Sedona AZ (December 12, 2009) – It’s exciting to be in the right place at the right time with something that’s really working. And the Verde Valley wine industry is definitely working!
The winemakers have dedicated themselves to making the finest wine possible from the grapes that do so well here. And, they are dedicated to sustainable agriculture.
It helps that vitis vinifera, the species of grape that produces all of the fine wine with which we are familiar, is an arid region plant that requires very little water and loves our local soil and climate. The Yavapai were growing so many grapes in the Verde Valley when the Spanish arrived that they originally called the Verde River the River of the Grapevines.
When the mining began in earnest in Jerome in the 1870s, vinifera was planted and wine was made in Jerome and what is now West Sedona, with the largest vineyards along Oak Creek near Page Springs Road. Business boomed until 1915, when prohibition in Arizona brought everything to a screeching halt. Arizona was completely forgotten as a source of fine wine − until now. I returned to Arizona almost five years ago, with the thought of “semi-retiring.” I thought my restaurant, Belgian Jennie’s Bordello Bistro & Pizzeria, in Jerome, would keep me busy with an enjoyable project.
I lived in Italy for two years and my wife and I have traveled there extensively. We used that experience to develop a menu featuring handmade Italian food, with a nice wine and beer list. I have been actively involved with many international wine and food societies and have worked as a marketing consultant with wine importers, distributors and retailers. I thought I’d put some of that experience to work.
As a new business owner in town, I joined the chamber of commerce. I was elected president and chairman of the board of the Jerome chamber. That led to involvement with the Sedona-Verde Valley Tourism Council and a close working relationship with the Sedona chamber. About three years ago, we created a regional economic development group, the Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization, of which I became a director. The group is dedicated to developing projects that can grow our economy while respecting the sense of place that brought us here.
Eighteen months ago we formed the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, a trade association, to support our local wineries and the development of a regional wine industry. I was chosen to chair the group and we immediately formed four committees: Marketing, Education, Legislative and Sustainability. The success of the endeavor has been truly amazing.
Yavapai College’s catalog now features many wine courses, including a viticulture class. The school is readying an on-campus vineyard (one-acre plots are available for sponsorship), and the first wine appreciation course will be offered on the Sedona campus for the spring semester. The University of Arizona is doing an economic impact study of the Verde Valley wine industry that will be completed by early spring. The bottom line is that we have a green industry in our back yard whose business has doubled in the last year. Not many companies can make that claim in this economy.
Four of us recently participated in the speakers program for Keep Sedona Beautiful. It was a very enjoyable session with an extensive question-and-answer session. Part of what makes this such a special place is the nature of the people who are attracted to it.
In the cosmic scheme of things, we are a small community, but the level of sophistication here has always far exceeded what one might expect from a simple look at the raw population numbers. The life experiences of the people who have chosen to reside here cover an enormous range and we have found this to be a big help in the growth of the consortium.
Will the Verde Valley become another special wine region as well respected as Bordeaux, Tuscany or Napa? That, of course, remains to be seen. However, many similarities and parallel energies already exist. At the very least, it should be fun to watch!
This exclusive Sedona Times Publishing newspaper and SedonaEye.com article by Tom Pitts, Chairman, Verde Valley Wine Consortium.