CLARKDALE - When the Verde Valley Wine Consortium formed two years ago this month, it set as one of its primary goals the development of a homegrown education program.
One of the goals of the committee formed to promote a valley-based wine education program was to develop a laboratory and learning center.
A year ago Yavapai College took the first steps in that direction, creating the first community college viticulture program in the state and one of only a handful in the country.
But something has been missing ... like a vineyard.
For the last year the college and the consortium have sought partners to help plant a vineyard on approximately 30 acres currently set aside for vines at the Clarkdale campus. But at $30,000 to $40,000 an acre, it has been difficult.
In spite of the economy, those efforts finally bore fruit this week ... or more precisely, took root.
Maynard Keenan, owner and partner in several Arizona vineyards and wineries, including Merkin, Caduceus, Page Springs and Arizona Stronghold, along with a company that plants and maintains vineyards, signed a contract on Tuesday with Yavapai Collage that will see the first acre planted.
The day after the contract was signed, Merkin Vineyards Green Management, began planting the first of 900 vines in the rocky-clay soil adjacent to the college's handball/racquetball court.
"This is the hardest ground I have ever planted in," says Nikki Check, orchard and vineyard specialist for Merkin and the person overseeing the planting, "but vines love this sort of ground. I don't know anything else that will grow in it."
The vineyard is the start of what the consortium and the college hope will one day become a world-class facility. The first acre is just the start.
"In order to move forward with the program we needed grapes. How can you teach viticulture and enology without grapes? It's like an outdoor classroom. Maynard deserves a huge thanks for kick-starting what we hope will one day set a standard," says Paula Woolsey, chairperson of the consortium's education committee.
In the spirit of the educational aspect of the vineyard, Merkin Vineyards is planting the entire acre in Negroamaro grapes, a variety native to southern Italy that's name means 'black bitter.'"
"It's the first time it has been tried in Arizona," Check says, "but, like other Italian varieties that have been tried in Arizona, we think it will do great. It will be a learning experience for us and the students."
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