Arizona’s wine industry is the sleeping giant, awakened. From the first soil tests in 1973 a fledgling industry was born and in the past ten years Arizona’s wine industry has proven time and again that it is indeed world class.
Our work has piqued the interest of many in this industry in Arizona and abroad. In 2013 we made the unprecedented move to host three winemakers hailing from Italy, Greece, and France. Topics ranging from global warming, sustainable economies to the genesis movement of the Arizona wine industry are why these winemakers sought to work and study here with us.
We continue this exchange of learning and ideas with the 2015 harvest as we welcome winemakers from Argentina, Spain and CSU Fresno.
In the vineyard, we are growing many exclusive ENTAV-INRA clones. We are also growing the UC Davis Zinfandel Heritage Clones. These are distinct clones and at third leaf, the fruit coming forward is robust and gorgeous.
Some of our other unique varietals that are the first to be grown in Arizona include Marselan, Arinarnoa, Pinotage, Montepulciano, Graciano, Albarino, Charbono, Aglianico, Malbec, Sangiovese and the 5 port varieties. There are many not mentioned and we are currently seeking out more intriguing and rare varietals to plant in this wondrous and unique region.
Climate and soil studies show the region to be similar to Rivera Del Duero, Spain, Southeastern Australia, Southern France and is almost identical to Paso Robles, California.
My family’s vineyard in the foothills of Willcox rests in a most fitting region and in December 2013, our petition for a unique AVA was approved and is now in the rule-making process.
We privately hold, now close to 400 acres and are growing 100 varieties/clones. My vineyard is in itself an experiment to see what will grow and what will make world-class wine.
The wind blows a lot in Willcox in the South East part of Arizona. In the Vineyard the vines stand firm, tendrils gripping the trellis as their petioles wave and bend in the breeze. The tough country demands strength, fortitude and determination to survive from everything that lives where Eagles and Hawks and Falcons fly overhead seeking from on high the small animals that roam and live and make their homes with the grapevines.
It is water from a large underground pre-historic glacial aquifer, that feeds the vines the moisture they need. Winters are spent asleep, waiting out the snow and cold. Springtime, after pruning and training, the buds appear on the vines. As the days warm and the nights cool, the grapes grow, seemingly over-night. As the days heat up, the grape clusters self-pollinate and soon there are large clusters of berries awaiting the harvest.
July, August, and September, the vines sacrifice their fruit, as the mechanical harvester moves from one row of ripe berries to the next, all in the dark of night when the grapes are cool. Soon the macro bins, full of grapes, will be tipped into the de-stemmer, then into the press, and the juice fed yeast and wine is the end result.
My family and I bought 320 acres of dry, tumbleweed filled land, 13 years ago down Kansas Settlement Road, literally in the middle of nowhere. Two years of plowing under weeds and breaking up hard-tack dirt, with an old US Army trencher, laying underground drip lines, setting rows for future planting, placing t-posts and stringing trellis lines, reflect today row after row of healthy, green grape vines as far as the eye can see that were all planted on hands and knees.
The federal government has awarded Willcox, AZ, Arizona’s premier grape growing and wine producing region, an American Viticultural Area designation. A viticultural area for American wine is a delimited grape-growing region having distinguishing features as described in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 27 CFR part 9 and a name and delineated boundary as established in part 9 of the regulations. These designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin.
An AVA is proof that a wine growing region is distinct and set apart from any other in the world. This application was submitted by John McLoughlin of Dragoon Mountain Vineyards in December of 2013. Dragoon Mountain Vineyard is AZ’s largest & most diverse vineyard. The research and application process for this designation took over 11 months to complete in 2013. This designation puts AZ on the world’s wine map and lifts AZ above its “novice” stigma.
An AVA designation protects consumers from being boonswaggled by wineries that say they are Arizona, but source from other states such as New Mexico or California. Why would you pay top dollar for a local, hand-crafted wine that is supposed to be special and unique? AZ is capable of producing world-class wines using our own grapes if the winemaker is willing to invest in quality grapes sourced from its own region as opposed to sourcing from the cheapest out-of-state sources. There’s a difference from the cheap wineglass you buy at the dollar store and the Reidel Vinum series, isn’t there?
Now more than ever, it is important to read your labels, and ask the question of the wineries you visit, “From where do you source your grapes?
You can expect to see the term WILLCOX in place of COCHISE COUNTY starting with spring 2017 bottling.
There are those who doubt that AZ wineries can and do grow their own grapes. Cellar 433 proudly grows all of the grapes used in our wines. We source from no one else and no other state-period. To see more footage of Arizona’s largest vineyard, please visit our YouTube Channel.