“The opportunities of the Arizona wine industry are great; there is no reason that Arizona cannot be the next billion dollar wine region like Washington and Oregon. The Arizona wine industry is excited about the start of the 2012 growing season. The increase in vineyard acreage and the fantastic wines being produced will support our efforts to put Arizona on the map as a quality wine-making and grape-growing region,” said Peggy Fiandaca, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association.
Southeastern Arizona is the third major wine grape growing region and one of the fastest in the amount of acres being planted. Vineyard acres are expanding, wine production is increasing, and the quality of Arizona wines is being recognized. There are now over 60 bonded wineries in Arizona, up from only nine in 2000. However, wine grape acres have not kept up with the demand, resulting in Arizona wineries purchasing grapes from outside of the state. According to recent reports, the California wine grape supply is facing long-term shortages due to myriad of issues facing that industry, including water. That could cause concern.
A recent study, funded by the Arizona Office of Tourism and published in The Arizona Wine Tourism Industry, June 2011 edition, found that the wine visitor had an estimated $22.7 million in direct expenditures resulting in a total economic impact of $37.6 million, supporting 405 total jobs.
According to Eric Glomski, co-owner and director of winegrowing at Page Springs Cellars, “We are pretty excited about this year’s growing season because it appears we have finally skirted the frost season. It’s been a few years since we have had a decent sized harvest; and, if the long-term forecasts out there come in even close to predictions–this should be the year.”
Eric says that they have planted an additional 16 acres at the Page Springs estate and are managing the Colibri Vineyards in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona. They are focusing on Rhone red and white varietals but have some Pinot Noir in a cool site and planted Vermentino, Teraldage, and Counoise.
In Arizona’s oldest wine region, the anticipation for a good growing season is also high. Kent Callaghan, Callaghan Vineyards winemaker in Sonoita, had their first vintage in 1991. The past two years have been low yield in the Sonoita area, due to frost and hail events. But, today, Callaghan’s estate winery is looking forward to a really good year in the vineyard.
He said, “We have planted new varieties that will produce small crops so we can get a feel for them here (Fiano, Vermentino, Petit Manseng, Malbec, Carmenere, and Touriga Nacional). We also planted about two acres of whites (Petit Manseng, Malvasi Bianca, and Roussanne).” Kent anticipates harvesting a sizable crop of Graciano from their 3.25 acres planted. “It looks like a good, fun year so far,” he stated.
Weather issues have not been limited to the Sonoita/Elgin region. “After two spring frost years in a row, we had very minimal damage from the only frost event in mid-April,” according to Curt Dunham, owner/winemaker of Lawrence Dunham Vineyards in Pearce, AZ (Willcox Region). “So far [this year], we have a very encouraging amount of buds in the entire vineyard. Our Viognier, which is typically considered a light producer, is absolutely loaded with buds. If we get a good fruit set and normal weather, it should be a very good year in terms of volume.”
Arizona wines have not gone unnoticed. More than 20 wines from eight Arizona wineries have scored at least an 88 rating from Wine Spectator. In a recent blind taste test featuring several high-profile judges, Arizona wines beat out noted wines from around the world, grabbing three of the top five spots in both the red and white competitions. Arizona wines also took first place for both red and white.
Cheers to a good year ahead and a healthy harvest for Arizona grape growers.
[Information provided by Patti King, Arizona Wine Growers Association Executive Director]