The Arizona Wine Growers Association is rolling out a plan to bolster the state's burgeoning wine industry with the help of the University of Arizona.
The UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will establish the Southwest Wine Library in Tucson to complement Yavapai College's Southwest Wine Center in Clarkdale, which includes a working vineyard.
The programs anchor the association's "Emerging Wine Industry Strategic Plan" to strengthen the state's fast-growing wine industry. The payoffs would be especially big for rural economies of the Verde Valley and Southern Arizona wine regions.
The UA has committed to working with the winegrowers association, but many details have yet to be decided, said Jeffrey Silvertooth, the college's associate dean for economic development and director of Arizona Cooperative Extension.
The UA's role will include research, working with wineries to test soil for things such as the deadly Pierce's disease and establishing the library to catalog the industry's history and future, from vine to bottle, he said.
"That is a young organization, and they don't have the mechanism in place for collecting funds among their growers to direct toward research," Silvertooth said.
The UA also will offer advanced educational programs in such areas as plant, food and soil sciences, horticulture, food safety and retail management that could support the wine industry.
The courses will bridge an associate's degree program Prescott-based Yavapai College launched three years ago that offers courses in viticulture and enology. Yavapai's program is modeled after the University of California-Davis program that teaches students the business of producing and marketing wine.
In addition to classrooms, Yavapai's Southwest Wine Center has a 17-acre vineyard where students plant and harvest grapes then produce their own wine.
This is the strongest push in the 40 years that wineries have existed in Arizona to grow and market the industry.
Elgin and Sonoita are home to Arizona's original wineries, which popped up in the 1970s. That region now supports about a dozen wineries, said Kent Callaghan, whose parents started their namesake vineyard in Sonoita in 1980.
In the past decade or so, nearly a dozen wineries have sprouted in the Willcox area, which also supplies grapes to several Verde Valley wineries in Northern Arizona, including Pillsbury Wine Company in Cottonwood and Arizona Stronghold in neighboring Cornville.
"The growth that we've had in just the past five years has had a major impact on the economy," Callaghan said. "The spinoff effect from tourism is people going to wine regions … who stay at hotels, eat at restaurants."
The growth shows no signs of slowing.
"The amount of wine produced doubled in just the last year, and I expect it to do it again," said Peggy Fiandaca, the wine association's president. She and her husband own Lawrence Dunham Vineyards in the Cochise County town of Pearce.
"We have the potential of becoming a truly unique, fine wine, grape-growing region. Our soils are so unique, and they are producing really fine wines," she said.
Arizona has 80 bonded wineries and about 1,000 acres of vines. In 2012, wine production topped 180,000 gallons - more than double the total produced in 2011, according to the association's yearlong study "Emerging Wine Industry: New Economic Engine for Arizona." The strategic plan was born from that study.
"We have grapes in the ground all the way to Mohave County, Graham County. It's expanding to other areas. And you have tasting rooms all the way up to Yuma," Fiandaca said. "We have wineries in Yuma and Kingman. They are buying their grapes from other places and making their wine."
Casey Rooney, Cottonwood's economic development director, said Arizona's wine industry drove the Verde Valley's economy at the height of the recession.
"When the economy collapsed, the wine industry took off," said Rooney, who was a major player in developing the Verde Valley as a wine tourism destination. "It really revitalized Old Town (Cottonwood). When I came here you could shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anybody. Then all of a sudden the wine industry started taking off and the whole downtown has been revitalized."
Rooney points to Old Town Cottonwood's main retail area, where new wine-related businesses are springing up. Early this month a tea room opened in the town's refurbished former jail, and last week Fire Mountain Wines, which gets its grapes from California, opened a shop. Next week, the Plaid Lizard, a shop that sells wine and beer-making kits, will open.
While there aren't enough growable acres in Arizona to compete with regions such as Napa, Calif., the increasing quality of Arizona's boutique wines is starting to attract attention.
"I think the thing that is going to drive that is that there are so many good Arizona wines out there now," he said. "That didn't used to be the case, but very likely now, with any wine you buy, you're going to enjoy it."
"Wine is a sexy little hook," added Barbara Predmore, the association's vice president and owner of Alcantara Vineyards in Cottonwood. "People come and experience more than just the wine. They experience the whole feel of the Verde Valley."
The association also plans to lobby state lawmakers to reallocate proceeds from an 84-cent-per-gallon excise tax on state wines to increase marketing efforts. Proceeds from that tax, which now go to the state's general fund, supported marketing state wines from 1993 until 2005, according to the Wine Growers Association.
Arizona's wine industry got a big league push this month when Wine Spectator gave 90-point ratings to Page Springs Cellars' 2010 Colibri Syrah Clone 174 and Burning Tree Colibri's 2010 Syrah. Both winemakers are in Northern Arizona's Verde Valley.
This is a first for Arizona wines, which have never exceeded an 89-point rating from the magazine, considered by many to be the ultimate authority of America's wine industry, according to the Arizona Wine Growers Association.
"This is huge when you study wine areas. We are now consistently being graded in the high 80s, and now two of our wines got the 90s," said Peggy Fiandaca, the association's president.
To learn more
• Southwest Wine Center - southwestwinecenter.org
• Arizona Wine Growers Association - www.arizonawine.org
• University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences - cals.arizona.edu
The number of wine tasting rooms in Arizona has grown to 40 from 10 since 2005.
• Greater Willcox Region - 9
• N. Arizona - 12
• Sonoita/Elgin - 12
• Urban wineries - 5
Source: Arizona Winegrowers Association
ARIZONA WINE BY THE NUMBERS
bonded wineries in the state.
planted acres of vines
gallons of wine produced in Arizona in 2012, which is nearly 100,000 more than the 88,574 gallons produced in 2011
licensed tasting rooms throughout the state; that's up from 10 just a few years ago
wineries in Sonoita/Elgin
wineries in Willcox
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642.