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Grab Your Glasses, New Law Opens Door For Growth Of Arizona Wine Industry

Wilcox Wine Country 2016 Spring Festival
(Courtesy of Rod Keeling, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards)
The Wilcox Wine Country 2016 Spring Festival in downtown Wilcox, where a lot of Arizona wine is grown.

Ten years ago, Arizona’s wine industry consisted of about ten vineyards scattered across the state. Today, there are about 100 of them.

And part of that growth is due to the improvement of our state’s wine law, according to Rod Keeling, president of the Arizona Wine Growers’ Association.

“It’s taken a long time to open up these arcane 1930’s laws that have made it difficult to have alcoholic beverages distributed throughout the state,” he said.

What Keeling would call another arcane wine law went by the wayside last week, when Senate Bill 1381 went into effect. And, Keeling thinks, it’s set to change things for wine growers in Arizona.  Before this law passed, if an Arizona vineyard produced more than 20,000 gallons of wine a year, the state would let them to sell wine and ship it to consumers when it’s ordered online, according to Keeling.

But, only under that condition. “As long as we stayed under the 20,000 gallons,” he said. “Well, if we go over 20,000 gallons, then we lose the direct to consumer. You know, we would only be able to have a tasting room and be able to produce wine.”

The Arizona wine industry has come a long way in just a decade, but Keeling said, back in the mid-2000s, when they worked on changing wine legislation, he said, everyone fought them.

“At these conferences, it would be our attorney, myself and on the other side would be 23 guys all making $250 an hour,” he said.

But, this time around, he said they actually worked with some of the biggest players in the U.S. wine industry, like the Wine Institute of California, to pass this legislation.

And, before it, he said seven or eight Arizona vineyards, including his, had been pushing up against the 20,000 gallon limit for the last two or three years.

“We’ve actually got one group that has 3 separate licenses so they can stay under the capacity limit,” he said.

The biggest effect that the new law will have on vineyards here, he said, is that it will allow them expand and continue to directly ship their wine to members of their wine clubs, which he said are a big part of their businesses.

With the new law in place, Keeling said he sees only growth for the Arizona wine industry.

“We have some very high quality locations to grow wine, particularly in the high altitude basins, like the Wilcox basin,” he said.

Wine is also a high-profit, low-water crop that’s boosting tourism, according to Keeling.

“For every acre of traditional agriculture that’s replaced by a vineyard, we save about 80 percent of the water used on that acre,” he said. “That has a huge impact on the local, rural economy.”

The better the wine law is in Arizona, and the more local vineyards can grow, “these things are all good for the state,” he said.

News The Show
Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.