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News for Southeastern Arizona, provided by the University of Arizona School of Journalism

Wine industry bubbling up fast in Arizona

Kief Joshua Manning, owner of Kief-Joshua Vineyards, located in Elgin, Ariz., poses with his finished bottles of wine. Photo provided by: Kief-Joshua Vineyards

Toast this: Arizona’s wine industry grew 1,940 percent in 14 years.

New wineries are bursting onto the map with vineyards and tasting rooms popping up statewide, concentrated in the southeast growing region. Arizona wine is making a name for itself and pouring onto the national scene from grape to bottle.

In 2003 there were five wineries in the state, in 2011 there were 42 and now there are 102 active small wineries and vineyards across Arizona.

According to a 2017 survey done by Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Tourism Office, the Arizona wine industry supports 640 jobs and has a statewide economic impact of $56.2 million, up from $37.6 million in 2011.

Access an interactive map that shows all wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms here.

The growing success is partly due to the climate. Southeast Arizona is one of only four high desert grassland micro biomes in the world, regions with environmental conditions that make them perfect for growing wine. Another reason for the rapid expansion belongs to the entrepreneurial efforts of the farmers and wine producers in Elgin and Wilcox.

Kief Joshua Manning owns and operates the Kief-Joshua Vineyard on Elgin Road, known as Wine Row, amongst a number of neighboring wineries. Twenty-three acres of rolling hills filled with rows of vines bursting with grapes surround the winery, a Spanish style villa where Manning and his father produce their wine.

Almost all of Arizona wine comes from the southeast corner of the state and Manning opened his winery in 2003 when there were only three others in Elgin. Now, 14 years later there are 15.

Manning described the immediate success of their opening. “We opened up on Labor Day weekend, we thought it was going to be slow and we were packed.”

The vineyard has been expanded to fulfill the growing demand. Most of the wine is sold directly at the winery. According to Manning, the Kief-Joshua tasting room serves over 50,000 people every year.

“We up production every year because we have more demand every year so it’s kind of a constant balancing act of trying to produce enough wine to keep the tasting room open,” Manning said. 

This past year production reached 2,000 cases with 12 bottles per case.  The year, Manning hired his first two employees.

The Elgin location has been planted to capacity, but the demand continues growing. In 2011, Manning bought a vineyard in Wilcox , which opened Sept. 16. WHAT’S NAME OF THIS ONE Not only does the new property provide more space for growing grapes, it also is an insurance against weather, Manning explained.

“I bought that property in 2011 because I lost my entire crop to hail in 2010,” Manning said, “so this spreads out our weather risk a little bit.”

Along with weather, other threats to the crop are deer, caterpillars and potato beetles ,which Manning tries to keep at bay with organic pesticides. Two sheep and two goats munch through grass and weeds, solving the need for a lawnmower.

The slightly different climate in Wilcox allows Manning to experiment with new wines. Kief-Joshua Vineyards produce mostly single varietal wines, meaning that they are each made of one type of grape to highlight specific elements of each fruit. They also make two blends, one of which, the Magdelena named after Manning’s grandmother, is their best seller.

Manning is also the vice president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association, a group of producers who aim to market the wine industry and lobby for legislature effecting their businesses.

The president of the association, Brian Predmore, owns with his family the Alcantara Vineyards in the Verde Valley north of Phoenix. Alcantara grows 80 percent of their grapes in the northern region of the state, but sources about six tons from Wilcox annually.

“I hope that there will be more vineyards popping up in the northern region,” Predmore said. “We are petitioning for AVA status which will hopefully mean more wineries open.”

Wilcox recently received its AVA (American Viticultural Area) status which designates it as an official wine growing region.  AWGA is lobbying to raise the cap on the Domestic Farm Winery License, which limits production. The license stands that a domestic farm can produce a maximum of 20,000 gallons of wine per year. If they exceed the limit then they lose self distribution, which would effectively close the tasting rooms where Arizona wine makers sell most of their bottles. If they produce above the cap then they have to gain a commercial production license which is much more expensive. 

One economic impacs of the growing Arizona wine industry is the amount of tourism revenue. Northern Arizona University, in partnership with AWGA and the Arizona Office of Tourism completed two surveys of the growth of tourism surrounding the Arizona wine industry, one in 2011 and one that recently came out in July 2017.

The earlier survey from 2011 found that the $22.7 million in direct expenditures by Arizona wine visitors resulted in a total industry economic impact of $37.6 million. The survey also found that the industry supported 405 jobs in Arizona.

Now, in 2017 after only six years, the most recent survey found that the the economic impact has raised to $56.2 million which supports a total of 640 jobs.

“We want to get Arizona wines to the point where people in Tucson and Phoenix realize that there’s great wine coming right from their own state,” said Predmore, “and that they don’t have to get it from California.”

Tirion Morris is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at tirionmorris@email.arizona.edu.

Click Here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 

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