Move over, Napa. Arizona's young wine industry is currently undergoing a growth-spurt akin to a 12 year-old basketball player. For proof, see Michele Laudig's cover story from last year, all about former Tool frontman and owner of Stronghold Vineyards in the Verde Valley.
More evidence was available this past Saturday at Whole Foods Market in Chandler, where the store celebrated the burgeoning local industry with the Arizona Wine Consumer Choice Awards -- a wine tasting competition among 11 vineyards located throughout the state. More than 120 people paid $10 to smell, swirl, taste and vote - and the winners (Javelina Leap Barbera, Keeling Schaefer Two Reds Grenache and Sonoita Desert Zinfandel) will be featured in both the Chandler and Scottsdale Whole Foods' wine bars.
"In 2002, there were nine federally bonded vineyards in Arizona. Now there are 39," said Rod Keeling, owner of Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, pouring glass after glass of wine to customers at Whole Foods on Saturday. "In 7 years, we've gone from 9 to 39."
Keeling is the former President of the Arizona Wine Grower's Association and he's had a part in the industry's fast growth. He and his fellow wine growers lobbied the state legislature to change several regulations regarding in-state vineyards following a 2005 Supreme Court decision that ruled against similar laws in the state of Michigan. The difference? According to Keeling, it was essential: Arizona growers could buy fruits from out-of-state, ship directly to customers and have a restaurant and winery license on the same property.
Jim Wiskerchen, Wine Specialist at Whole Foods and the mind behind this "first annual" event, says one of his goals on the job is to expand WF's local wine selection.
Study up (or drink up), and you can vote next June in this soon-to-be annual event. The vineyards represented Saturday were: Maynard James Keenan's own Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Oak Creek Vineyard & Winery, Pillsbury Wine Company, Kokopelli Winery, Dos Cabezas Wine Works, Javelina Leap Vineyard and Winery, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, Page Spring Cellars, Callaghan Vineyards, Alcantara Vineyards, and Sonoita Vineyards.