November 2013 is the time to enjoy the bounty of Arizona's wine country.
Kent Callaghan, winemaker with Callaghan Vineyards and a pioneer in the Arizona wine industry, compared the 2013 harvest season to the 1992 and 2006 harvest years - wet and late but great quality potential. Harvest 2013 is more than half over for most Arizona wineries. Vineyards located at low elevations such as Charron Vineyards in Vail, Arizona (just southeast of Tucson) start bringing in their grapes in mid-August, and the higher elevation vineyards will be harvesting into October.
At Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, over 15 tons of Viognier has been harvested, and according to Curt Dunham, owner/winemaker, there is another 10-12 tons still in the vineyard for which he is trying to find buyers. “I would have never guessed that we would be harvesting this much Viognier in mid-September when we harvested Viognier in 2012 in mid-August,” said Dunham. “After last week’s hail storm, I am thrilled to have grapes to harvest.” He reported some damage to the vine canopies but not to the grapes.
All the vineyards across Arizona have commented on the amount of rain and cloudy days that have occurred late in the season. The cloudy days have made it difficult for the grapes to ripen and caused significant bunch rot. Many of the vineyards have had to cut back the vine canopies so that the sun can penetrate the grape-filled vines to encourage increased brix (or sugar levels).
Flying Leap Vineyards is experiencing their first harvest from their vineyards in Cochise County and Elgin. Mark Beres, one of Flying Leaps owners, said they still have not harvested a single grape from their Elgin vineyard because the sugar levels have not risen to where they want them to be. “However, the story for this year’s harvest is certainly how early we picked at our vineyard in Cochise County,” Beres exclaimed. “Who would ever have imagined that we’d be harvesting Grenache at 23.6 brix levels on August 10th?”
Kief Manning, winemaker at Kief-Joshua Vineyards in Sonoita, said that harvest was going well. “Our vineyard had good fruit set and the quality looks great” Manning said. “I think it is better than last year which was good and it followed two bad years with hail in 2010 and a series of spring frosts in 2011.”
Page Springs Cellars, located in the Verde Valley, reports processing 80 of an expected 125-ton harvest. Like Southeastern Arizona, it has been a wet season in Northern Arizona causing an increase in predation and rot issues over 2012. However, the monsoon weather has been very localized, and Page Springs Cellars reports that they have some amazing fruit namely Dos Padres Syrah (third leaf), Stage Stop Shiraz, and House Mountain Petite Sirah.
“We’re really excited about the potential of some of these young Northern Arizona vineyards,” said Page Springs Cellars’ winemaker Matt Rollain. “Despite the frost issues experienced earlier this year at our Colibri Vineyards in the Chiricahua Mountains, the Syrah (low yield) and Mourvedre (high yield) look amazing,” Rollain said.
Though harvest is not yet over, winemakers have their fingers crossed that it is going to be a good year both in quantity and quality of the wine grapes. Some of the vineyards will wrap up harvest in early October where efforts shift to the winery.
Arizona wines have received much recognition this past year with wines made from Arizona-grown grapes receiving high marks from nationally-respected publications and wines winning prestigious awards in competitions with the best wines in the world. The number of vineyard acres is growing, wine production is increasing, and the wine quality is being recognized. The gallons of wine being produced in Arizona more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.
James Callahan, winemaker Rune Wines + Halcyon Vineyards, see a bumper crop because of the long hang time even with two major rain events. “For the first time there is a lot of fruit for sale,” he said.
Peggy Fiandaca, President of the Arizona Wine Growers Association, said “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.” “The Arizona wine industry is excited about the 2013 growing season as well as the recognition the industry is receiving which boosts Arizona’s image as a quality winemaking region,” Fiandaca said.
The Arizona wine industry will celebrate the fruits of their labor at the annual Festival at the Farm November 15 and 16 at the Farm at South Mountain. The Arizona Republic announces the winners of the annual wine competition at a reception on Friday, November 15 at Quiessence Restaurant. The festival on Saturday is where participants can taste the award-winning wines, sample wines and talk to winemakers from around the state, attend educational seminars, listen to music, enjoy a picnic lunch under the Pecan trees, and hopefully walk away with the winning bid for an incredible live/silent wine auction packages.
To learn more and purchase tickets visit http://www.azwinefestivalatthefarm.com/tickets.html.
Photography copyright: Elizabeth Rose Photography
Photography copyright: Elizabeth Rose Photography