of them had even heard of the place at all.

Copper mining was such a huge business in this town in the early 20th century that the population in the 1920s was over 10,000 people. Don’t forget, just a couple of paragraphs ago I wrote that the current population is just over 400 people. Mining companies at that time were making millions upon millions of dollars, which is considered crazy good money now, but was considered Straight-Up, Shit-Your-Pants, I-Can-Literally-Buy-A-Fucking-Handjob-From-Jesus-Christ-Himself money a hundred years ago. Unfortunately the mining industry went to shit during the Great Depression  and continued on a downward spiral all the way into the 50s. After that happened the population of Jerome fell below 100.

Like in Bisbee, the residents of Jerome tried to save their town after the mining crash by attracting tourists and playing up its historical relevance. And while I love Bisbee and don’t mean to diminish any parts of my beloved state of Arizona (other than Phoenix, of course) I will say that Bisbee is a town that attracts hippies, artists and retirees while Jerome was once described by a New York newspaper in the early 1900s as being “the wickedest town in the West” due to having crazy amounts of booze, drugs, gambling and prostitution. Think about that for a second. This town was so decadent that it resonated all the way to fucking New York. Jerome was my kinda town.

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Pretty much everything in Jerome is within a reasonable walking distance but the streets can be a little confusing when you’re trying to track down a specific spot. Especially because you can easily find yourself walking up an incline with no safe way to get to the parallel street without walking a couple of blocks back to the corner where the streets met. I felt like an absolute tool when I realized that I had walked in what was almost a perfect circle through two streets before I finally found the way to my destination.

I arrived at a tasting room for a place that had two names but was actually a single, wine-related operation. This is when I’ll remind you of the distinction between the words “winery,” and “vineyard,” which I wrote about in my very first blog post reviewing a vineyard in Sonoita (seriously, go fucking read it). Caduceus Cellars is the name of the winery where the wines at this place are actually produced while Merkin Vineyards is the name of the field where the grapes for wine production are initially grown.

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The joint  was a charming little place with racks of bottles that you could take home and other racks with shirts that had the winery/vineyard logos on them. Wine flights were $12 here for four tastes but unfortunately they did not offer the souvenir wine glasses that you could own like other vineyards had.

The first taste was of a white wine called Dos Ladrones, which is Spanish for “Two Ladrones.” It was half Chardonnay and half Malvasia Bianca. Coincidentally enough, I actually dated a woman named Malvasia Bianca. Well, she was named Sally when I dated her but renamed herself Malvasia Bianca when she decided she wanted to star in porn movies instead of marrying me.

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Anyway, despite my love of red wines, and disinterest in white wines overall, I have to say that the Dos Ladrones was a white wine that very much appealed to me. It was very dry and smooth but had an interesting mix of fruity and nutty flavors that lingered on the palate. It was the kind of complex wine that confused me enough to want more. And that’s, in every way, a compliment.

The second taste was of a red wine called Le Cortigiane Oneste, which was half Merlot and half Barbera. “Complex” seemed like the best word to describe Caduceus wines after this taste. This was a sweeter wine with hints of cherry and a spicy flavor that gave each sip a kick, not unlike an old-timey Jerome prostitute would gently kiss a Jerome miner on the neck before kicking him in the balls and then charging a hundred bucks.

The third taste was called Primer Paso, which translates to “First Step.” It was the first wine produced by this winery and it was easy to see why it was the flagship bottle. It was a mixture of Syrah, Petite Syrah and Malvasia Bianca. Coincidentally enough, Sally’s two co-stars in her very first porn movie were credited as Syrah and Petite Syrah. Or, well, I think their names were actually spelled “Sarah” and “Petite Sarah” because they were identical twins except that one of them was a midget.

The final taste was called Sancha and it was absolutely my favorite of the flight. It started off with a black cherry taste that finished with a smoky, earthy flavor. It was the perfect mixture for people like me who like bold flavors with a hint of sweetness to them.

After the flight I decided to have  a beer from the impressively-stocked beer fridges. Yes, that’s right, Caduceus also has beer for those of y’all who aren’t satisfied with just wine.

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Their beer selection offers mostly Arizona-brewed beers with a few, out-of-state craft brews in case you want to explore something different.

After I finished my wine flight I asked for a Stout beer from a microbrewery in Lake Havasu City that I hadn’t visited yet and kicked back on a couch while looking out the window. I watched people stroll up and down the streets of Jerome and wondered why the hell I hadn’t visited, or even heard of, this place before now. Jerome was just another pleasant surprise that Arizona had to offer. I’ll admit, this state is nowhere near perfect and I’ve had many issues with it throughout the decade or so that I’ve lived here…but getting out there and getting to discover new places like Jerome makes me feel like Arizona has so much more to offer than most people even know about.

I couldn’t remember the last time I felt as relaxed as I did while walking through Jerome and sitting in the Caduceus Cellars tasting room. I stood up from the couch and decided my adventure of the day was over. It was time to go home. I reached for my empty pint glass on the table but it slid away before I could grab it. By itself.

The glass had moved about an inch or so away from my hand when I tried to take it off the table. I was about to freak the fuck out when I heard a raucous laugh coming from right behind me. I quickly turned around to see an elderly, bearded man in overalls smoking a cigarette. I hadn’t noticed him in the tasting room before now.

“Don’t be scared, kid,” the smoking man said to me. “They’re pretty commonplace around these parts.”

“Who’s they?” I asked, wondering how the hell this guy was allowed to be smoking indoors.

“Ghosts. They’re everywhere.”

“What the hell are you talking about, old man?”

“You really don’t know?” the old guy asked, laughing and coughing at the same time. A cloud of black dust came out of his mouth as he coughed. “The town of Jerome is haunted. Lots of the people who died in the copper mines, the ones who died of drug overdoses  back when opium was all the rage, the ones who accidentally walked off of the sides of these hills while they were drunk…they’re still around. They own this town.”

I rolled my eyes at the guy.

“That’s very funny,” I told him, “but I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Most people don’t until they spend a night or two in Jerome.”

The old man took another long swig off of his cigarette. I turned my back to him to find that pint glass that I thought had moved away from me on the table. It was sitting there, not sliding. I picked it up without difficulty this time. I figured my mind was just playing tricks on me and also I was hammered which probably explained why I thought the glass had moved. I turned around to tell the smoking overalls man that he was just a crazy geezer.

“I don’t know if you’re as drunk as I am, old man but I”-

The old man was gone after I turned around. I looked all through the Caduceus tasting room trying to find him but couldn’t find a trace of him. I asked a couple of people in the place if they noticed an older guy in overalls, smoking a cigarette indoors and coughing his lungs out but everyone just looked at me like I was crazy.

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I walked outside. The town of Jerome continued as normal. I had to get back home today but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the old man said to me. A haunted town. Normally that idea would’ve scared me shitless but the more I thought about it, the more I was curious to discover what the hell that guy was talking about. No matter what, I needed to take another trip to Jerome at some point in the future because Caduceus wasn’t the only winery tasting room in town.

Maybe next time I can make it an overnight trip and explore the town’s haunted grounds. That definitely sounds like an adventure worthy of The Classy Alcoholic.

Salud!

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