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Arizona Stronghold Vineyards' wines

Experts foresee gains for maturing Arizona wine industry

The back roads near Cornville look like many others in Yavapai County, until you turn a corner and find rolling hills filled with vines, tasting rooms and homes that are more Tuscan than Southwestern.

Javelina Leap Winery sits among grapevines in a small valley outside Cornville. The 10-acre property includes a vineyard, tasting room and production facility.

Owner Rob Snapp was one of the first to start his business in the burgeoning wine region. In the last 15 years, he’s seen the area grow from just a few acres of vineyard to a tight-knit winemaking community. Now, at least 70 acres of vineyard dot the landscape of this northern Arizona region just under an hour from Prescott.

Throughout Arizona, wineries have cropped up in droves. More than 90 locations have farm winery licenses in the state. They’re clustered in three general locations: Sonoita/Elgin in southern Arizona, Willcox in central Arizona and the Verde Valley near Prescott.

The wine industry grew gradually until 2001 when Arizona began to experience exponential growth. Wine production in the state soared nearly 700 percent in the 14 years since, well above the national average.

The winemakers have come to Arizona for the climate, business environment and love of the drink itself.

Snapp’s passion for wine began in California as a teenager and, like his product, matured as he aged. He became a chef and business owner, managing and cooking at a hotel and restaurant he owned near the Grand Canyon. Eventually, he sold the location and used his profits as seed money to start the winery.

“This was raw land when we got here,” Snapp said. “There wasn’t a road or a building or water or electricity, nothing.”

Snapp spent a lot of time learning the business and managing the estate. While he wouldn’t reveal Javelina Leap’s financial status, he said his business is doing well – and other wineries nearby share the same success.

A 2013 study done by the Arizona Wine Growers Association showed the Yavapai region produced about 72 tons of grapes that year, large enough to make tens of thousands of bottles of wine, but a small percentage when compared to other regions.

Arizona’s reputation has grown on the national stage, especially for wines in Yavapai County. For example,Page Springs Cellars, just down the road from Javelina, has garnered praise from multiple sources, including Wine Aficionado magazine, as a quality wine.

Why Arizona?

In the United States, California dominates the wine industry. The Golden State produces more than 80 percent of the country’s grape crush beverage.

Arizona pales in comparison, coming in at 28th in the U.S., according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But, the state has slowly moved up the ranks as wine production has increased. Experts said the state might see its ranking rise even further as Arizona wine grows as a business and commodity.

Many experts, vineyard owners and educators in the wine industry said Arizona has the potential to produce high quality wines, comparing it to regions of Spain, France and Italy.

Rod Keeling with the Arizona Wine Growers Association said Arizona has some key incentives that are attracting newcomers to the wine industry:

• Costs are lower in Arizona. Land is less expensive than in California or other major wine states, and labor can cost less as well.
• The climate in the three major wine growing areas is warm in the day and colder at night. This helps the grapes grow, and some types of grapes, especially those used to produce red wines, need the temperature variations.
• Arizona doesn’t yet have the severe water issue California faces, Keeling said. This makes the state a safer bet when starting a winery.
• The Grand Canyon State offers more flexibility for wine producers than many other states.

Arizona’s three-tier system of liquor distribution allows farm wineries to produce, sell and distribute wine themselves as long as they follow certain regulations, including a production cap.

“There are three licenses that fall under this regulation,” said Lee Hill with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. “Wineries, distilleries and microbreweries are able to do all three all under the same roof, so they have amazing privileges.”

Industry trends

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, national wine industry production grew about 43 percent since 2001, and the number of wineries nearly doubled during the same period.

“It’s not just Arizona. The industry has exploded exponentially everywhere,” said Michael Kaiser withWineAmerica, a Washington, D.C.,-based public policy organization. “I think there are a few reasons for that. Obviously, wine consumption in the U.S. has increased. And as the industry has grown, people are realizing that wine doesn’t have to be from California to be good.”

Kaiser said that as younger consumers enter the wine market, they might have more interest in the local vintage.

However, Kaiser warned that the boon isn’t permanent.

“The wine industry will continue to grow, but the growth rate has slowed a bit,” Kaiser said. “One issue that some states have is that winery growth is outpacing vineyard growth and in some cases, there aren’t enough grapes to go around.”

That’s not necessarily the case in Arizona. The study by the Arizona Wine Growers Association indicated that most grapes produced in Arizona are used by the winery or vineyard that grows them, and vineyards sell very few grapes to others, in or outside of the state.

In a saturated national market, experts said the industry must continue to innovate to stay ahead.

So far, it has self regulated. In 2014, the Arizona Wine Growers Association joined other groups in pushing for changes to tasting room licensing, which will allow for greater growth.

“The producers are very innovative, they come up with new ways of using their property,” Hill said. “They now make distilled spirits out of their unused wine stock. These producers are very creative and as the industry grows, they come up with these really fabulous ideas to keep their businesses alive.”

Impact to Arizona

The local wine industry has not conducted a full economic impact study, but the association estimated sales revenue at about $2.2 million for 2013.

