The SOMM Journal

February/March 2015

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Page 84 of 92

84 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015 { working knowledge } A REPORT ON THE EMERGING ARIZONA WINE INDUSTRY story and photos by Andrew Chalk Shadow Play Located in the Verde Valley (in Clarkdale), the epicenter of Arizona winemaking, The Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College offers viticulture and enology degree programs. Lightning Ridge Cellars, a small family winery established in 2005, offers classic Italian varietals from their Southern Arizona estate, including Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Primitivo, Malvasia and Muscat Canelli. Clay soils, long warm summers, cool nights and an Old World style of winemaking result in rich, full-bodied wines. IN THE SHADOW OF THE "BIG THREE" WINE-PRODUCING STATES of the U.S., Arizona continues to evolve as a wine producer. The wine industry is pouring millions of dollars into the state's economy. Despite the first post-Prohibition plantings of vinifera grapes occurring as recently as 1973 (by Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil scientist at the University of Arizona), a recent visit showed that impressive quality is possible and produced one unexpected surprise in the form of the white grape Malvasia Bianca—a wine with a gravitas that may herald its becoming something of a signature for the state. With 942 acres under vine and 83 bonded wineries Arizona is a veritable pipsqueak in the wine production stakes. The three main growing areas are Willcox (68% of state acreage), Sonoita (21%), both in the southeast of the state, and Verde Valley in the north (8%). Sonoita is the only AVA. Terroir differs considerably across these areas. Willcox: Elevation approximately 4,200 feet. Soil composition predominantly sandy loam (Sonoita and Tubac sandy loam). Spring frost is the largest climate threat, followed closely by monsoon rains around harvest time, too warm a ripening period and high winds. Sonoita/Elgin: Elevation approximately 4,900 feet. The highest and coldest current growing region. Rolling grass hills. Air drainage can be a challenge at certain sites. More clay-rich soils. Has historically had more difficulty with hail, frost and winter kill than the other areas. Verde Valley: Elevation approximately 3,800 feet. It has the largest diversity of growing sites among the different regions. Smaller and younger plantings. Microclimates with unique climate challenges are the theme here. Land prices are considerably higher ($40,000 an acre). Air drainage and water availability make site selection tough. The top five planted grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel and Merlot. However, this list serves more to disguise the fact that nearly 20 red and ten white variet- ies are commonly found as the young industry continues to experiment with cépage and terroir. Technical knowhow is just coming on stream. Yavapai College in Verde Valley, part of the Arizona junior college system, offers a two-year certificate in viticulture taught by two specialized faculty, one in viticulture, the other in enology. Graduates can transfer credit to the University of Arizona system four-year degree. The University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences provides agricultural research support, regarding grapes as part of its agricultural crop portfolio.

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