Arizona Wine Growers

The Arizona wine industry is celebrating a better-than-expected wine grape harvest this year.

With higher yields and grape quality above average, harvest has many wineries scrambling to find more barrels, tanks, and workers to bring in the crop.

“It is a nice problem to be having this year after several years of devastating crop loss due to weather,” said Curt Dunham, winemaker and owner of Lawrence Dunham Vineyards.

In Arizona’s oldest wine region, the anticipation for a good growing season was very high and the harvest exceeds expectations.

Ann Roncone, winemaker-owner of Lightning Ridge Cellars in Sonoita, said, “I’m thrilled to actually have some estate white grapes this year. We lost about half the crop from an April 18 frost. But half a crop is much better than the last two years where April frosts completed wiped out our two white varietals - Muscat Canelli and Malvasia.”

Many vineyard owners reported the monsoon season came early this year; starting in earnest in mid-June bringing quite rain during June and July in southern Arizona.

Also, there were fewer new bugs to battle.

The biggest challenge this year was keeping the nutrient levels just right. Vineyard managers reported that phosphorus and potassium deficiencies created difficulties during the growing season.

Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery in northern Arizona’s Verde Valley region reported the best harvest ever from the 12-year-old vineyard.

Oak Creek winemaker Florian Wahlsaid, “We harvested our grapes with brix (sugar levels) at nearly 26 plus which we anticipate producing rich, smooth wines with nice alcohol.”

Kief Manning, winemaker at Kief-Joshua Vineyards in the Sonoita/Elgin area, said “The cool summer temperatures coupled with plenty of rain has resulted in a hearty harvest this year.”

Arizona has received a lot of attention in recent years with expanded vineyard acreage, increased wine production, and wine quality recognition.

There are more than 60 bonded wineries in Arizona; up from nine in 2000.

Wine grape acres have not kept up with demand sending Arizona wineries to purchase grapes from outside the state.

Peggy Fiandaca, president, Arizona Wine Growers Association, said “The 2012 harvest will help Arizona producers begin to keep up with demand. The opportunities of the Arizona wine industry are great, and there is no reason that the wine industry cannot be the next billion dollar wine region like Washington and Oregon.”

Southeastern Arizona is the third major wine grape growing region and one of the fastest in the amount of acres being planted.

“We have just completed an amazing 2012 harvest,” said Curt Dunham, owner/winemaker for Lawrence Dunham Vineyards.

“We finished harvesting Sept. 27 picking the last of the Petite Sirah. Our estate harvested over 12 tons which averages out to about six tons per acre – an amazing yield especially for such a young vineyard.”

Dunham added, “We are literally up to our elbows in deep purple and have been scrambling to find places to ferment the grapes and store the finished wine after pressing.”

Fiandaca said, “The Arizona wine industry is excited about the 2012 growing season. We have a new state-of-the-art custom crush facility in Willcox, Ariz., new vineyard acreage planted, and wineries producing highly rated Arizona wines.”

“All of these accomplishments are boosting Arizona’s image as a quality winemaking region.”