Despite this small number, the Arizona wine industry is more than just for hobbyists. It has led to full-time job increases in these regions.

“It’s about seven businesses in one,” Snapp said. “We’re working all the time, bottling, racking, selling.”

One unexpected impact has been to education. Yavapai College‘s Verde Valley Campus in Clarkdale offers a variety of courses in winemaking and vineyard care in response to industry growth.

The school began with a single acre vineyard in 2010 and now has more than 15 acres and about 100 students.

As part of the program, students can earn a two-year degree and get practical experience through internships with local wineries.

“We are really trying to be a region wide resource, not just local or statewide,” said Michael Pierce, director of the enology (winemaking) program at Yavapai College. “This program didn’t exist 10 years ago. If it would have existed, I would have attended. So to be here and help build it is really cool.”

Some experts said they expect the industry to continue to grow as water becomes more scarce in Arizona.

“Wine grapes are a model for a high value low water use crop,” Pierce said. “Wine grapes don’t take nearly the water use of something like corn or soybeans or cotton would. So hopefully, wine grapes can take that over in the state.”

Challenges ahead

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Arizona wine industry is the wine itself.

“I think white (wines) are doing really good. They are aromatic, expressive and acidic, which is really nice,” said Jason Caballero, lead sommelier for Vintage 95 in Chandler. “The reds are in a bit of an identity crisis. But when you think about it, we are at only about 30 years of growing, and every year they get only one shot.”

For Caballero, that youth plays a significant role. California has been in the industry since the 1800s and Europe for more than 2,000 years.

He said Arizona growers need to learn what types of grapes work best in this climate. The red identity crisis, he said, is as much from mixing a variety of grape types as from not growing what could work best in the state’s environment.

Price also plays a key role. Caballero said that on average, a bottle of Arizona wine costs $65 to $70, making it a hard sell for many customers.

“I understand people are getting in, and they want to recoup their cost, so I feel like sometimes it’s tough and they price themselves out,” Caballero said. “For that money, there are a lot of wines that many people will gravitate toward instead. I think if people will try it, they’ll like it. But a lot of times, people will go for tried and true kinds.”

Spreading the gospel of Arizona wine isn’t easy. Outside distribution is almost non-existent among Arizona wine growers. Most wineries make direct sales and self distribute, which makes getting wine onto tables more difficult.

And then there’s the state’s reputation as a desert location not suitable for wine growing.

But Snapp doesn’t see this as a problem at all.

“You know what we have more than anybody?” Snapp asked. “Sun! And soil. These are virgin soils in most of the state and volcanic soils. It’s one of the best growing soils in the world. You’d be crazy not to grow Arizona grapes in these soils.”

For Caballero and others, wine in Arizona isn’t a short-term industry but a future investment that is only now paying some dividends.

“Within 10 years, people are going to seek out Arizona wines over many others,” Snapp said. “It’s just the quality of the fruit.”

Top 5: Arizona Wineries, Experience AZ, Fall-Winter 2012

Top 5: Arizona Wineries (Fall-Winter 2012)

The Top 5 Arizona Wineries — as voted on by Experience AZ readers:

Sonoita Vineyards

290 Elgin-Canelo Rd.,
Elgin, AZ 85611
(520) 455-5893
sonoitavineyards.com
Opened in 1983, Sonoita Vineyards is the oldest commercial vineyard and winery in the state — consistently creating award-winning wines. The vineyard also hosts festivals, special events, tasting and group events.


Alcantara Vineyards

3445 S. Grapevine Way,
Verde Valley, AZ 86326
(888) 569-0756
alcantaravineyard.com
Alcantara Vineyards, the first winery on the Verde River, is one of  the largest vineyards in Central and Northern Arizona. Make it a day trip from the Phoenix or Scottsdale area. Check out the Arizona winery tours and tasting with an outstanding selection of wines, made right here in Arizona. The winery’s vineyards have more than 19,000 vines and offers 12 different varietals.


Dos Cabezas Wineworks

3248 Hwy. 82,
Sonoita, AZ 85637
(520) 841-1193
doscabezaswinery.com
Dos Cabezas WineWorks is a family-owned and operated winery that challenges the perception that Arizona does not produce exceptional wines. Dos Cabezas WineWorks has been producing wines in Arizona since 1995. Its wine has been enjoyed at the White House, earned critical acclaim and grabbed international attention.


Kokopelli Winery and Bistro

35 W. Boston,
Chandler, AZ 85225
(480) 792-6927
kokopelliwinery.com
Arizona’s largest and oldest continual producing winery, Kokopelli wines are available in more than 550 retail locations. The 5200-square-foot restaurant houses a winery and wine bar, which pours Kokopelli’s wines by the glass or by the bottle.


Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards

158 Main St.,
Jerome, AZ 86331
(928) 639-9463
caduceus.org
“Blood Into Wine” is a documentary about winery owners Maynard James Keenan’s and Eric Glomski’s embarkation into winemaking in the desert conditions of Arizona’s Verde Valley, and the success they’ve seen in the decade since its inception.

