Last Friday the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) named the Verde Valley an American Viticultural Area (AVA). It’s been 4 years since the region petitioned for the esteemed designation as a federally recognized grape growing region. The unique climate, soils, topography and geography are what makes the area unique and warranting the designation.
The Verde Valley becomes Arizona’s third AVA joining Sonoita and Willcox and wineries can use the new designation on the label when using grapes from the AVA. “I am ecstatic with this TTB announcement,” said Tom Schumacher, president of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium. “The Verde Valley AVA petition was submitted to the TTB by the Verde Valley Wine Consortium in 2017. This shows that our arduous efforts to submit the petition have been fruitful.”
Verde Valley vineyards
Located in the geographic center of Arizona the new AVA is 219 square miles in northeastern Yavapai County centered near Oak Creek and the Verde River. 36% of the AVA or 79 square miles is privately owned land and includes 19 vineyards covering more than 136 acres planted to grape vines. The region also is home to 25 wine tasting rooms. Over 40 grapes varieties are grown in the area that can be made into wine including white grapes Malvasia Bianca, Chardonnay and Viognier. Syrah, Petit Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon are just a few of the red grapes grown in the AVA.
Yavapai College is also in the AVA and offers offers classes, certificates and an associate degree in viticulture and enology. The Southwestern Wine Center as it’s known has a commercial, licensed and bonded winery, a teaching vineyard and tasting room. Started in 2009 the school has continually grown in class size and curriculum with many of the graduates staying in Arizona to make wine. For more information about the region visit their website.
As the Arizona wine industry continues to gain popularity and international respect those making the wine, the winemaker have two ways to learn how to make wine. One way is by hands on trial and error and learning along the way. The other is to learn from a school of wine-making then apply what you’ve learned in the vineyard and winery. Yavapai College is one of those that teach you how to make wine here in Arizona. The school has announced a one-day “Emerging Winemakers Competition & Symposium” on Saturday April 24th.
The virtual and free event will offer 2 seminars, 3 speakers, 7 judges and 1 Best in show winner from 9:30 a.m. – 2:15 p.m. The seminar & symposium is being organized by the Grand Crew, a student & alumni organization at the Yavapai College of Viticulture Enology at the Verde Valley campus in Clarkdale.
“After canceling last year’s event due to COVID-19 safety precautions, we are excited to return this year as a virtual event for wine lovers throughout the state,” said the Competition Organizer Bill Anderson. “As one of our state’s fastest growing industries we created this event as a platform for those new to the industry to be recognized for their efforts in helping it flourish,”
The schedule of events is as follow
9:30-10:15 a.m. PDT
Welcome + Introductions:
Bill Anderson + Michael Pierce
Keynote Speaker: Jennifer Montgomery
Topic: Different Beginnings, Same Destination
10:30 – 11:15 a.m.– Seminar 1
California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance
Topic: Sustainability from Grapes to Glass
11:30am – 12:15 p.m.– Seminar 2 Philippe Corderey:
Introduction to Biodynamic Viticulture
Bookings are now being taken for Spirit of Arizona Tours new experiences to old town Scottsdale and to the Verde Valley.
The Verde Valley Winery Tour includes spending the day visiting 3 wineries between Jerome and Sedona, visit Cottonwood for shopping, lunch and more wine tasting and an interpretive tour of of the Sonoran desert and the Verde Valley. Tours leave the Phoenix area at 8:30 a.m. and return between 6 – 7 p.m. Cost is $129 per person.
The Scottsdale Wine Tasting Experience visits up to 4 tasting rooms, checking out Scottsdale landmarks & points of interest and time to do a little shopping. Drop off and pick up is available when per-arranged. The tours are 3 hours long and are multiple times a day for $60 per person.
Wine tastings are not included in price as individuals can determine what and how much they want to drink. To book these or any other Spirit of Arizona Tours visit their website.
Having sold Arizona wine as a retailer or as a wholesaler of the last 18 years it’s been good to see the industry come all this way from a gimmicky tourist souvenir to a world-class, well-respected industry where there is a passion and camaraderie. With that Governor Jan Brewer proclaimed Nov. 11th – 18th Arizona Wine Week and the Arizona Winegrowers Assoc. www.arizonawine.org held it’s 4th annual Festival at The Farm on Sat. the 17th.
