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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Verde Valley Wine Consortium Empowers Vintners Toward Community and Sustainability

If you’re a wine lover and enjoy traveling to wineries around the country, perhaps making a stop in the Verde Valley would suit your taste. The region received its formal designation as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in central Arizona’s Yavapai County, in November 2021. 

About an hour’s drive southwest of Flagstaff, near Sedona, the Verde Valley used to be a sleepy part of the state, often overlooked by travelers on their way from Phoenix to Sedona. But the growth of its wine industry has seen a significant uptick in tourism, ushering in a revival for communities such as Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Cornville and the historic mining town of Jerome. 

It has become home for a diverse set of wines in the Rhône varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Vermentino and Picpoul and varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Barbera. 

Verde Valley’s red rocks are augmented by rolling green hills that are home to 27 wineries making up The Verde Valley Wine Consortium (VVWC). Together, their vision is to “Assist in creating, nurturing and advancing the Verde Valley as a significant and important wine region — locally, regionally, nationally and internationally — in every aspect of winemaking, wine culture, wine education and wine tourism.”

Alcantara Vineyards

 Alcantara Vineyards has over 20,000 vines and offers 17 different varietals. While you sip wine, you can listen to great music or enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the vineyards and the Verde River. 

Extraordinary care is taken to assure that a wine’s aroma, flavor and texture express a sense of place. This care is manifested in their winery’s viticultural best practices.

By embracing, rather than competing with Mother Nature, Alcantara Vineyards creates a healthy ecosystem, one that includes vibrant vineyards destined to produce high-quality grapes and outstanding wines for years to come.

Several years ago, they partnered with local organizations to maintain the health of the Verde River. By removing non-native plants and replanting with native species, they were able to reduce erosion, restore water flow and create a thriving environment for raptors, hawks, owls and other wildlife. And because healthy ecosystems radiate outwards, there is a direct correlation between the vibrancy of the watershed and the vitality of their vineyards.

Caduceus Cellars

Caduceus Cellars is owned by Maynard James Keenan. Keenan is one of Arizona’s leading industry professionals and the lead singer of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. Their wine is made with premium fruit sourced from eight vineyards managed by Keenan throughout Arizona. They have beloved single varietals like Nagual del Agostina Monastrell and Nagual del Judith Tempranillo, in addition to blends such as Nagual del Sensei, a combination of Souzão and Sagrantino.

Chateau Tumbleweed and Four Eight Wineworks

The idea for Chateau Tumbleweed was formed and launched out of Four Eight Wineworks incubator, a co-operative started by Keenan that provides emerging winemakers with the facilities to produce world-class, high-elevation Arizona wines. Four Eight Wineworks will soon be consolidating and moving from Jerome to Old Town Cottonwood. Chateau Tumbleweed is an adored brand created by four friends with experience at surrounding wineries such as Page Springs, Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. They assemble Italian wines such as Sangiovese and Vermentino, as well as many other Rhône varieties.

Javelina Leap Vineyard

Founded in 1999 by Rod and Cynthia Snapp, Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery is greatly revered as one of the earliest wineries in the area. It is 10-acre estate vineyard looking over the Oak Creek Greenbelt Trail known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Barbera. 

Page Springs Cellars

Page Springs Cellars is a Sustainability Certified Silver Innovator and has long been known as a leading winery in environmental practices in Arizona. 

All of their vineyards are no-till, meaning they don’t disturb the soil which can release carbon. Instead they mow native grasses and other green cover crops. Most of the plant debris is composted and put back into the vineyard. As of May 2020, solar panels produce 100% of their electricity. Page Springs Cellars has a state-of-the-art, on-site wastewater treatment and disposal system, and they minimize transportation by only distributing in Arizona with most sales happening in their tasting room.

Eric Glomski, one of Arizona’s wine pioneers, founded Page Springs Cellars and today it excels in Rhóne varieties such as Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Vermentino and Roussanne. 

