Callaghan Vineyards in Sonoita was highlighted in the survey that named Tucson among the top 10 wine country destinations outside Napa Valley. 

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Fifteen Arizona wineries, including a handful from Willcox and Sonoita/Elgin, will pour wine and celebrate the vine during Saturday’s inaugural Wine in the Desert event at St. Philip’s Plaza.

It is the first Tucson event that the Arizona Winegrowers Association has hosted in its 30-year history.

The idea is also to acquaint wine lovers with two academic programs designed to bolster the state’s wine industry. The University of Arizona and Yavapai College are developing programs to educate winemakers and strengthen the industry through research and outreach.

“It’s sort of a goodwill gesture to demonstrate that we are truly in this together,” said Patti King, the association’s executive director.

The UA is in the conceptual stages of planning the Southwest Wine Library, which among other things will research the area’s soil, growing conditions and fruit, and allow wineries to cellar wines for research purposes, said Shane Burgess, dean of the UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“We already have the building … which already has the wine cellar in it that would be the basis of the library,” Burgess said, adding that they need about $10,000 a year to keep the lights and air conditioning on. Additional funding is needed to hire staff members, he said.

The library will complement Yavapai College’s Southwest Wine Center in Clarkdale, which includes a working vineyard and winery. Burgess said students can learn viticulture from Yavapai and transfer to the UA to learn the science and business behind winemaking.

“We are very highly motivated to get better connections with the community colleges. This provides a phenomenal pipeline,” Burgess said.

Yavapai and the UA will have booths at Wine in the Desert, which will feature wines from Arizona Stronghold, Arizona Hops and Vines, Callaghan Vineyards, Charron Vineyards, Flying Leap Vineyards, Freitas Vineyard, Gallifant Cellars, Golden Rule Vineyards, Pillsbury Wine Co., Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, Lightning Ridge Cellars, Page Springs Cellars, Saeculum Cellars and Zarpara Vineyards.

King said she anticipates the event, which the association hopes to host yearly, will attract several hundred people. In addition to sampling a good representation of Arizona wines in one setting, the event gives wine lovers a chance to chat with winemakers about their processes and products.

The association has seen a steady increase in interest in Arizona wines in recent years. Attendance at the annual statewide wine festival held in Phoenix last month jumped by nearly 50 percent over last year.

“People are getting it. They are excited about the economic impact the industry is going to have in Arizona. They are excited about the quality of the wine,” King said.


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