Preceded by the evening before with a “Celebration of Arizona Wine Growers” event which was an opportunity for 150 guests to mix and mingle with wine makers from across Arizona. Guests had the opportunity to sample appetizers prepared using local produce by Quiessence executive chef Greg LaPrad and his team, that included Nantucket Scallop Crudo paired with 2011 Arizona Stronghold’s Tazi white blend, Chicken Liver Pate topped with Crisp Sage with 2011 Page Springs Cellars La Flor Rose and gnocchi tossed with Rainbow Valley Farmers cheese, wild mushrooms and Rosemary Fennel Sausage with Arizona Stronghold’s “Nachise” Red wine. Assorted deserts that included Lavender Marshmallows and were paired with Carlson Creek’s “Sweet Adeline” Riesling. All the wines paired well with the food presented and tasted good when tasted by themselves. The wines served on this beautiful night were winners from the 2012 Arizona Grower’s Cup and Winemakers Medal Competitions of which all the award winners were announced later in the evening by host Richard Ruelas of the Arizona Republic and poured during the Saturday festival.
On Saturday we returned for a gorgeous afternoon for tasting wines from more than 30 of the states 63 licensed and bonded wineries representing all the states growing regions including the Verde Valley up north, Sonoita and Elgin to the south and Willcox in southeastern Arizona. “Whether they are a novice or an aficionado, this is a can’t miss event for wine lovers to meet the folks behind the rising Arizona wine movement,” said Peggy Fiandaca, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association. The festival also helped celebrate Arizona’s 100 years of statehood as it is a sanctioned Centennial event.
In addition to tasting some new wines from Sand-Reckoner Vineyards and 1st release from Saeculum Cellars amongst others I had the chance to speak with several people to see what has changed in the local wine industry since we last met a year ago. Speaking with the ladies from Coronado Vineyards they were very excited about the custom crush facility now opened in Willcox that will help many others looking to produce wine without the investment of equipment and a winery. We’re also seeing the diversity of wines being made including that of ports and bigger California style wines. The respect, critical acclaim and competitiveness with other world-class wines continues to grow with every vintage as does more local vineyards coming on-line to meet the growing demand not only in Arizona but across the country and beyond.
Highlights from my tastings included…. 2011 Saeculum Cellars Sauvignon Blanc– Made by Arizona assistant winemaker Bob he sources his grapes currently for all 3 wines, also Syrah & Sangiovese, from central coast vineyards in California. Starting with 2012 vintage all wines will be made with grapes from the Rolling View Vineyard in Willcox. This soft and crisp S.B. has nice balance of fruit and acidity and makes for very pleasant drinking wine. This was his 1st release of his wines and having won a few awards on Friday night, he has a great future in front of him. www.saeculumcellars.com
2011 Sierra Bonita Vineyards Rose is a blend of 60% Grenache, 38% Syrah and 2% Tannat which make for a lively and fuller bodied rose. All estate grown on their 11 acres of vineyards, 3 generations of the Smith family work at all aspects of from the vineyards to delivering the wine. All under the guidance of Gerald and Jane Smith. www.sierrabonitavineyards.com
2009 Coronado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon– This higher elevation Cab is medium to full-bodied with good fruit and lingering tannins. With a smooth oak mouth feel, makes a very versatile food wine going well with beef to chocolate.www.coronadovineyards.com
2010 Sand-Reckoner vineyards 5– This is one of 3 new wines tasted from Sand-Reckoner and is a Sangiovese based blend using the Brunello clone of Sangiovese Grasso. Combined with 18% Syrah and aged for 15 months in a 500 liter French oak puncheon this wine has good character and complexity along with nice fruit structure. Only 55 cases were made of this wine. Their “11” Zinfandel is a delicious fortified port style wine great for sipping by the fire and would go well with dark chocolate and blue cheese. www.sand-reckoner.com
It was also good to see the ‘veteran’ winemakers of Kent Callaghan, Eric Glomski and others who have paved the way for years helping to get the Arizona wine industry on the map. Here is to raising a glass to the Arizona wine industry and looking forward to what the near and long-term future brings us. Cheers!