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The next Napa? Arizona’s Verde Valley angles to become a mecca for wine aficionados

The red rocks of Sedona drew Steph Houser from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, to the Verde Valley. Then a tip from a friend, a brochure and a little curiosity led her to a winery.

Glass of white wine in hand, she strolled the grounds of Alcantara Vineyards, accompanied by her husband and mother-in-law.

“We were actually surprised to find vines here,” said Houser, sipping from her glass. “I like the wine ― not too sweet, not too dry.”

The Verde Valley has for long been a tourist destination, luring visitors like Houser to Sedona, parks featuring ancient American Indian dwellings, the ghost town of Jerome and other attractions. But only recently has wine become a draw in its own right.

The wine industry in the region that includes Cottonwood, Sedona, Camp Verde, Jerome and surrounding towns has burgeoned in the last six years. Alcantara is among several dozen vineyards and wineries in Arizona, most of them in the north.
Vines are seen at Alcantara Vineyard, one of the growing numbers of wineries drawn by the favorable altitude and soil of the Verde Valley. (MCT)
Vines are seen at Alcantara Vineyard, one of the growing numbers of wineries drawn by the favorable altitude and soil of the Verde Valley. (MCT)

Winemakers here know the area might never rival Napa Valley, but they intend to establish it as a destination for wine lovers.

With a matching $15,000 grant from the Arizona Office of Tourism, the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce started a Verde Valley Wine Trail campaign in 2009 to promote wineries and vineyards, including a brochure guiding tourists to the locations.

“We use the wine trail as a hook, but through that we market the whole area,” said Lana Tolleson, the chamber’s president and CEO.

The Verde Valley’s success as a wine-growing region is attributed to its terroir, a French term describing favorable characteristics such as the area’s altitude and its soil, which is both volcanic and rich in limestone.

Tom Pitts, president of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, said since 2006, when Arizona liberalized its alcohol laws, the area has attracted experienced wine growers who have invested in developing quality wines and distinctive varieties.

“The true wine connoisseur is not just looking for the same thing; they’re looking for something special,” he said.

Pitts, who also owns a restaurant in Jerome, said local wines have improved the quality of dining in the area and helped revitalize Jerome and Old Town Cottonwood with wine stores and tasting rooms.

“It’s become a mecca for food and wine-tasting,” Pitts said. “Without the wine, it wouldn’t have happened.”

For Arizonans, Tolleson hopes this wine region will be an escape.

“During the summer, Flagstaff is just a natural place for people to go to, so we’re just trying to make people aware that we’re here and we’re not as far away,” she said.

By Elvina Nawaguna-Clemente

(Cronkite News Service)
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