Every glass of wine has a story. Someone, somewhere, is responsible for the creation of this exceptional juice.
I personally like to imagine each phase of its life from vineyard to bottle. There are so many fascinating wine regions all over the world, and we are lucky to have one right here in our own backyard.
Yavapai College’s campus on Black Hills Drive in Clarkdale is the only college in the Southwest that offers degree programs in viticulture and enology. It is now home to the Southwest Wine Center.
Philip Brown, Wine Center manager, and Michael Pierce, enology director and winemaker, recently shared the story of the center, where 13 of its 20 acres already have been planted with educational vines.
The academic program began in 2009 but in 2010, Maynard Keenan, owner of Merkin Vineyards & Caduceus Cellars, made the first private donation for the center’s first vineyard acre. This acre was planted with the Negroamaro variety and vintage 2013 is available for purchase at 48 Wine Works in Clarkdale.
I couldn’t leave town without grabbing a bottle. I love sharing wine with others, but most of it usually ends up in my glass.
Individuals, businesses, community and government leaders from across the Verde Valley take part in the annual Plant a Vine(yard) event to help with the planting of additional acres.
There is a large focus on Italian and Spanish varietals because they flourish in a warm dry climate with varying soil composition.
“We take great care in deciding which varietals are planted on which acres. The joke is, you can throw a baseball 100 feet and the soil changes. Our goal is low yields and high quality” said Pierce.
The center boasts a Malvasia Bianca that fans say is probably the best Arizona white. While touring the facility I got to see the big barrels of 2015 wine that be released this October. The Tempranillo will be the center’s first 100 percent estate-grown wine. This is a big accomplishment since there is not an abundance of fruit in Yavapai County.
The vineyard, as well as industry-scale technology and equipment, gives students the chance to demonstrate their creativity while learning this sophisticated trade. Students will learn agriculture, farming and science but are encouraged to develop their own style and palate.
“We want students to share what’s factual with guests of the center, but as instructors we remain a neutral source and try not to interject opinion. It is not our job to influence what someone is creating or tasting. This is a working winery,” said Brown.
The tasting room, an old racquetball court, is open to the public and scheduled tours are welcome. Small and large groups from women’s clubs to state college employees have visited the facility.
“We get quite a bit of traffic from the Verde Valley Trail as well. They understand that we help facilitate their growth. It is refreshing to know they consider us their peers. We would love our students to find future work in the Arizona wine world, ” said Pierce.
Because the program must partner with local vineyards, there are opportunities to make connections and find work in the Verde Valley. Students pursue varying careers, including winemaking, vineyard management and lab technicians.
Students can choose between a viticulture certificate program or one leads to a Viticulture & Enology Associates of Applied Science Degree. Both programs are hands-on and teach seasonal operations and grape-growing practices.
The two-year viticulture and enology program provides students with observational studies in vineyard establishment and management as well as concepts of producing wine at the state-of-the-art teaching winery. The 20-acre vineyard, in the foothills of Mingus Mountain, has the barrel case storage to support production of 3,000 cases per year.
Information: 928-634-6566 http://southwestwinecenter.org/
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Darla S. Hoffmann, CSW, is the sole proprietor of About Wine in Phoenix, which focuses on wine education and marketing. She is a certified specialist of wine, hospitality beverage specialist, and professional member of the Society of Wine Educators and the Wine Century Club.