Fire Mountain Wines, which sells wines blended and produced on ancestral Apache lands in the Verde Valley of Arizona, has a Buy Indian approach, a philosophy Jamie Fullmer, founder and managing member of Fire Mountain Wines, has supported since his days as Yavapai-Apache chairman. “We want to practice what we preach by creating a product that will be found throughout Indian country, one that helps support a regional economy and ties nicely into an Apache-owned entity built on both a respect for the product and the people involved,” Fullmer said.
Fire Mountain Wines made its debut at the Heard Museum in Phoenix on April 5, and was also poured at the National Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow & Convention the same week in Phoenix. The brand launched with an initial production of 2,000 bottles of three different wines—two red blends and one white. “We won’t sell broadly at the start,” Fullmer said. “Our focus will initially be in Indian country, Indian-specific in relation to tribes, tribal enterprises, Native American casinos, and restaurants.” Initial tastings are scheduled for tribal casinos, resorts and restaurants throughout the Southwest, starting in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and southern California.
Fullmer is also the chief executive officer of Blue Stone Strategy Group, a “tribal advisory firm” that focuses on assisting tribal governments build strong and sustainable economies and protect their sovereignty. Blue Stone Strategy Group, founded in 2007, is assisting in the startup of Fire Mountain Wines. Blue Stone’s President John Mooers is a principal, and will serve as business manager of the new wine brand.
Page Springs Cellars’s owner and wine director Eric Glomski used grapes from Cochise County in southeastern Arizona and from parts of California, which are the ancestral Salinan lands in the San Antonio Valley and Paso Robles, for the 2009 vintages. In the future, grapes will be sourced from the Verde Valley. “I’m proud to have a long-time blood tie, a history in the traditional Apache and Yavapai lands of Verde Valley, and I wanted to name the wine out of respect and reverence for our people who believe there is a beginning and an end to everything—a circular path,” Fullmer said.
The name Fire Mountain Wines symbolizes this transition. “That beginning/ending period is called Dzil Ko Siaan, but it would be hard for those who don’t have the Apache tongue to walk around asking for a bottle of Dzil Ko Siaan, so the translation, ‘the period when the mountain looks like it is on fire,’ gave birth to our brand,” Fullmer explained.
Arizona’s dry climate, extreme temperature swings and varied soil types—volcanic soil and ancient river beds with natural deposits of limestone, granite and sandy loam—make it possible to grow a multitude of different grapes, primarily French, Spanish, Italian and German, in certain parts of the state.
The Arizona grapes used in Fire Mountain Wines grow high in the mountains in Cochise County and will eventually grow in the Verde Valley. Both areas undergo the second biggest diurnal temperature variation in the world after Argentina, meaning the grapes experience the greatest changes in temperature. “There is a 40- to 50-degree temperature swing between morning and afternoon. Grapes thrive in harsh conditions and produce more concentrated juice,” explained Paula Woolsey, the national sales manager for Arizona Stronghold, the sales arm of Page Springs Cellars.
Fullmer wanted the character of the three Fire Mountain wines to match the elements of the universe after which they are named: Ni’gosdzá?, which translates to “earth,” ?yó? meaning “wind,” and Kq´ meaning “fire.” “The actual names are interpreted as closely as possible to Earth, Wind and Fire. We wanted to make certain that the wines were tied to place,” Fullmer said. “As Native people, we have deep roots. We are comparing our character and roots with the deep roots of the grape. We are very happy that those wines accurately represent the symbolism that we placed to each of them.”
The earth red is a blend of many different barrels made from a variety of grapes. Woolsey described the wine as “gentle, fruity and abundant—characteristics associated with the earth.”
Wind—the white blend of Malvasia, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Pinot Gris—exhibits “aromas of wild flowers blooming, the fresh smells of cut grass and peaches from a summer harvest,” according to the Fire Mountain Wines website.
As its name might imply, Fire is a robust wine, a full-bodied red blend of Petite Syrah, Syrah and Muscat, sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles, California and blended, produced and bottled in the Verde Valley.
The wines got solid reviews at the kickoff event at the Heard Museum, and Fullmer said the next step is to host wine tastings at venues throughout the southwest, especially tribal-owned ones. He is looking to build relationships with all venues willing to promote a Native-owned wine, such as the Heard Museum. “While Indian country is our core focus, we want to respect and be involved with folks like the Heard Museum, which we believe is a cultural match with mutual respect for what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Once the brand proves successful with self-distribution in Arizona and the southwest, Fullmer hopes to open a winery and vineyard and expand nationwide. “We are working toward the goal of having a winery and vineyard in Verde Valley, my homeland as a member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation,” he said. “Our other goal is to create Native jobs and an opportunity for the region. And also to produce a product that Indian country can be proud of.”