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Arizona wine tourism growth is ‘eye-opening’ but not ‘entirely surprising’

Workers harvest grapes at Bonita Springs Vineyard in northeastern Arizona.
Arizona Office of Tourism
An T. Pham
Workers harvest grapes at Bonita Springs Vineyard in northeastern Arizona.

A new report finds visitor spending and jobs related to the state’s wine industry has grown 500% percent since 2011.

The study, conducted for the Arizona Office of Tourism by the Economic Policy Institute at Northern Arizona University, included surveys with nearly 1,700 people who either attended an Arizona wine festival or visited in-state wineries and tasting rooms.

In 2011, Arizona had 52 wine producers. Today, there are 156. Josh Coddington with the Tourism Office said they’re not just making wine and providing tours.

“Most great tasting rooms in Southern Arizona and in the Verde Valley, they have great food that you can get there to enjoy a flight of wine with. And then some of them have even added aspects like being able to stay overnight in an Airstream or in a specially designed geodesic dome or something like that,” he said.

Arizona has three federal registered grape growing regions: the Verde Valley, north of Phoenix and Wilcox and Sonoita in southern Arizona.

“All of these communities really depend on visitors coming to their towns,” said Coddington. “Most of the time, if you are planning a trip to go to a vineyard, or go to even a wine festival, you're likely to buy things on the way or stay the night or have dinner at a restaurant while you're there.”

The study said visitors spent the most in the Verde Valley ($109 per night) followed by Wilcox and Sonoita ($70 per night).

A visitor is considered someone who has traveled at least 50 miles from home and spends at least one night at the location.

Economic highlights between 2011 and 2023:

  • Wine Visitor Spending increased an astounding 677%, from over $31 million to over $241 million.
  • Economic Output increased 588%, from over $51 million to over $351 million.
  • Wine-related Employment increased 500% from 405 employed to 2,430.
  • Labor Income increased 539% from over $18 million to over $115 million in earnings.

Key findings

  • Length of Trip: Around 40% of all survey respondents take a day trip to wineries or festivals, while about 30% stay for two or three nights.
  • Wine Purchasing: Most wine tourists purchase wine. Over 70% of both winery visitors and festival attendees surveyed bought wine either during their visit or at the festival.
  • Location of Wine Purchasing: Wine festivals are gaining popularity as wine-purchasing venues. On average, people bought 2.25 bottles of wine per party at wine festivals and 1.89 bottles at wineries.
  • Wine Festivals + Tourism: Wine festivals are used by about 35% of respondents as an opportunity to visit other areas. Although the majority (65%) attend wine festivals as day trips, 20% extended the trip by one day; 12% extended it by 2 to 4 days, and 4% even extended it by 5 days or more.
  • Wine Experience Awareness: For wineries, word of mouth accounts for the largest percentage (36%) of visitor awareness while for festivals, social media accounts for the largest percentage (34%).
  • Wine Region Spending: Among the three main wine-producing regions (AVAs) in Arizona, visitors spend the most in the Verde Valley ($109 per night), followed by approximately $70 per night in the other two, Willcox and Sonoita.
  • Age: Wine festivals are slightly more popular with those over 55 (approx 60% of wine festival attendees are 55+) while winery visitors are nearly evenly distributed among ages 25 to over 65.
  • Income: Wine tourism is a higher-value tourism activity, with 91% of all survey respondents (both festival attendees and winery visitors) identifying as middle-income and upper-income.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.