Lay of the Land: Producing Wine in AZ

With our Arizona Wine & Dine happening this month, we got to thinking about wine production in Arizona. What makes it unique? What makes it different or challenging?

We spoke to Rob Hammelman of Sand-Reckoner Vineyards and learned so much! Read our Q&A with him to discover what makes wines produced in the Sonoran region so unique, and join us on September 27th for our Arizona Wine & Dine to enjoy the fruits of Sand-Reckoner’s labor along with four locally-sourced courses crafted by Chef Brian!

What makes the Sonoran Region an idle location for growing grapes?
There are many factors that make South Eastern AZ an ideal place for growing grapes – most important is the elevation. At 4,300 ft in the Willcox AVA, we are around 2,000 ft higher than Tucson or Phoenix and have a more moderate climate. The high temperatures in the summer typically stay below 100 degrees, and we have a 30-40 degree diurnal swing at night, ideal for growing grapes. We even get snow in the winter! Our sandy loam soils are also ideal – they drain well after the monsoons, encouraging deep root growth and discourage phylloxera.

What challenges are you faced with growing grapes in Arizona?
Rain and frost. In the spring, the vines bud out before the last frost date (May 1), so all of April is a nail biter. Our estate vineyard is on a slight gradual slope westward into the Sulphur Springs Valley, so the cold tends to flow downward and not stagnate at the vines, and we have escaped any major frost damage so far. The summer monsoons are also a challenge, as we get most of our annual rainfall at the end of grape ripening. We spend most of June making sure the canopy is open and airy to discourage any moisture/humidity near the grapes.

How much does your wine reflect the hand of the vintner or the land that grapes were grown?
Any action taken in the cellar will influence the wine – we strive to let the grapes speak for themselves and only give help when needed. The reason we decided to start a winery in Willcox is the grapes from southeastern AZ have a distinct character, or terroir. Teasing that out is endlessly fascinating.

What do you consider to be your signature wine and why?
Probably our Malvasia Bianca – it’s a beautiful grape and grows well in AZ. We love to make it.

If you could have a vineyard anywhere in the world, where would it be?
There are sites around the Sulphur Springs Valley we’d love to experiment with. A foggy Pinot Noir vineyard tucked away among the redwoods in Mendocino wouldn’t be bad either. Or a vineyard with a seaside view in Cassis.