Have you ever pondered how drinking local is also being green? A look behind the scenes of Arizona’s wine industry unveils a variety of sustainable operations that will allow you to appreciate your next glass of Arizona wine even more.
It starts with educating a local workforce on the ins and outs of the industry, from growing grapes (viticulture) to the making of wine (enology). Yavapai College in Clarkdale has been offering classes for a couple of years and is already beginning to produce graduates of the program who work in Arizona’s wine industry. What does the glass of wine you are drinking have to do with educating and training the local workforce? More people will become experts in learning how to grow quality grapes, and subsequently produce exceptional wines to ensure Arizona’s wine industry continues to grow and flourish.
Yavapai College Director of Enology David Harris brought up the concept of “drinking local—being green” while helping at a recent wine competition. Have you ever considered how far the bottle of wine traveled before you drank it? Did it travel overseas, cross country or within the region? Did the wine require a temperature-controlled environment along the way?
Harris says, “The packaging is as heavy as the product with a bottle of wine. This is significant to the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine that travels from the other side of the world to your table.”
The more local you can drink the better. Harris also pointed out many economic drivers that result from enjoying local food and wine. The tourism industry is becoming increasingly linked between vineyards, wineries, restaurants and resorts. Everyone benefits. With increased visitors comes increased business.
Drinking and eating locally may cost a little more, since many food and wine producers operate on a smaller scale and don’t mass-produce. Harris identified the significant cost and expense to put a glass of wine on the table, especially when hand-produced and bottled. When restaurants promote local wines, they get a “new” glass of wine in the hands of an individual who could also visit the winery.
Harris emphasized how important it is to get people tasting Arizona wines, which oftentimes require restaurant management and staff to know how to promote the wines. Without any knowledge of Arizona wines, the server is the missing link in promoting a great local product. Harris mentioned that, to address this, Yavapai College is exploring a wine-server certification that would welcome those in the food and beverage industry to gain continuing education courses to help them understand and promote the selections that are found on their menus.
Yavapai College’s proposed Southwest Wine Center is also concerned with being green. The state-of-the-art teaching winery, to be located on the Clarkdale campus, will showcase a program to provide students a diverse, versatile view of the wine industry. Sustainability is core to the design, integrating adaptive reuse, rainwater harvesting, shade structures, daylight, natural ventilation and increased insulation.
Pillsbury Wine Company
In Southern Arizona, Pillsbury Wine Company‘s Sam Pillsbury grows largely organic grapes in Willcox and offers two tasting rooms—onsite at the vineyard and up north in Old Town Cottonwood. Pillsbury only utilizes grapes from his own vineyard and neighboring vineyards in Southern Arizona. He feels his wines
have a specific local identity. When I brought up sustainability, one of the first things Pillsbury pointed out is that grapevine acreage uses significantly less water compared to crops like cotton and alfalfa. Low-water-use grapevines actually prefer to struggle to enhance their heartiness.
He went on to mention that grapes are the only agricultural crop in Arizona that is value added—the vineyards employ local people, the grapes are converted into a wine product that is then sold in the local commerce market. Seasonally, you will find Pillsbury at the Scottsdale Farmer’s Market promoting his wine alongside locals selling their fresh food. As someone who loves to cook, Pillsbury appreciates fresh, local food that often tastes better and is better for you—it fills life with joy and energy!
Page Springs Cellars
At Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, Director of Vineyard Operations Jeff Hendricks produces quality grapes, literally from the roots up. Hendricks focuses on the soil, making necessary amendments to reflect the perfect structure for the grapevines to respond to. He works with the native, local soil and supplements when and where needed, amending organically through methods like compost, manure, worm casings and fish emulsion. Hendricks added that, to be more conscious of product use, they upgraded their sprayer cutting product use in half, increasing efficiency, covering larger areas and using less labor.
Page Springs grows vegetables, fruits and herbs at the estate vineyard—some of which end up in tasting room menu selections. As I walked the vineyard with Hendricks, it was obvious that sustainability is truly integrated throughout the property. A series of wetlands capture any runoff from the parking lot, as well as grape matter after harvest and crush, to ensure that they do not enter local water sources. The grape lees (remnants after fermentation) create rich compost. All grape matter that is removed from maintaining the vines is put back in the vineyard through composting, as well. To address insect and small rodents that try to infiltrate the vineyard, bat boxes, owl boxes and falcon perches serve as lookouts for intruders.
Hendricks mentioned that Page Springs Cellars owner Eric Glomski may even look at going solar in the future. As part of their mission statement, Glomski appropriately states, “We believe to make great wine we must take just as much responsibility for the lands we steward as the community we live in.”
Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery
Down the road in Cornville is Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery. Founder and owner Rod Snapp, and his wife Cynthia, owner and winemaker, grow or source only Arizona grapes for the company’s wines. They haul and process the fruit themselves, doing everything as organically as possible. When addressing potential pest problems, the Snapps utilize herbicides and organic extracts versus pesticides. Although they specialize in growing red varietals, they source white varietals from Southern Arizona. This fall, the Snapps will open up their winery to the students of Yavapai College’s enology program, allowing them to produce wine in their facility until the Southwest Wine Center can be built. As a chef in a former life, Rod appreciates organically and home-grown food, as a complement to their wines.
Abbie’s Kitchen and Catering Company
In Old Town Cottonwood, Abbie Ashford runs Abbie’s Kitchen and Catering Company, serving regional cuisine and a 100-percent Arizona wine and beer menu. Just minutes from several wine tasting rooms, Ashford felt it was important to support the local vintners and offer a special experience for her guests. Food is thoughtfully paired with wines from across the state. Ashford sources only the freshest, mostly organic, and as local as she can find vegetables, fruits and meats. She even sells cakes, pies, jellies and jams so guests can take the local cuisine home with them.
Whether a local or a visitor trying Arizona wines for the first time, one can appreciate the sustainable efforts the industry is making statewide. And seeking local is possible wherever you call home. With just a little effort, we can all think and act greener while supporting local.
Article by Janette Coates
Originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of AZ Wine Lifestyle.