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3/11/2010 4:51:00 PM
Yavapai College sees Verde Valley support for viticulture program
VVN/Philip WrightCasey Rooney, representing the Cottonwood Economic Development Council, handed out some information to members of the Yavapai College Governing Board during its community forum Tuesday on the importance of the wine industry in the Verde Valley.
VVN/Philip Wright
Casey Rooney, representing the Cottonwood Economic Development Council, handed out some information to members of the Yavapai College Governing Board during its community forum Tuesday on the importance of the wine industry in the Verde Valley.

Philip Wright
Staff Reporter


CLARKDALE - "There's something happening here."

Apologies to Buffalo Springfield. But that line summarizes the message heard Tuesday by the Yavapai College Governing Board at its scheduled meeting on the Clarkdale Campus.

Board members learned how important the wine industry is becoming to the Verde Valley. They also learned how important the college is becoming to the local wine industry.

During the meeting the board held a community forum focused on the "Importance of Viticulture and the Wine Industry in Verde Valley." Board member Patricia McCarver presented the agenda item. Guest speakers were Tom Pitts, chair of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, and Casey Rooney, president of the Cottonwood Economic Development Council.

What's happening could be called symbiosis or mutualism. Or it could be held up as a shining example of cooperation, of what happens when various interests learn that success for one has benefits for all.

Verde Campus Dean Tom Schumacher, while introducing the guest speakers, told the board that the Clarkdale campus has already offered seven classes related to viticulture. Those classes were all "filled to capacity."

The Verde Campus has devoted 16 acres of its undeveloped land to the planting of new vineyards. The college also has offered courses such as Introduction to Viticulture, Wines of the United States, and Wines of the World. Schumacher said the campus is offering an alcohol servers training program.

Rooney said, "There's a lot of support in the Verde Valley for the wine industry."

Pitts went further. "This is already a multi-million-dollar industry in our back yard," he said. "The Verde Valley wineries are now a destination driver."

Rooney explained that "a buzz" about local wineries led to the idea of holding a meeting to see how much interest existed. "About 50 people showed up for the first meeting," Rooney said.

That first meeting, about two years ago, led to another meeting and then another and another. The Verde Valley Wine Consortium was formed.

"We've been meeting monthly ever since," Rooney said.

The consortium's mission is the advancement of the wine industry, tourism, economic development and education in the Verde Valley. Its members include wineries, growers, industry personnel, educators, regional developers and support businesses.

Pitts said that as soon as the consortium took form, committees were organized for education, legislation, marketing and sustainability.

The education effort has been joined by Yavapai College and the FFA program at Mingus Union High School. On the legislative front, the consortium has communicated with local and county governments and agencies, Pitts said. Communications have included the Governor's office and the Department of Commerce.

Marketing includes a great response by local, regional and national media. A Web site has been established for the consortium, and the organization's work has led to the development of the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Involvement in events includes Cottonwood's Rhythm & Ribs, Walkin' on Main, and the Arizona Wine Growers Festival at the Farm.

Pitts said, "Sales have doubled in the last year. We see this as a burgeoning industry that is just getting started."

After the presentations, McCarver said, "We know what's happing now." Then she asked, "What's next in terms of Yavapai College participation?"


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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2010
Article comment by: James Callahan

In response, I must say that your argument lacks any sort of base and reeks of opinion supported by falsified "factual" assessments.

"Look no further than Page Springs, where iconic desert hillsides are being unceremoniously bull-dozed off to make way for grapes native American ruins and wildlife habitat included."

First off, what ruins were destroyed unceremoniously? Forgive me for my ignorance but I am unfamiliar with what you are referring to...

- Currently, Arizona has very little land under grape production. Don't quote me on the exact number, but it is around 250-350 acres. Compare this to the hundreds of thousands of acres of land being developed across the state creating cookie-cutter communities, leapfrog development, big-box retailers, homes for winter visitors, etc. The rampant development is stripping the state's rich culture away and replacing it with a homogenous American culture of consumerism.

