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Growing wineries putting rural Arizona to work

PHOENIX — In the midst of a recovering economy, one industry that is putting Arizona’s rural residents to work is the state’s booming wine industry.

“The beauty of the wine industry is that it’s an economic driver in rural Arizona,” Peggy Fiandaca, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association, told News/Talk 92.3 KTAR’s Rob & Karie on Monday. “It’s allowing jobs to be created, not only labor jobs, which are in the field during certain times of the year when we have harvests or we’re planting, but it’s also the more technical jobs that are in our wineries.”

While Fiandaca said the current wine industry in Arizona offers jobs, more can be done. She owns Lawrence Dunham Vineyards near Willcox, Ariz. and said she has to purchase a lot of materials out-of-state, including her wine barrels and equipment.

Arizona is also struggling to keep up with the pace for making wine.

“There’s just not enough grapes in Arizona being grown,” she said, adding that some vintners are forced to purchase grapes from California to keep up.

Why the big demand? Arizona wines are beginning to receive both national and international acclaim. While Fiandaca said it is a challenge to have people think of Arizona when they think of wine, she is confident about the future.

“I predict, in the next 10 years, when people are talking about Oregon, Washington and California, they’re going to be talking about Arizona right up there with them,” she said.

Fiandaca said Arizona’s varying climates make it an ideal spot to grow grapes for wine.

“We have the opportunity to produce high-quality wines,” she said.

Most of the grapes are grown between 2,500 and 5,000 feet in elevation in an atmosphere similar to that of the Rhone Valley in southern France.

“They like that rocky, volcanic soil and the grapes are doing great in it.”

Certain kinds of grapes seem to like it even better.

“There are certain varietals of grapes — types of grapes — like Viognier, Grenache, Petite Syrah and Syrah, that are grown there that do very well in Arizona.”

The state has 83 registered wineries, most of which are small to mid-range in size. A majority are represented by Fiandaca’s group.