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Gov. Ducey calls a flourishing grape and wine industry an important sector of the state’s agribusiness.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

April 14, 2022

3 Min Read
The number of wine producers in Arizona has grown from 96 to 125 in less than a decade.Wine Institute

While Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, and some of the more-well-known West Coast grape-growing areas get much of the publicity, as a new wine growing season gets underway a growing band of Arizona vineyard tenders is starting to beat its own drum.

For the first time ever, Gov. Doug Ducey announced the state’s support of the industry, no longer a fledgling — although still fighting to earn a recognized place in the world of grape-growing and wine making.

Calling a flourishing grape and wine industry an important sector of the state’s agribusiness, the governor noted Arizona’s wine production had tripled in volume during the last decade, employing more than 1,300 workers and producing a combined annual economic impact estimated at $55.5 million dollars in income based on nearly $160 million in business revenues.

Ducey also cited a popular sidebar of the industry, that being the wine tourism aspect involving hundreds of thousands of visitors to vineyards and tasting rooms approximating nearly $34 million in annual wine tourism spending.

In publicizing the proclamation on the Arizona Senate floor, District 8 Senator T.J. Shope, a small business owner himself and vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee, announced that March would now be known as Arizona Wine Month, “an opportunity to celebrate the state’s rich wine heritage with citizens, businesses, and community leaders working in the wine industry.”

Accurate to-date numbers highlighting the industry are lacking as Western Farm Press reported earlier this year when an updated Vineyards and Wineries in Arizona Report was released. University of Arizona Researcher Dari Duval did note that acreage was increasing (with a recent increase to more than 1,500 acres representing some 125 wine producers). “We know the industry can be described as a rapidly-growing one where acreage and the number of wineries has more than doubled in the last five years,” she reported.

And that’s a far cry from the first set of comprehensive industry statistics released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arizona Field Office, and the Arizona Wine Growers Association back in 2013. Less than a full decade ago NASS summarized that, “There are 96 known vineyards, 74% of all wine grape production comes from the Willcox region, and statewide value of production totals $2.2 million.”

Many varieties

Back then the top five varieties in terms of planted acres included Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, and Merlot. Today the varieties have exploded and include a host of under-the-radar favorites like Sirah, Riesling, Tempranillo, and Malvasia Blanca, what AZCentral.com called, “a white variety becoming the flagship of the Arizona Wine Industry.”

Arizona has three AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) with early designees in Sonoita and Willcox where Southeastern Arizona grows most of the state’s fruit in larger, more-acreage-per-vineyard farms that can experience up to 50-degree fluctuations in diurnal temperatures during the growing season.

Michael Pierce is Viticulture and Enology Director at Yavapai College’s Southwest Wine Center, a location billed as “a community hub, resource and learning lab that houses a full production winery and Tasting Room (with) award–winning student-crafted wines.”

“Arizona’s wine industry is burgeoning,” he says. “Growing wine grapes is becoming an important specialty crop because we’re talking low acreage and higher density in comparison to other commodity crops as well as lower water use. We’ve seen growers from California come here because of a lack of Arizona water laws. Currently, if you can put in a well and can pump it, it’s yours."

While keeping a cautionary eye on the possibility of late-arriving spring frosts, Pierce says wine grapes have a place in the state’s future. “The wine industry shines as an example of a low water use specialty crop with high economic return, a crop that builds up a lot of other industries and helps with tourism and economic development.”

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