Cornville Weekend

Written by Craig Outhier Category: Travel Issue: May 2015
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Once a B&B black hole, the Verde Valley wine hotspot becomes a stay-and-play destination.

After spending a few hours exploring its verdant river valley and chalky desert hills, visitors inevitably remark on the same odd quirk about Cornville: a conspicuous absence of corn. Evidently, back in the early 1900s, the fledgling high desert town was set to be named Cohenville, but somebody screwed up the paperwork at the Yavapai County recorder’s office. “Cohen” became “corn.” Or so the legend goes.

The other qualities you’ll immediately notice about Cornville are, of course, the vineyards, and the surprising lushness. Straddling Oak Creek in a cloistered stretch of dry countryside between Sedona and Cottonwood, Cornville feels downright sylvan once you peel off the main highway and head down Page Springs Road, where its wineries and abundant grape vines are clustered.

Page Springs Road Destination Map

I fell hard for Cornville when I first visited eight years ago, which admittedly had a lot to do with the wineries – still a mind-scrabbling Arizona contradiction back then – but also the peacefulness and off-the-grid serenity of the place. Its one, glaring drawback: No B&B or guest house. It was strictly a drive-in, drive-out kind of getaway.

Thrillingly, that’s no longer the case. Still no corn, but good options for bunking down, and an emerging food scene. Like a tannin-heavy red wine, the town has demonstrably improved over time.

Where to Stay
After visiting Cornville for the first time several years ago, Tambrala Shurman had the same thought about B&B scarcity I did; unlike me, she took matters into her own hands. “For breakfast, we’re  doing goat cheese/red pepper broccoli quiche with optional Candian bacon, and a lemon breakfast loaf,” the beaming Jenna Elfman doppelgänger says, proudly showing off the two-bedroom guesthouse of Cornville’s first working B&B ($189/night).

Dubbed The Vineyards (1350 N. Page Springs Rd., 928-300-4313, thevineyardsbandb.com), the 2-acre property sits on a grassy meadow in the Oak Creek valley, where 40-foot willows sway like jellyfish in the golden afternoon sun. Shurman and her husband Bruce, a former IT guy, started booking guests last October after acquiring the property two summers ago. They’re one of those classic bucket-list couples: Weary of the oppressive winters, the lifelong Midwesterners pulled a 180 and decided to become Arizona hostelers. “It was all about bringing the Midwestern B&B tradition to Arizona,” Shurman, who lives with her family in an adjacent master house, says. “And we love providing this service, in such a beautiful place.”

Located about a quarter-mile south of Page Springs Cellars, Javelina Leap and Oak Creek Winery – the three wineries that collectively form the so-called House Mountain growing area – The Vineyards is something of a playground unto itself, with a diving pool, thatch-roofed tiki bar and tubing program for floating down Oak Creek. Shurman promises to conjure even more in the way of activity programs and amenities this summer – including a wedding business – and will gladly ferry guests to and from the wineries in her car if they’re not up for the five-minute bike ride. It’s precisely the kind of B&B pipe-dream I fantasized about when I first visited Cornville.

Quiet Valley Ranch owners Jacquie and Chris Robinson

 

 

Just a few properties south of The Vineyards is another overnight option that didn’t exist when I first laid eyes on the town: Quiet Valley Ranch (1300 N. Page Springs Rd., 928-649-0600, $145-$225 nightly), where newlywed owners Chris and Jacquie Robinson have fashioned a riparian piece of paradise out of the Oak Creek wilderness, offering two guest cottages, quick access to the creek and free run of their apple and peach orchards. (Know Quiet Valley by the sign on the road advertising organic fruit – it’s a honeytrap to get passersby to view the property.)

Before Chris got into the guest-cottage business, his claim to fame was playing Dr. Rick Webber in the long-running daytime soap opera General Hospital. He’s also an art dealer and collector of some note, a fact that guests will find immediately apparent upon arrival – both cottages are crammed floor-to-ceiling with original paintings, and he has an art showroom in the works, attached to the main residence. “We’re kind of medieval junkies,” Jacquie – a one-time, globe-trotting musician – says good-naturedly, nodding to the moat-like ponds that encircle the self-designed main home.

The couple’s affection for Oak Creek is pretty plain – they got married on its woodsy banks and enthusiastically extoll its virtues as a fishing and tubing destination. “Just down the creek is a great swimming spot that’s a little like Slide Rock in Sedona,” Jacquie says. “That’s what Cornville is – Sedona’s best-kept secret.”

Where to Eat
“I have a weakness for soups,” Chris announces, and by way of proof recommends two restaurants in Cornville that excel in the broth-based culinary arts. First, we have dinner at Harry’s Hideaway (10990 E. Cornville Rd., 928-639-2222, harryshideaway.com), a chef-owned bistro on the main Cornville Road drag. Known for its modestly-priced, Southern-inflected comfort fare – think New Orleans crab cakes, barbecue baby back ribs, ratatouille – the restaurant also plays well with the local wine industry, holding frequent winemaker dinners and oeno-centric events. A tip: Order off the terrific list of daily specials, which Chef Harry Olson crafts with an eye toward wine-friendly pairings. My dining companions order a terrific grilled halibut with poblano cream, and my baby back ribs match nicely with the Tempranillo that Harry’s front-of-the-house spouse Adele pours for me.

And Chris’ potato-leek soup? “Very nice,” he confirms. The Olsons take pride in their from-scratch cooking philosophy, down to the hand-churned ice cream served with a slice of excellent cake.

