The Southwest Wine Center has come a long way since Paula Woolsey taught wine education in the ceramics room over a decade ago, with just a single acre of grapes growing outside.
This year, the harvest is expected to yield over 16 tons of fruit, and there are currently 13 acres of grape vines, according to Woolsey, both a wine educator and vice president of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium.
The dramatic increase in viticulture, or the cultivation of grapes for wine, and oenology, the study of winemaking, within the Verde Valley, has been promoted by the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College. The growth was key in the Verde Valley Wine Consortium application to deem the area an American Viticulture Area, according to Woolsey.
What is an AVA?
An American Viticulture Area, or AVA, is a grape-growing region designated by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade (TTB.) Napa Valley and Sonoma are famous AVAs – there are 241 in the country, but only two in Arizona. The Verde Valley would be the third after Sonoita and Willcox, established in 1985 and 2016, respectively.
Woolsey said the efforts in applying are “so important” for the local wine community. The designation allows vintners to describe the origins of their wine more specifically.
“Currently Verde Valley winery owners who grow their own grapes label their wines as Yavapai County. Becoming an American Viticulture Area sends a message to the world: This area makes quality wine,” Woolsey said.
Currently, the consortium’s application sits at 9th on the pending area list, according to the TTB.
The boundaries of an AVA are defined by the TTB, but not without extensive mapping work by the petitioner.
The Verde Valley Wine Consortium has spent “the better part of the year” getting help from the University of Arizona to define the topography of the Verde Valley AVA. The application was accepted as perfected August 1, 2017 and takes years to process.
The Verde Valley AVA would extend from Jerome to Rimrock and excludes Sedona (due to too much iron in the soil to grow good grapes, Woolsey says.)
A great place for grapes
The wine industry has blossomed in the Verde Valley, and not just in the form on Old Town Cottonwood. The Southwest Wine Center’s growth and the tasting rooms scattered in Jerome, Camp Verde and Clarkdale growing their own grapes only help the Consortium’s application.
Woolsey explained most parts of the world famous for wine grape-growing are near large bodies of water. This allows these areas, which get hot during the day, to be cooled at night.
The same effect for quality grapes can be achieved with elevation – the Verde Valley’s elevation.
“The more the grape struggles, the more character it develops,” Woolsey said.