by David M. Brown
The increasing quality produced by Arizona vintners is being matched by a commitment to sustainability through conscientious water use and tilling practices, local sourcing, repurposing, recycling and other ecosystem-sensitive tools.
“Every decision we make at Page Springs is heavily weighted in terms of sustainability and impact,” says Jeff Hendricks, vineyard manager at Page Springs Cellars, nestled along the banks of Oak Creek just south of Sedona.
“It starts with our vision of being a place for community to gather and can be seen in all sorts of practices throughout the company. For instance, the amount of glass and cardboard we go through is notable, and all of it gets recycled,” he says. The winery just installed solar, which will provide more than 85 percent of its annual energy needs.
Page Springs is also transitioning to supply produce for the winery kitchen from the property. “Most of the plants on property are natives, and we try to preserve as much ‘untouched’ wilderness as we can when we develop new areas or plant new vineyards,” Hendricks says, noting that when planting a recent vineyard a corridor was created, affording the deer and other animals clear access to the creek.
Land, Water, Fans and Pests
Respect for land management and water usage is essential.
“We do minimal tilling and use all resources as little as possible, especially water. Our irrigation is based on soil-moisture readings, and we do not use any hardcore pesticides or fungicides,” says Kent Callaghan, who planted the first of the Callaghan Vineyards in 1990 with his father, Harold, in Sonoita, an hour and a quarter south of Tucson. In 2008 Wayne Tomasi, a family friend, began assisting.
The winery now grows Mourvedre, Graciano, Tempranillo, Grenache, Petit Verdot and Tannat. The award-winning wines have been served at the White House three times, at special occasions such as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement dinner in 2006.
Before planting, Lawrence Dunham Vineyards (LDV) completes a soils and water analysis to guide sustainability.
“By understanding soil composition throughout the property and monitoring on an ongoing basis, invaluable information about water-holding capacity and nutrients is attained,” says Peggy Fiandaca, who co-owns the vineyard and winery with winemaker and grower Curt Dunham. “Knowing this information assists in making decisions about irrigation and augmentation.”
Fountain Hills residents Fiandaca and Dunham have recently opened their Wine Gallery, 6951 E. First Street in Old Town Scottsdale, in a 1,533-square-foot remodeled ranch house where you can taste 100-percent estate-grown wines including Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah.
“We’ve wanted to bring the essence of our southeastern Arizona vineyard in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills of Cochise County to Scottsdale for some time now,” Dunham says. They’ve repurposed winery pallets, and the tasting bar is even made with rock excavated from their vineyard, which comprises 40 acres of “sky island” at 5,000 feet on the rocky-soil west slope of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona.
Among other sustainable methods, they also minimize soil erosion through analysis and control of water and growing cover crops, mulching of vine cuttings to augment soil and increase water retention, aerating the vineyard rows and managing drip irrigation effectively. In addition, canopy management protects the plants and grapes from the intense mountain sun, and an onsite weather station helps forecast watering needs.
Also on the west slope of the Chiricahuas, along Rock Creek, both Keeling-Schaefer vineyards employ a drip system, which minimizes water to just one-fifth that used by conventional crops grown in Arizona, says owner Rod Keeling.
The 12-acre Rock Creek Vineyard was planted in 2007 and prior to that the eight-acre Home Place Vineyard in 2004. The winery produces 100-percent estate grown wines such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc and Rhone GSM blend.
Keeling uses large orchard fans running on low-emission propane for frost protection instead of oil-burning smudge pots, wood fires or water sprinkling. “While not certified organic, we use timing and best practices to minimize our use of commercial pesticides. We have sprayed the entire vineyard with insecticide one time in 11 seasons,” he says.
At Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, recycling includes 100-percent biodegradable new cardboard packing materials for shipments instead of Styrofoam, and all glass bottles, aluminum, paper and plastics are recycled at the winery, tasting room and at the owners’ homes.
Natural corks are employed instead of non-recyclable screw-tops or synthetics because cork is a renewable resource. “We’ve even reduced the weight of our bottle for lower shipping costs, while keeping a high level of aesthetics,” Fiandaca says.
Organic Farming is Growing and Growing
Dedication to organic farming methods is a consistent ingredient at the wineries.
“Sustainability is what we do. We are organic, although we are not certified,” says Sam Pillsbury, the celebrated New Zealand-born film director who planted his first vines in 2000 on 100 acres at 4,300 feet in Cochise County, 200 miles southeast of Phoenix.
He grows Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Symphony, Roussanne and Chenin Blanc. He has a winery and tasting room on the property and a tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood, an hour and a half north of Phoenix. His first Pillsbury label wines rated “93” from Iron Chef Mark Tarbell in the Arizona Republic and received Best AZ Wine from the San Francisco Examiner.
Pillsbury does not use chemical sprays or fertilizers. “It’s because we want to be part of making our world and our land pure and clean as possible. Yes, it’s a little more trouble and a little more expensive, but, longterm, the plants and the soil will be healthier, therefore more productive and disease resistant. And we will make better wine,” he says.
Keeling composts winery waste, which is used in landscaping and gardens, and he uses a no-till vineyard floor-management system with native cover grasses in the aisles and adds fertilizer and other nutrient amendments through the drip-irrigation system in the vine rows. “We have doubled the organic content of our soils using this method,” he says.
The vintners are even attracting the birds. Keeling promotes owls and other raptor nesting near the vineyards to control vertebrate pests, and he also has a bat house that assists in insect control. Page Springs Cellars also likes and promotes bats, owls and falcons.
“We take our responsibility to our family, friends, neighbors, land and future generations very seriously,” LDV’s Fiandaca says. “We owe it to our customers to not only produce quality wine but to maintain the nature, beauty and resource of this incredible place we call home.”
David M. Brown is a Valley-based freelancer (azwriter.com).
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