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Verde Valley wine region lands state's third AVA
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Verde Valley wine region lands state's third AVA

The Verde Valley in Northern Arizona earned the state’s third American Viticultural Area designation earlier this month. The other two are in Southern Arizona — Sonoita and Willcox.

The Verde Valley in Northern Arizona has become the third wine-growing area in the state to earn the American Viticulture Area designation.

It joins Sonoita — which was one of the first wine-growing regions in the country to earn the designation in 1984 — and Willcox, which earned its AVA in 2016.

Nationwide, there are 260 established AVAs, 142 of them in California, according to the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which oversees the program.

The Verde Valley Wine Consortium, consisting of nearly two dozen wineries covering 136 acres of vineyards in Cornville, Cottonwood and Camp Verde, launched its campaign for the AVA not long after the Willcox designation.

The AVA designation identifies the Verde Valley as a region of viticultural significance that is unique from any other wine-growing region in the nation based on topography, soil makeup and geography. Winegrowers within the AVA can use the designation in their advertising, including printing it on their bottles as long as at least 80% of the grapes are sourced from within the region.

Think of it as the wine industry’s equivalent to social media’s blue checkmark on a “verified” account. The designation adds credibility to the wine in the eyes of consumers and the region’s winemakers, said Consortium President Tom Schumacher.

“It really just, for winemakers around here, legitimizes their efforts,” said Schumacher, who launched Yavapai College’s Viticulture and Enology degree program through its Southwest Wine Center vineyards in Clarkdale eight years ago. “Before, when anyone who tasted an Arizona wine said, ‘Oh it’s not California,’ my response to that was, ‘They are not California wines, they are Arizona wines and that’s why they are unique’. Now we have the AVA” to demonstrate that.

The process might have taken four years, but the designation comes as the Verde Valley wine industry is still in its infancy. Wine grapes have been grown in the region for generations, but its wine industry as it exists today only dates to 2006, when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano approved a law that allowed winemakers to directly ship their products to retailers and consumers.

The Verde Valley AVA encompasses 219 square miles in northeastern Yavapai County with more than a third of that — 79 square miles — privately owned while the rest is federal and state land, Schumacher said.

The region also is home to the state’s largest wineries including Page Spring Cellars and the award-winning Arizona Stronghold, which is sold in 38 states and in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Wine is big business in Arizona. A 2017 Northern Arizona University study for the Arizona Office of Tourism found that the state’s wine tourism industry’s economic impact topped $56 million while creating more than 640 full-time jobs.

That’s double the impact from just six earlier when a 2011 NAU study showed an economic impact of $37.6 million with just over 400 full-time employees.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch


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