Aside from making great tasting Arizona wine and providing a fun place to spend your time in the Verde Valley, several local wineries are taking steps toward a more sustainable future. As Sedona and the Verde Valley continue the momentum toward sustainable tourism, local businesses like these wineries have become certified with the Sustainability Alliance.
The Sustainability Alliance is a group of local Verde Valley non-profits that are leading and guiding other local businesses to a more sustainable future. Their Sustainable Business Certification Program recognizes businesses that work toward making the planet, people, and prosperity better by doing more for the environment, their employees, and the community.
From installing solar panels to reclaimed water irrigation and using animals to keep grape eating predators at bay, here are some of the ways these certified wineries are putting sustainability into practice.
Clear Creek Vineyard and Winery
From the beginning, sustainability was important to Clear Creek Vineyard and Winery’s owner, Ignacio Mesa. In order to have a sustainable way of watering his vines, Ignacio built a 12 ft deep irrigation pond that that is filled with water from West Clear Creek. 70% of the vineyards are irrigated with gravity fed water from this pond without the use of electricity. Over the years, fish found their way in from the creek and migratory birds from the Midwest and Canada have made this pond their home in winter. It’s become a balanced eco system resulting in nitrogen rich water that is then used to irrigate the vineyards, which eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and can reduce the carbon footprint of the winery.
In the vineyards he practices deep irrigation watering. The vines’ roots extend ten feet into the soil and can better handle drought. This also saves on water since drip irrigation waters plants close to the surface and can result in more evaporation than deep irrigation. He also plants high nitrogen cover crops such as vetch and clover in between the vines and mows in spring to create compost which puts the nitrogen back into the soil. He complements this with organic fertilizers made from chicken manure and decomposing skins and seeds from the grapes themselves and spreads the mulch between the rows of vines.
Animals are also a big part of vineyard life at Clear Creek. Ignacio has a flock of chickens and geese that eat the weeds and bugs in the vineyards. The vines are trained to grow tall enough that the birds can’t reach the grapes, but he also clips their wings and prefers larger birds that won’t jump and eat them for a snack. There was also a problem of gophers eating the roots of his vines, but what began as good hunting for a few feral cats quickly grew as the neighborhood felines joined in the chase. Now, he says with a laugh, a social club of cats keep gophers and other rodents away from the vines. With all the fish, geese, chickens, and cats roaming the vineyards, you might think coyotes would be drawn to the property, but Ignacio’s two friendly Great Pyrenees dogs keep away large predators, so his animals are left in peace.
The remodeled pole barn which is now the winery and tasting room continues the theme of sustainability. Recycled wood beams have been used to build the walls, and solar glass is used in the tasting room to heat the place during the winter. It’s so effective that they also pump the heat produced by the solar windows into the fermentation room for use in secondary (malolactic) fermentation on their wines.
Page Springs Cellars
Page Springs Cellars is one of the most established wineries in the area and has focused on sustainable practices such as solar energy and water conservation for years. According to Brand Manager, Luke Bernard, Page Springs was one of the first wineries in the southwest to be substantially solar powered on this scale. The solar panels on top of the covered parking of their Cornville tasting room have been providing 75-85% of their energy production through a live feed energy. Early 2020 saw construction of additional solar panels on the roof of their tasting room, which will bring them to 100% solar powered at their winery and production facility. Additionally, their offsite vineyard in the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona became 100% solar powered in 2019.
Another major focus in sustainability for Page Springs Cellars are their water practices. They have a fully functioning onsite gray and black water reclamation system that treats their waste water through a multi-tiered digestive system. This system uses artificial wetlands and native plants that act as bio filters to create effluent water that is pumped into a leech field and slowly sinks back into the water table.
They were also one of the first businesses to be involved with the Verde River Exchange Program, where companies become part of the water offset program. By using this exchange, companies can purchase credits to offset the impact of their water usage. These credits are created when existing users voluntarily reduce their water use. You can learn more about this program at VerdeRiver.org/verde-river-exchange/. With these practices in place, Page Springs Cellars is at net zero water use.
Page Springs continues their push for sustainability by reducing their carbon footprint. Instead of tilling the vineyards for weed prevention, which releases carbon, they practice no till farming and use native grasses as a natural cover crop that they mow and let decompose in the vineyards. They are also in the process of converting their packaging into more eco-friendly options such as biodegradable sugarcane product corks for their wine bottles. Additionally, they are currently testing ways to convert more of their wine packaging to materials that are both already made from recycled materials and are recyclable by the consumer.
Salt Mine Wine
Salt Mine Wine’s approach is to keep things low key and make great wine. This relatively new winery in Camp Verde is located on a historic farming site and nestled among pecan orchards and pick your own produce stands. The historic irrigation ditch that brought water to Fort Verde and the surrounding areas is still in use, and just around the corner is the prehistoric salt mine, which the winery is named after. The vineyards (first planted in 2014) are surrounded by the agricultural community of Camp Verde, and Salt Mine Wine’s plant-based approach to their vineyards can be seen in the surrounding riparian area.
Salt Mine Wine doesn’t spray herbicides or pesticides in their vineyards in order to protect pollinators like the bees and butterflies in the area. As the vineyards mature they’re looking to add more plants such as milkweed to encourage butterflies and other pollinating insects to make the vineyards their home. The pumice (the used skins, stems, and seeds from making wine) isn’t taken to a landfill, and the winery is looking into more sustainable ways to reuse all the glass bottles and waste from winemaking.
While their vineyards are only a few years old, brothers Chip and Kevin Norton are actively working on collective collaborations with other local vintners, and Chip is involved in conservation work around the Verde Valley. They worked with Michael Pierce from Yavapai College to start their vineyards, and still buy grapes from the Southwest Wine Center. While they had their first full harvest of estate grapes in 2019, Chip says they plan to continue to buy grapes from other local growers in the area to support others in the wine industry. The brothers are excited about the future of sustainability as they move forward as thought partners with other vineyards and businesses in the area.
The Southwest Wine Center
Located on the Clarkdale campus of Yavapai College, the Southwest Wine Center is the learning lab, production facility, and tasting room for college’s Viticulture & Enology programs. Sustainability was woven into this project from the beginning. The production facility and tasting room were previously an unused racquetball court complex that was remodeled using LEED standards to minimize energy and water consumption. The building’s design allows for a large amount of natural light, which reduces energy usage and the large water cisterns next to the front entrance were built to catch rainwater.
Outside, their 13 acres of vineyards are irrigated on a drip system using reclaimed, Grade A+ effluent water through a collaboration with the City of Cottonwood, resulting in a net zero pull on groundwater resources. They are also experimenting with natural predators such as owls and coyotes to help keep crop destroying critters away from the grapes.
In 2019 the Southwest Wine Center won the Award of Distinction at the Arizona Forward 39th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards Gala and have won several awards for their student made wines in the past years. Alumni from the program are now working at many of the local wineries in the Verde Valley or have started their own businesses, adding their experience and enthusiasm to the Valley’s growing wine and agritourism industries.