Perhaps the most iconic dish in Cornville’s limited but spirited food scene is the pumpkin soup at The Manzanita Restaurant (11425 E. Cornville Rd., 928-634-8851, themanzanitarestaurant.com) down the street from Harry’s. The dish was featured in the popular Arizona Centennial cookbook 100 Years, 100 Chefs, 100 Recipes, and is “the best of its kind you’ll ever have,” Chris assures. Tasting a slightly spicy, sweet mouthful, I can’t say I disagree. The pumpkin is energized by notes of cinnamon, cumin, brown sugar... and something caramelly. “Those are caramelized onions,” chef-owner Randy Hale says. “I purée them into the soup at the end.” Damn good.

My first stop in Cornville, all those years ago, was Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery (1565 Page Springs Rd., 928-649-2681, javelinaleapwinery.com), a micro-vineyard and bottling operation run by a friendly, robust fellow named Rod Snapp. Back then, the winery was essentially composed of Rod, his small vineyard, an awesome selection of Zinfandels and a few breadsticks to nosh on while you tasted the wine at the bar. Though not necessarily evident to the naked eye, things have changed a lot. Javelina Leap has expanded its repertoire of wines. Rod has handed off official winemaking duties to his wife, Cynthia, who won gold and silver medals from the San Francisco Chronicle for her 2013 Legacy Zin and 2013 Tempranillo, respectively. And the winery has a new “Arizona Room” where visitors can pair their glass of wine with cheese plates, pizzas, smoked salmon and other palate-pleasing noshes nowhere to be found in 2007.

Charcuterie board at Page Springs Cellars

A similar evolution has occurred at Page Springs Cellars (1500 N. Page Springs Rd., Cornville, 928-639-3004, pagespringscellars.com) down the road – still plenty of breadsticks, but also a new, farm-to-table food menu with intriguingly high-toned options like duck confit pizza and eggplant roulade bruschetta. I get the charcuterie board and it’s a monster – jammed to the margins with  deli-fresh goodies like marinated gigandes beans, smoked prosciutto and fruits and vegetables sourced from various Arizona growers. That’s just the way owners Eric and Gayle Glomski roll. “You could probably feed four people with that plate,” Gayle, tired from an afternoon of bottling downstairs, says.

And the kitchen isn’t the only new addition at Page Springs.

Where to Play
Gayle Glomski – a certified massage therapist and yoga instructor – has devised a fiendishly brilliant plan to lure visitors to the winery: Thai massage sessions overlooking Oak Creek, in the cool shade of her yurt-like massage tent. Known colloquially as “lazy man’s yoga,” the two-hour marathon session essentially amounts to Glomski stretching, bending and pulling a client’s body like one of those gel-filled ‘70s Elastic Man toys – a proposition that puts surprisingly little muscular stress on Glomski’s diminutive frame, she says: “It’s a more collective way of doing massage... and not tiring for me at all.”

Throughout the late spring, summer and fall, Glomski also teaches yoga classes in a creekside clearing below the vineyards – in the same spot where the Glomskis staged the prototype of their now-enormous Tilted Earth music and wine festival (see sidebar).

On the last Thursday of every month, Page Springs offers horse-mounted tasting tours of its off-site Cornville vineyards, but you go can go straight to the horse’s mouth – so to speak – by arranging rides through Horsin’ Around Adventures (800-403-1690, horsinaroundsedona.com), which operates a pick-up point at Javelina Leap and conducts multiple horseback tours of nearby House Mountain every week ($98). Flanked by creosote and cactus, the rocky trail up the mountain makes for soul-satisfying relaxation – a fact never lost on tour guide Ken Procunier, who worked for 20 years as a Phoenix Police Department narcotics and homicide detective before retiring to the high desert. “I never even watch the news anymore,” the genial ex-cop muses, as we amble past Dancing Apache Lodge (dalodge.net), a sprawling, 4,000-square-foot territorial stage stop owned by the Bouchard ranching family that accommodates large overnight groups and events.

Evidently, with a winemaking assist from Eric Glomski, the Dancing Apache folks have started bottling their own proprietary Stage Stop Vineyard vinos – the latest addition to Arizona’s tidiest, densest, most tucked-away little cluster of wineries.

As a weekend destination goes, it’s got everything you need. Unless you need corn.

More to See & Do in Cornville
Golf: Not a wine type, but your spouse is? Hit the links at the newly-seeded Verde Santa Fe Golf Course on the west side of town.
645 S. Verde Santa Fe Pkwy., 928-634-5454, verdesantafe.com

Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery: Cornville’s first winery started pressing the issue in 2002.
1555 N. Page Springs Rd., 928-649-0290, oakcreekvineyards.net

Rafting: Visit Cornville’s wineries – along with Alcantara Vineyards in Cottonwood – via kayak through the Water to Wine Tour organized by Sedona Adventure Tours. sedonaadventuretours.com

Tilted Earth: Though staged in Cottonwood next door, this two-day music and wine ho-down has Cornville in its blood. Jam-rockers Rusted Root headline. $45 general admission. June 19-20 at Riverfront Park.
tiltedearthfestival.com

Day Trip: Bike In, Bike Out
For Verde Valley visitors staying in Cottonwood, or Cornville visitors wishing to visit the town’s larger, more amenity-blessed neighbor, one appealing option is to hop on a bike. The spine-straight road linking the two towns – which is called Cornville Road until it becomes Mingus Avenue in Cottonwood – has a thick, bike-friendly shoulder perfect for casual riders. Call Self-Propelled Tours of Sedona for rental and tour info.
1639 S. Broken Rock Dr., Cottonwood, 928-274-3109, selfpropelledtours.com