A monthly look at Arizona wine with Valley dining impresario Pavle Milic.
Elgin Road in Southern Arizona is known for wineries, but Flying Leap Vineyards and Distillery provides another reason to visit: spirits.
Its lavender-infused vodka is surprisingly pleasing. During a recent visit, I feel compelled to sip it as one might a single malt scotch. “Where do you get the lavender?” I ask. With a soft German accent, distiller and winemaker Rolf Sasse motions to a beautiful lavender patch between one of the distilleries’ tasting room windows and the ever-grand Elgin vistas. “We harvest it from those right there,” he says.
Flying Leap is the brainchild of Mark Beres, Marc Moeller and Tom Kitchens – three pilots who met at the United States Air Force Academy and regrouped in Southern Arizona after their retirement, launching Flying Leap in 2010. The distillery debuted in 2017. In addition to vodka made from grapes, the distillery makes apple schnapps and oak-aged brandy, with Irish single malt whisky, rye whiskey and bourbon currently in barrels.
All three partners are hands-on, but the person in charge of the winemaking and distilling is Bavaria native Sasse. “I don’t care for over-the-top, big wines that take center stage to the food; I want to taste my food,” he says. He uses neutral barrels, and it shows.
The 2015 Mourvèdre is delicate, spicy, and pretty ($29). Another standout is the “Big Red,” blending equal amounts of Petit Verdot and Tannat ($42). I like to taste whites after reds – the order refreshes the palate. Be sure to ask for the 2016 “Trio,” which allows Malvasia Bianca (one of Arizona’s darling varietals) to take the lead, followed by Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc.
The adjacent distillery houses two beautiful copper still pots. Ask for tastes of the lavender vodka ($29.95) and Arancello, a sweet orange liqueur good enough for any cocktail joint in town ($27.95).
Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery
342 Elgin Rd., Elgin
Tasting room open daily from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.