I was driving home to Tempe from the Crop Circle tasting room in Willcox on Sunday, August 15th. The clouds looked ominous coming out of the Sonoita/Elgin area of Arizona and there was plenty of rain and lightning. The monsoons in Arizona can be unpredictable but in Southern Arizona there are usually pretty good storms every year. These storms come at a terrible time for the wineries and vineyards in the state because it is harvest time. Rain can delay picking of fruit because the grapes suck up the water and dilute the sugar content. One usually will have to wait to harvest for several days after a good rain. There is also then the threat of bunch rot, mold and mildews developing as a result of excess moisture in the vineyards and on the grape clusters. For the vineyard managers and winery owners this becomes a stressful time, anticipating harvest while playing chicken with mother nature. On August 15th mother nature won the game. In less than 30 minutes a hail storm unleashed golf ball sized hail that ripped through the vineyards on Elgin Road better known as Winery Row. Wilhelm Vineyards was also later hit on upper Elgin Road. The hail stripped the leaves from the vines and battered the grape cluster rendering them untenable. For the vineyards this was already a difficult vintage with a late frost on May 1st that had reduced the crops but the hail storm was the uppercut that K.O.’d most of the vineyards. It is sad to see my friends put in hundreds of hours of hard back-breaking work, not to mention the financial impact, to have it completely wiped out in 30 minutes. I like to be the optimist and look for the silver linning in these types of situations because really the strength of a person’s character can only be judged in times of difficulty. Let’s face it growing grapes and agriculture in general, always comes with this risk. Many of the new vineyards however have not had to deal with this type of loss. As bad as this pain must be for those that have lost so much, take comfort in knowing that it will pass and next year will be another chance at renewal and prosperity. I look to the long time growers like Kent Callaghan who stay so composed even though his vineyard was a complete loss. One positive result is the consumers that are getting behind the wineries, supporting them by purchasing their current vintage released wines and this type of love and outpouring will help to ease the pain.
I encourage everyone to go down to the wineries in their time of need and tell them in person how much you appreciate all they go through to make the wines you enjoy. I also am encouraging restaurants to support Arizona wines. Pavle Millic at FnB restaurant in Scottsdale has a 100% Arizona wine list. As genius as I think he is, he by no means has a monopoly on supporting local producers and our state’s wines. If anything he would tell you to support our local wines as a matter of good financial sense. If your customers support the wines you should give your customers what they want. For details on events featuring Arizona made wines join my wine tasting group at meetup.com/blue-tooth-wine-society/. For restaurants looking to support Arizona wines contact me at Jim@MyWineHelper.com. I hope to share a glass of Arizona wine with you soon.