Wednesday 22 January 2020
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Building the Southwest Wine Center

A Student’s Perspective
By Janette Coates

Planting vines at Yavapai College. Nikki Check.

Nikki Check planting vines at Yavapai College.

Imagine earning a certificate or associates degree in viticulture or enology right here in Arizona? Yavapai College’s Verde Valley campus in Clarkdale has a program for you. As if offering education wasn’t enough, the college features three newly planted acres of grapevines that will serve as a working vineyard for students. While waiting for those acres to produce grapes for harvest, enology students are today able to learn the art of winemaking by using grapes generously donated by Merkin Vineyards. Yavapai College is helping to train a diverse base of students to work in our growing wine industry. Arizona vineyards and wineries are embracing the students and welcoming their help year-round in maintaining their crops and producing fine wine. Recent graduates of the program have already been hired in the industry.

Wine connoisseurs have come to know Arizona wines in recent years; and as more grapes are planted and more wine is produced, the state could certainly achieve the status of a significant and award-winning U.S. wine region. Building upon the foundation of the viticulture and enology curriculum, the Yavapai College Foundation has developed plans and is currently raising funds for the Southwest Wine Center. As a sustainable on-campus winery and teaching lab, it will serve to not only educate the next generation of Arizona viticulturists and enologists, but also as a knowledge gateway and data repository for the entire Southwest. Sharing information across state lines, will not only strengthen winemaking and growing here in Arizona, but will help to expand the overall industry, which benefits us all.

With my life firmly planted in Greater Phoenix, where I live and work, I never would have imagined I would find a viticulture program only a short two-hour drive away, enabling me to take classes and perform hands-on work in actual vineyards. Upon learning of the program in 2011, the decision to enroll in the viticulture program was an easy one. I am able to be a part-time student while tending to my full-time life, and I’m turning what was once a hobby into a true passion.

In October, I took the opportunity to learn more about the fundraising needs for the Southwest Wine Center by attending the Art, Wine & Dine event at Yavapai College. Having experienced the education and work in the vineyards first-hand, and believing that Arizona’s wine industry is building something truly unique and special, I proudly became a donor to the Southwest Wine Center at the “Founders” level.

Yavapai College needs your support too. The fundraising goal for the Center is $3 million. There are a number of donation opportunities including an Adopt-A-Vine program, ranging from only $20 to $2,500, that allows individuals to adopt actual vines on the campus which will be affixed with a tag or marker displaying the donor’s name. Founding donors are individuals or businesses that make a gift of $5,000 or more. They will be recognized in perpetuity on a Founders Wall at the Center which will commemorate their help in turning the vision of the Southwest Wine Center into reality. A variety of higher-level naming opportunities begin at $10,000.

The Southwest Wine Center will further advance the wine industry in Arizona, while creating economic development opportunities across the state by creating jobs, as well as a supply chain for businesses that produce grape growing and winemaking equipment.

An Industry Perspective
By Nikki Check

Planting Vines at Yavapai College.

The Arizona Wine industry has grown in so many ways over the last few decades. We have not only achieved much in the way of planting acreage, opening new tasting rooms and developing more talent, but also Arizona winemakers have increased the quality of wine being produced – and that is no small detail. While the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College will aim to support the furthering of all the above achievements, the last is an important focus for us.

Even our best Arizona grape growers and winemakers find themselves standing in the field or cellar on occasion scratching their head.  As a former vineyard manager for Merkin Vineyards, I know that often times having skilled labor and a great management plan isn’t enough. Sometimes you’re thrown a curveball, which happens frequently when you’re growing wine in uncharted territory.  More often than not, one is able to find information on a problem and how it relates to California practices. If you’re lucky, you can scrape up some information from Texas and Washington, but more often than not, you’re still left scratching your head, wondering about how this information might apply to your problem here in Arizona.

Of course, building a workforce, economic development and entrepreneurial encouragement in the Arizona wine industry are all clear and targeted goals of the Viticulture and Enology Program, as well as the Southwest Wine Center, but the ulterior motive behind it all is to become a first-class educational and informational resource for winegrowers and winemakers pioneering this industry. This is why a knowledge gateway and data repository is a key proponent of the proposed Southwest Wine Center. It is also the reason we are thrilled to be forging a good working relationship with University of Arizona, the agricultural research university here in Arizona. Yavapai College is also supporting an annual Southwest Wine Symposium (in April, date to be announced) centered in Arizona, but geared towards reaching out to the entire inland Southwest. Together we can begin unraveling the challenges that are unique to our area and terroir of the Southwest.

We look forward to planting the additional 14 of the proposed 17 acres at Yavapai College in the coming years with exciting and applicable varietals. We hope that some of you might join us in planting three of those acres on our Verde Valley Campus over the weekend of May 4, 2013.

In a nutshell… 


Academic Programs
Full-Production Teaching Winery
Student-Run Vineyard
Knowledge Gateway and Data Repository
Business Partnerships


There is a misunderstanding that the Southwest Wine Center will only benefit the Verde Valley because that is where it will be located. The reality is that the entire state of Arizona will benefit, as well as other states in the Southwest. By creating a stronger, more unified and educated wine industry, it will not only increase the quality and volume of wine produced in Arizona, it will also increase jobs by attracting more wine-related businesses to Arizona and increase tax dollars by selling more Arizona wine. Having a vineyard, winery and tasting room on-site will allow the students to learn about all aspects of the wine industry, from the agricultural perspective in growing the grapes, to the science perspective in making the wine, as well as the business perspective in running a tasting room, marketing your business and selling wine.


The first million dollars has been raised but there’s still two million more needed. Most immediate, the college must raise another $300,000 to stay on schedule and start construction later this year. They are close, but still need some help!


Have a vine named after you or give as a gift
Single Vine: $20  |  Half Row (45 vines): $1250  |  Full Row (90 vines): $2500

Founders Wall

Have your name engraved on the Founders Wall at the new facility by donating $5000 or more.

Naming Opportunities

For donations of $10,000 or more, you can explore having your name live on forever at the Southwest Wine Center.

Article by Janette Coates, Nikki Check and Arizona Vines & Wines.
Photos by

Originally Published in the Arizona Vines and Wines Spring 2013 Issue

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