South Tempe couple trade convenience for ‘the good life’
By: Alex Zener
Sept 13, 2008

Do you like wine? Do you like to travel? Would you like to get away from the rat race of the urban jungle? How about developing your own brand of wine and running your own vineyard?

That’s what Rod Keeling and his wife, Jan Schaefer, did in 2000 when they purchased 18 acres on Rock Creek at the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona.

Both gave up urban conveniences that most of us take for granted: grocery stores, restaurants and malls practically within walking distance.

No quick trips to pick up something you forgot when the closest grocery store is 43 miles away. If you need new shoes, the Tucson malls are only 90 miles away.

Keeling, former director of the Downtown Tempe merchants group, and Schaefer, who guided the city’s economic development department, decided when they retired to leave their spacious home in south Tempe, move to a 560-square-foot tasting room and do something different while they were still relatively young.

But growing grapes and making wine?

“The idea of a ‘mom-and-pop’ vineyard was an evolution from home winemaking,” said Keeling. “Jan and I traveled in France and liked the small vineyards where private label wines were sold out front and the owners lived in the back. We also liked the idea of living with the seasons when we retired instead of by the clock.”

They kept that vision in mind, and after six years of hard work which included preparing the ground for growing grapes, planting, pruning and training the ENTAV-certified French cloned grapevines, Keeling and Schaefer were finally ready to harvest, crush, press, ferment and age their grapes.

The dream came to fruition when their first wine was available to drink in February 2007.

Most of the grapes they grow are similar to what can be found in California, Spain and Australia. Their first wine was a Grenache popular in Spain. They have since added a 2006 Syrah, a Syrah/Grenache blend and planted Mouvedre and Viognier grapes that they will be offering in 2010.

Keeling Schaefer wine can be purchased at AJ’s Fine Foods at 56th and Ray in Chandler for under $20 a bottle or at several other locations shown on their website at

Just as it hasn’t escaped local notice, Keeling Schaefer wine has generated some wider recognition, as well.

The vineyard was featured in the May 2007 issue of the Arizona Highways and in the Growing Magazine in February.

“In addition, our 2005 Syrah won a Bronze Medal in the 2007 Arizona Governor’s Awards,” said Keeling.

“The judges comments included:
Nearly opaque. Great nose of chocolate and peppercorns. Big, forward fruit flavors with strong peppery finish. Good length and balance. Excellent. Very ripe, plum, black cherry, vanilla and chocolate on nose. Good acid balance, fine integrated tannins.”

Keeling and Schaefer are proud of their accomplishments. You can taste their wine for yourself by visiting their vineyard (by appointment only) by calling (520) 824-2500 or emailing

Soon, the vineyard will have a new tasting room in Willcox, about 80 miles east of Tucson via I-10.

“We have purchased an historic bank building on Railroad Avenue that we are in the process of rehabilitating into a tasting room,” said Schaefer. “It should be ready to open by the end of the year.

Running your own vineyard takes hard work and knowledge that most urbanites probably don’t possess, like knowing how to fix a tractor and other farm implements,” said Schaefer.

“We have absolutely no regrets, but if the idea of owning a vineyard appeals to you, retire young with a pile of money, energy and a passion for learning a whole new discipline. Otherwise, buy a condo in the Mill Avenue District and enjoy living in the city!”

By the way, they will soon move into bigger quarters. Their new house, which has been under construction since March 2007, is due to be finished in 90 days.

“It’s tough getting anything built this far out,” said Schaefer.




'The Valley's Best Community Newspaper' Phoenix Magazine, August 2007
Serving the Kyrene Corridor since 1991.
Copyright © 2008 Wrangler News. All rights reserved.