DA Ranch

Established in 2002 by the Pteznick family, DA Ranch’s roots are deep in the high desert. Their original vines produce Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Tannat and Seyval Blanc. In 2014, they partnered with Chateau Tumbleweed to assist in managing the vineyard and create 100% Verde Valley wines. They produce only 750 cases annually of Tannat, savory Syrah and floral Seyval Blanc.

Southwest Wine Center

Southwest Wine Center is a Yavapai College course that transcends to a full-scale winery. After being initiated in 2010, the formal wine education emulated the University of California, Davis viticulture and enology programs. The building was repurposed from an underutilized outdoor racquetball building on campus and features a winery, cellar, and modern tasting room to provide an excellent experience for both students and guests. 

Establishing VVWC As an American Viticultural Area

In November, The VVWC celebrated their establishment of approximately 200 square miles of the Verde Valley as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) — a label given by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to areas that have distinguished themselves as a superior region to cultivate wine in regards to its geography and climate. It took over five years since the submission of the original petition from VVWC to receive this certification. Today, there are 11 wineries located within the AVA and 25 winery-operated tasting rooms. 

“What makes the AVA unique in the Verde Valley is the altitude. Between 3,000 and 3,800 feet is their AVA,” Tom Schumacher, President of VVWC said.

The higher the elevation of a vineyard, the more direct and concentrated sunlight they receive. For every 1,000 feet gained in elevation, the UV ray level increases by 10-12%, making the grapes develop thicker skin. This leads to an increase in color saturation and stronger dryness, bitterness and astringency of the wine. 

Sustainability Within the VVWC

Petitioning for an AVA certification is just one of the many ways the Verde Valley Wine Consortium nourishes their members. VVWC educates their members on ways they can incorporate sustainable practices into their winemaking. For example, during harvest, most wineries dump the waste they produce into the landfill. The VVWC is composting the waste with the help of the University of Arizona.

Some VVWC wineries dive even further into sustainable practices of their own. Pillsbury Wine Company nourishes their soils with organic Gypsum as well as compost, balancing the pH of the soil, weeding by hand or machine and treating the vines with only organic sprays. They also make sure to mow between the rows, which returns the nutrients to the soil and absorbs CO2. 

Salt Mine Wine recognizes their vineyard is an ideal way station site for migrating Monarch butterflies and is dedicated to helping the decline of their species by installing a perimeter drip system to propagate milkweed species essential for the successful migration and breeding of Monarchs. 

Javelina Leap Vineyard, Winery and Bistro invested in a weed whip instead of chemical weed control. The native plants, typically casualties of the chemical weed control, actually improve the wine’s nitrogen, water and nutrient absorption capabilities while decomposing with the help of microbes and fungi.

The Southwest Wine Center captures rainwater and reuses it for irrigation. They also have high clerestory translucent panels that provide enough natural light in the tasting room, fermentation and barrel-storage rooms to work during daylight hours without turning on artificial lights. These are just some among many VVWC wineries looking into ways they can sustain the wonderful planet and soil that provides us with great wine.

The Verde Valley Wine Trail

The VVWC also has a focus on building community in the Verde Valley by hosting and supporting wine events throughout the region. The most recent Verde Valley Wine Festival smashed their previous fundraising record; between their Friday auction and Saturday main event, they raised more than $50,000 for our nonprofit partners, Arizona Wine Growers Association and the Arizona Vignerons Alliance. 

Their upcoming Tilted Earth Wine & Music Festival, in conjunction with Page Spring Cellars on June 16, celebrates the summer solstice. Later in the summer, wine lovers can look forward to a July 4th event in collaboration with the city of Cottonwood, as well as the Sedona Winefest in September. 

If you’re planning on visiting Verde Valley Wineries in between event dates, make sure to download a Verde Valley Wine Trail Passport. Visit 10 stops along the Verde Valley Wine Trail listed on your passport, get your Passport stamped, and simply mail it back or upload it to be entered into their next quarterly drawing. 

Each winery has a uniqueness you won’t want to miss so make sure to visit https://vvwinetrail.com before your next trip.

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