Before 2006, there were only 12 wineries in Arizona.
This year, there are more than 125, and a portion of them will showcase their goods at the seventh annual Off the Vine Festival at Steam Pump Ranch in Oro Valley on Saturday, February 15.
“We were looking for wineries to showcase in different parts of the state,” says Paula Woolsey, event organizer for the 85085-based Arizona Wine Growers Association. “Off the Vine was an attempt to share the wealth and bring in people from all around the state.”
This one-day event offers 27 of Arizona’s best wines, giving attendees an opportunity to interact with the participating winemakers. Tickets start at $25; nondrinkers and kids are invited at no cost. Off the Vine also offers live music by the Pete Swan Trio, food trucks and artists.
“Off the Vine has quickly become one of our biggest events of the year, and after seeing record-breaking attendance in 2019 we’re expecting an even bigger crowd for 2020,” says Kris Pothier, president of the AWGA and owner of Chateau Tumbleweed. “Steam Pump Ranch and the surrounding mountains provide such a beautiful setting for wine lovers to experience wines from across the state and even meet the winemakers themselves, who are often in attendance.”
Among the wineries will be Carlson Creek Vineyard, Burning Tree Cellars, Golden Rule Vineyards and Laramita Cellars.
“We encourage people to buy wine and take it home with you to support the local wine industry and use the wine throughout the year,” Woolsey says.
The 1800s historic ranch provides a rural setting in Oro Valley and showcases a Southern farmers market selling goods during the event. The well-staffed ranch allows participants to not be stuck in long lines as they go through the festival.
Robert Carlson III, owner of Carlson Creek Vineyard, has been a part of the wine-growers association since its founding. Eleven years ago, Carlson and his brother, John, cleared out and planted the first vines in the initial 6 acres of land they bought in Willcox. Now with 280 acres, the Carlson family offers a wide array of grapes made into wines, from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc to malbec and grenache.
“When we came to Willcox we noticed it was smack dab in the middle of agriculture,” Carlson says. “We’re surrounded by pistachios, pecans, corn and cattle. There’s so much agriculture out here.”
The Carlson family chose Willcox because of its weather and the elevation, as it sits on Willcox Bench.
“We’re at 4,200-feet elevation,” Carlson says. “Weather conditions are warm days and cool nights, similar to what you would find in Argentina, Chile and the south of France, which produce thicker skins, deeper colors and more flavor on the grapes.”
Some of their best-selling wines include Sweet Adeline, a moscato named after their grandmother, and Rule of 3, a blend of three wines named after the three Carlson siblings.
“I think the major thing setting us apart is we focus on the vineyard first and foremost,” Carlson says.
Burning Tree Cellars in Cottonwood is participating in Off the Vine Festival as well. Mitch Levy, its co-owner, wanted to start in the wine industry in the ’70s, but his career took him down a different path.
After retiring from a career in finance, Levy met his business partner, Corey Turnbull, and they started the company in 2007. They became AWGA members in 2009, when they opened their tasting room. Levy graduated from the Yavapai College Southwest Wine Center.
“I never wanted to be in the vineyard. It was never my bag,” Levy says. “I never wanted to be a farmer, but I have actually fallen in love with it. It’s a great program.”
“Burning Tree” was named as such because as vines burn they become dormant and through the circle of life they are reborn and provide grapes once more. Burning Tree Cellars makes reds, whites and a few rosés, each of which has a unique label.
“We are known for our labels,” Levy says. “I believe we are the first winery or one of the first (in Arizona) to use nontraditional labels. All of the labels have a story of why we called them what we did.”
For example, “Trademarked” was originally called “Matriarch,” but a cease-and-desist order forced the name change. A California winery was using the same name.
“It’s a picture of an elephant and it’s our homage to women because more women drink chard than guys,” Levy says.
Levy is the activities director for the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, which has allowed him to help fellow winegrowers for the past eight years.
“In the wine business, I could pick up the phone and ask for help and I know people would help us,” Levy says. “It’s a big family. It’s a wine family.”
Off the Vine
Historic Steam Pump Ranch, 10901 N. Oracle Road, Oro Valley, eventbrite.com, azwinegrowersassociation.com, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, February 15, $25 in advance, $30 at the door.