Tucsonan Zucker brings business savvy to new White Mountains venture

Jay Zucker is ready to serve guests in the new wine tasting room. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

Imagine you are planning to open a wine bar in Arizona on April 1 and the day before, the government shut down all of the state’s bars and restaurants, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It sounds like a really bad April Fool’s Day joke. But it was no joke for Tucson native Jay Zucker and his wife, Debra. They literally were ready to open the doors on Wine Mountains, the first wine bar and tasting room in downtown Pinetop, the White Mountains resort community, 180 miles northeast of Tucson.

Zucker usually has pretty good business luck. A 1975 graduate of the University of Arizona’s broadcasting program, he owned Tucson’s landmark Maverick Country Night Club on Tanque Verde Road for 13 years, through 2019. He owned the Tucson Sidewinders triple-A minor league baseball team from 1999 to 2001, and made his fortune in the desert’s Spanish-language television business with Telemundo.

The Zuckers had all their ducks in a row for this new business, even though it wasn’t in their plans when they retired to the White Mountains two years ago. “We were just going to enjoy life in Pinetop,” says Zucker. “If there’s one thing owning the Maverick taught us it’s that if we were going to be in this industry, it would need to be a boutique operation with small volume, something we could manage as a couple.” The wine-loving pair began looking at Wine Mountains as a hobby business.

They took their planning seriously and did the right market research. They found the perfect location on White Mountain Boulevard, the main drag through town, in a high-end business area near three popular historic landmarks — Charlie Clark’s Steakhouse, Eddie Basha’s Country Store, and the Lion’s Den bar and restaurant.

“Once I walked in there … I just knew if it came together, if the owner would lease us this vacant space, this is the spot for a wine tasting and wine bar,” Zucker says. As it started coming together in December, they refitted the 1,600-square-foot location, customizing high-top wine barrel tables and décor bathed in mood-setting lighting for a true wine cellar feel. Rolling doors expand the interior to the outside during fine weather, with a spacious patio and seating, overseen by the house greeter, a fluffy Husky named Luna.

The Zuckers researched the mountain community’s favorite wines and compiled a list of the top dozen for the wine bar, including Kendall-Jackson chardonnay and Frances Ford Coppola claret. Light and local brews will be on tap along with popular import and domestic beers by the bottle.

In the tasting room, and during the take-out-only period, Wine Mountains offers three flights of four wines — two reds and two whites: a California tour focusing on the best California wines, an exclusive sampling of Arizona-made wines, and West Coast reserves that Zucker describes as the very best of domestic wines.

Current to-go orders feature four bottles of wine, two signature wine glasses, 10 plastic wine glasses, tasting notes, and a signature house split bottle, nicely packaged into a sterilized container for easy takeaway or delivery

The Zuckers worked with Arizona vintners to perfect a weekly rotating range of the state’s best wines for the Arizona Exclusive tour. This weekend, Flying Leap Vineyard is featured. The Southern Arizona winery blends grapes from Elgin and Wilcox for its vintages, which Jay calls excellent. When the tasting room is fully open, the featured winemaker will be on hand for the weekend to talk about the vintages and to sign bottles.

When the bar and tasting room are open, light bites will be available along with the 24 wines and multiple beers. A unique concierge wine cellar houses wines on request. “If you’re coming up for the weekend, call ahead and ask for your favorite,” Zucker explains. The bottle(s) will be waiting in the concierge cellar.

Zucker remains the managing partner with Security Services, an alarm monitoring station with 13 employees in Tucson, and Broadcast Intelligence, his overarching media consultancy since 1987, which now is the corporate umbrella organization for the couple’s businesses.

The Zuckers continue bouncing between the mountains and Tucson, where his parents, daughters, and grandchildren live. “We still have many friends in the Jewish community. Although we haven’t really been involved to a major extent, we’ve always been supportive,” he says.

The White Mountains have numerous Jewish summer homeowners/residents from Tucson and Phoenix and a few that reside year-round, but there is not a defined community, says Zucker. “It’s like the part-time Jews that come out for the High Holidays, but here there is no place to come out to! Since that’s a time for family, you go back to Tucson and assimilate to the community in a larger center.”

The White Mountains resort area normally has a very busy May to October visitor season and a quieter winter, bolstered by snow skiing on the slopes just 30 minutes away. When times allow for Wine Mountain’s opening, the proprietors plan on seasonal hours that will be adjusted based on customer demand. “We will definitely be open on Saturdays,” says Zucker.

If you’re wondering what wine pairs well with social distancing, check out Wine Mountains’ Facebook page. For more information on Wine Mountains, go to www.winemountains.com or contact the Zuckers at (928) 414-1188 or visit them at 1746 E. White Mountain Blvd. on your next trip to Pinetop.