Which form of development is more beneficial to the environment?
I don't know about you, but I would rather see a rolling vineyard out of my window that has been meticulously maintained by a person that is putting their heart and soul into the land than 40 homes that look the same next to glowing neon signs.
Which form of development is better for our state's heritage? I don't know about you, but I would rather support something that intends to develop a sense of identity for our state rather than strip it away.

Next point. "Advanced agricultural techniques have bred grape varieties that can be grown almost anywhere the sun shines."
Although this may be true for table-grape farming, wine-growing is a completely different animal. There are very few sites across the world suitable for quality wine production. The Verde Valley happens to have a small strip of useable land (still very hard to farm). You will never see every hillside of the Verde Valley covered in vines. The soil structure simply is not equal across the board. In addition to this, it is unprofitable to start a vineyard in a region where land is so ridiculously expensive. The region will be comprised of smaller boutique wineries and vineyards that will generate tourist dollars and help add a sense of place to the Verde Valley.

"We should also prepare ourselves for the other less popular aspects of wine growing - pesticides, bird-scaring devices, and loud machinery used in the early season to keep frost off the tender plants."

Although frosts are a major concern for winemakers across the world, the hilly nature of the Verde Valley gives it some natural protection from frosting. You see, Cold air is heavier than warm air. Thus, by planting on a hillside, all of the cold air will flow to the lowest point in the valley. This happens to be the Verde River. The river, which holds a relatively constant temperature during a given day, will help mediate the temperature in the bottom of the valley. Look at the Mosel river valley in Germany where some of the most famous Riesling in the world is produced.

The pesticides used in the vineyard are not like the pesticides of the 70's. They are much safer today and are less invasive on nature. They are applied directly to the plant with a tractor. Not dusted 100 feet above by airplanes on windy days. Remember, most Vignerons don't use pesticides unless they are necessary.

Bird scaring devices are seldom used in todays vineyards. Netting is the most efficient way to protect your crop and luckily, they don't make any noise!

"Perhaps we are entranced by visions of winding country roads, sunny Tuscan afternoons and boutique vintners, but before local Arizonans embrace viticulture as the next best thing since hot-air balloons, let's consider that this is a crop that demands lots of one thing that is already in short supply here - water!"

Water. It is definitely Arizona's most precious resource. In the days before irrigation, vineyards were dry-farmed and there were no problems. In fact, if you look at the major growing regions of France, you can see that they are still dry farmed today! Thats correct, they use no irrigation.
For growers in America, irrigation has been utilized in order to add water when needed, not to supply it continuously. In fact, you might find it interesting that vineyards perform the best on soils that are well drained. Wet soil is not advantageous for growing premium winegrapes....
Additionally, modern irrigation techniques for vineyards are among the most efficient in the world. Drip lines are standard in the industry and water usage is far less because of this.

The growth of wingrowing in Arizona and the birth of a new local industry that is being pioneered by fellow Arizonan's is not at all detrimental to the Verde Valley or our state. There are far worse things happening around the state that are creating a far greater negative impact. Culture, tourism, recognition, pride, education, and sustainability are just a few things that are going to come with this fledgling industry.
Why not embrace it?


Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010
Article comment by: No Whining

Advanced agricultural techniques have bred grape varieties that can be grown almost anywhere the sun shines. In even prestigious and well established wine production areas, grapes are in vast over-production and values are falling for all the components of the industry - land, grapes, and finished product. Why will the Verde Valley be any different?

Perhaps we are entranced by visions of winding country roads, sunny Tuscan afternoons and boutique vintners, but before local Arizonans embrace viticulture as the next best thing since hot-air balloons, let's consider that this is a crop that demands lots of one thing that is already in short supply here - water!

We should also prepare ourselves for the other less popular aspects of wine growing - pesticides, bird-scaring devices, and loud machinery used in the early season to keep frost off the tender plants.

Look no further than Page Springs, where iconic desert hillsides are being unceremoniously bull-dozed off to make way for grapes native American ruins and wildlife habitat included. When this champagne bubble bursts - and it won't be long - the Verde will be left with many more denuded hillsides and much less water.





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