VERDE VALLEY - Art and wine have always shared a common bond.
Galleries serve wine to their patrons. Wineries serve a side of art, in one fashion or another, with a tasting.
Now, in a bit of a twist, some local wine enthusiasts will be using art to serve wine.
Ever since it became apparent that the valley's wine industry was not a passing fad, its supporters have noted that its success will hinge on an available workforce.
Their enthusiasm led to a partnership with Yavapai College, which, over the last two years, has inched its way into a full-scale wine curriculum.
Last month, those inches turned to feet as the college board approved a two-year viticulture certificate program, the first of its kind in Arizona.
But such educational ventures don't come cheap.
So the same enthusiasts who have worked so diligently on creating wine trains, wine trails and a heightened awareness of the valley's potential, have unveiled a new idea to infuse money into the fledgling program.
All across the valley, a brightly colored collection of 40 painted wine barrels has gone on display, in businesses, public buildings, tasting rooms and coffee houses.
They are part of what is called, quite simply, the "Painted Barrel Project." They are there to raise awareness of the industry and money for the college.
The idea is to generate interest in the barrels, each painted and decorated by a local artist, then auction them off in spring 2012. Part of the money will go to make more barrels and do it again. The rest will go to the Yavapai College Foundation to grow the school's wine programs.
The Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce and the wine industry's online arm, vvwinetrail.com, sponsor the program.
"It's one of those programs that's good for everyone," says Tom Pitts, chairman of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium.
To bring added awareness to the Painted Barrel Program, several special events will be held over the next year, including a scavenger hunt and giveaways. Brochures listing the location of each barrel will soon be printed.
To find the location of the nearest barrel to you, and learn a little about the uniqueness of each barrels as well as the artist who created it, visit www.vvwinetrail.com.