Experience AZ Fall-Winter 2012

 

Top 5 Arizona Wineries (Spring-Summer 2012)

Top 5: Arizona Wineries (Spring-Summer 2012)

The Top 5 Arizona Wineries — as voted on by Experience AZ readers:

Alcantara Vineyards

3445 S. Grapevine Way,
Verde Valley, AZ 86326
888-569-0756
alcantaravineyard.com
Alcantara Vineyards, the first winery on the Verde River, is one of  the largest vineyards in Central and Northern Arizona. Make it a day trip from the Phoenix or Scottsdale area. Check out the Arizona winery tours and tasting with an outstanding selection of wines, made right here in Arizona. The winery’s vineyards have more than 19,000 vines and offers 12 different varietals.


Dos Cabezas Wineworks

3248 Highway 82,
Sonoita, AZ 85637
520-841-1193
doscabezaswinery.com
Dos Cabezas WineWorks is a family-owned and operated winery that challenges the perception that Arizona does not produce exceptional wines. Dos Cabezas WineWorks has been producing wines in Arizona since 1995. Its wine has been enjoyed at the White House, earned critical acclaim and grabbed international attention.


Pillsbury Wine Company

1012 N. Main Str.,
Cottonwood, AZ 86326
928-639-0646
pillsburywine.com
Pillsbury Wine Company is the brainchild of Sam Pillsbury, noted Hollywood director of movies such as “Free Willy 3: The Rescue” and former co-owner of Dos Cabezas winery in Southeastern Arizona. Wine is his passion and Pillsbury has done it all — from planting vines to serving Dos Cabezas wines at the White House.


Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards

158 Main St.,
Jerome, AZ 86331
928-639-9463
caduceus.org
“Blood Into Wine” is a documentary about winery owners Maynard James Keenan’s and Eric Glomski’s embarkation into winemaking in the desert conditions of Arizona’s Verde Valley, and the success they’ve seen in the decade since its inception.


Page Springs Cellars

1500 N. Page Springs Rd.,
Cornville, AZ 86325
928-639-3004
pagespringscellars.com
Page Springs is a family owned winery and vineyard tucked into the volcanic landscape overlooking pristine Oak Creek. Visit the tasting room just 15 minutes south of Sedona and experience a true taste of Arizona.

Experience AZ Spring-Summer 2012

Keep an eye out for these Arizona wineries opening soon.

Upcoming Arizona Wineries

Love wine? Like to try out new companies and products? You’re in luck, in addition to the wineries already open around Arizona the following wineries will be opening soon.

Northern Arizona

Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery
4053 E. Hwy 260, Camp Verde
(928) 567-2158


Sonoita/Elgin

Hannah’s Hill Vineyard & Winery
Elgin – visits by appointment only

San Pedro Valley Vineyard
Benson

Venado Cola Blanca
Patagonia
(520) 394-0239


Southeastern Arizona

Sierra Bonita Vineyard
Wilcox
(602) 202-5345

Broken Glass Vineyard and Winery Estates
WIlcox

Golden Rule Vineyards
Dragoon

Erath’s Cimarron Vineyard
Wilcox

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards
13771 Fountain Hills Blvd. Suite 360, Fountain Hills
(602) 320-1485

Gallifant Cellars
Wilcox

Odyssey Cellars
8401 Bell Ranch Rd., Wilcox

photo of vineyard

Arizona Wineries: Eglin & Sonoita

Looking for a good idea for a day trip? Then visiting the wineries of Eglin and Sonoita South of Tucson is the perfect activity for you. Below is a list of the wineries in Elgin and Sonoita in southern Arizona.

MAp of Elgin and Sonoita Wineries

  1. Charron Vineyards

    18585 South Sonoita Hwy
    (520) 762-8585
    charronvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun: 10-6
    Open Daily by Appointment

  2. Dos Cabezas WineWorks

    3248 Hwy 82
    (520) 455-5141
    doscabezaswinery.com
    Thurs–Sun: 10:30-4:303

  3. Wilhelm Family Vineyards

    21 Mountain Ranch Drive
    (520) 455-9291
    wilhelmfamilyvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun: 11-5
    Open Daily by Appointment

  4. Rancho Rossa Vineyards

    32 Cattle Ranch Lane
    (520) 455-0700
    ranchorossa.com
    Fri–Sun: 10:30-3:305

  5. Callaghan Vineyards

    336 Elgin Road
    (520) 455-5322
    callaghanvineyards.com
    Fri–Sun 11-3

  6. Canelo Hills Winery

    342 Elgin Road
    520) 455-5499
    canelohillswinery.com
    Fri–Sun: 11-4

  7. Kief-Joshua Vineyard

    370 Elgin Road
    (520) 455-5582
    kiefjoshuavineyards.com
    Daily: 11-5

  8. Village of Elgin/Four Monkey

    471 Elgin Road
    (520) 455-9309
    elginwines.com
    Daily: 10-4

  9. Sonoita Vineyards

    290 Elgin Canelo Road
    (520) 455-5893
    sonoitavineyards.com
    Daily: 10-4

  10. Lightning Ridge Cellars

    2368 Hwy 83
    (520) 678-8220
    lightningridgecellars.com
    Fri–Sun: 11-4