“We get 30 hours of sun here a day,” Curt Dunham jokes as light streams in, hot and heavy, through the windows of his winery’s tasting room. Indeed, it is pretty much always sunny in Arizona, and for Dunham—who owns LDV Winery with his wife, Peggy Fiandaca, and grows all his grapes at an altitude of 5,000 feet—that makes for some pretty interesting vintages.
Dunham is not a trained winemaker, but he produces darn good vino. A long-time hobby oenophile, he often took trips with Fiandaca—they used to work as community and strategic planners—to wine destinations around the world, always asking to speak to the makers and learn more about each individual place. “I didn’t just want the wine, I wanted the story behind it,” he says. It gave him a solid foundation—so much so that when the couple decided to purchase some land and start making their own wines, Fiandaca suggested that her husband take the wheel. “She said I should try, but that if they weren’t good, I would be fired,” Dunham says with a smile. But he certainly deserves to keep his job, with an impressive wine list including a beautiful 2013 Sky Island Grenache and 2013 The Signature Petite Sirah.
LDV’s vineyard sits in Southeastern Arizona, in the Chiricahua Mountain region, but the tasting room and retail space are closer to the action, in downtown Scottsdale—a city with a definite do-it-yourself attitude when it comes to food and drink.
A short walk from LDV is the tasting room for another Arizona winery. Owned by a family of five, Carlson Creek Vineyard produces beautiful chardonnays, such as the 2014, and sauvignon blancs, including vintages from 2012 and 2013. Those who visit the tasting room are likely to encounter Robert Carlson, part of the winery’s second generation. Relaxed and all smiles, Carlson is clearly happy that he left the corporate world to join in his father’s business.
In terms of another coveted drink—coffee—Scottsdale seems to go conceptual. There is Fourtillfour, a car restoration company and coffee shop that was born out of a love for cruising through life in a 356 Porsche. Serving San Francisco’s Four Barrel Coffee, the small cafe and adjoining retail space is an ode to automotive history. Or there is Cartel Coffee Lab, an Arizona staple with locations across the state, including one in the heart of Scottsdale. The experimental Cartel roasts its own beans right in the desert, serving up cups of java along with local beers and fresh pastries including artisanal “Pop-Tarts.”
That same get-your-hands-dirty attitude exists in the city’s restaurant scene, the shining example being the famous FnB. Run by James Beard Award-nominated chef Charleen Badman and front-of-house manager/beverage director Pavle Milic, FnB fully lives up to its glowing reputation. While it is not a vegetarian restaurant, plants play a key role in Badman’s cooking, where they end up not as secondary characters but as stars of the show. Seasonal dishes such as Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and cashews; pasta with duck confit, fava beans, pecorino, garlic scapes, and mustard; and scrambled duck eggs with spring onions, hedgehog mushrooms, and cultured butter toast deliver a flavourful, fresh, and inspired eating experience, perhaps only matched by expert wine pairings and charismatic servers.
At Virtù Honest Craft, which Esquire called one of America’s best new restaurants in 2013, home-style dishes are served with impeccable quality. Chef Gio Osso is to thank for that, especially when it comes to brunch: gooey grilled cheese fig sandwiches with fresh arugula salad, or hearty pork ragu with fried egg and mascarpone polenta. Warming, comforting, and welcoming—just like the restaurant’s beautiful outdoor patio.
Then there is The Mission, considered to be one of the hottest restaurants in Scottsdale, and for good reason. Here, Latin food is enjoyed by the masses (really—reservations are very encouraged); guacamole is made tableside on a rolling cart, tacos are served on large blocks of Himalayan salt, and duck confit empanadas are impossible to ignore. Situated on the edge of Scottsdale’s Old Town with a second location in the Kierland Commons shopping centre, The Mission and its chef Matt Carter create a blend of Mexican, Spanish, Central American, and South American culinary influences that offer something distinct but still accessible. As the sun goes down (because it must, even in Arizona), embrace the mood of this dark, brooding restaurant with a salted-rim margarita. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
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