Winemakers celebrate "growing business" after wildfire worries - Tucson News Now

Winemakers celebrate "growing business" after wildfire worries

Some said the Sawmill Fire kept customers away, but they're glad to still be in business (Source: Tucson News Now). Some said the Sawmill Fire kept customers away, but they're glad to still be in business (Source: Tucson News Now).
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A celebratory atmosphere was in order in Cochise County, and it was hard to be in a melancholy mood with a full glass of wine.

In fact, it was a festival filled with full glasses, and winemakers talking about a business that is growing.

"Over the last 10 years, it's exploded," said Robert Carlson of Carlson Creek Vineyard in Willcox. "We've gone from 17 wineries in [Arizona] to over 100 now."

The floral notes flooded the air at the Willcox Wine Country Spring Festival on Sunday, bringing together wineries from all over southern Arizona. Railroad Park was brimming with art and food, washed down with wine and few worries for Kief Manning.

"Our biggest problem is making enough wine to satisfy our growing customers," the winemaker at Kief-Joshua Vineyards said.

There was a positive outlook at the showcase event.

But the growing industry seen Sunday, with dozens of wineries and hundreds of people enjoying the flavors over the two-day festival, had a slight scare over the past couple months with wildfires bearing down on the vineyards.

"The biggest issue isn't so much the fire getting to the vineyard, because the firefighters are also fans of our vineyards and they want to protect our wine, but smoke taint. The smoke will come down and it will get on the grapes and it will do a layer of residual smokiness. That will ruin the wine for the year," Carlson explained.

His vineyard, south of Willcox, was safe from the flames of the 47,000-acre Sawmill Fire that burned north of Sonoita.

The Sawmill Fire was too close for Manning's comfort at his location in the Elgin area.

"The firefighters did a great job protecting all the property, life, and animals. But they closed down the highway for a week. There are not too many ways in and out of the valley. We're in a 5,000-foot high valley surrounded by five mountains," Manning said. "Unfortunately for the fire, it was really windy. But thankfully for the vineyards, it was really windy."

So while the smoke didn't settle over his vineyard and destroy the grapes, he said, it's the traffic problems that hurt the most. Due the closed roads, his business was cut by about 75 percent of business that week.

Manning is now able to pour each bottle, knowing what could've been, with confidence and hope.

"Fingers crossed, that come fall, the fruit tastes like fruit."

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