Originally Published: May 8, 2012 12:01 a.m.
As Yavapai College viticulture and enology student Jason Crut knelt in the dirt Saturday, he pointed out an area to other volunteers that needed planting at the school's Plant-a-Vine event in Clarkdale.
Meanwhile, Verde Valley winemaker and musician Maynard Keenan, mayors from Jerome, Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Camp Verde and their staff, Boy and Girl Scouts, employees of Salt River Project and Arizona Vines & Wines Magazine, community members, and foundation donors made quick work of adding an additional three acres of a variety of wine grapevines to the one acre of vineyard planted in 2010 at the Southwest Wine Center.
"We had 150 people committed to come plant on Saturday, and we had over 200 people show up to help," said Tom Schumacher, dean of Yavapai College's Verde Valley campus. "We had parents bring their children to take part in the planting so their kids could see how the vines grow during their lifetimes. Those vines will be growing 30 years from now."
During the recognition ceremony, Schumacher said the Yavapai College Foundation's donation of the 28-acre parcel of land would allow the vineyard to grow over time, Yavapai College President Dr. Penny Wills spoke about the grape-growing and winemaking programs, and financial donors to the Southwest Wine Center Elaine Morrison and Julie Walker expressed their support for the working vineyard and school. The day before the ceremony, Apache Crown Dancers performed at the Southwest Wine Center.
"This is a program designed to complement what's going on in the Verde Valley winemaking community, providing an educated workforce for local businesses," Schumacher said.
Of the $38 million that a Northern Arizona University study stated wineries across the state contributed to the state economy in tourism revenue, $30.1 million comes from wineries in the Verde Valley, said Tom Pitts of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium.
"Wineries are growing at a phenomenal rate in this area, and are becoming a destination for tourists," Pitts said. "Wineries paid an estimated $6 million in state and local taxes, all new money in a down economy."
When the consortium started working with the college, they both wanted to make sure students learned technical skills to grow the grapes, manage a vineyard, as well as the chemistry and other important skills associated with making wines and running a winery, Pitts said. He added that they also are working to create a data repository for best practices in growing wine grapes to share with winegrowers throughout the Southwest region.
In 2009, the program provided students with certificates in viticulture, but in the fall it will be an Associates of Applied Science Degree in viticulture and enology, said Jerome Mayor Nikki Check, who is the Yavapai College director of viticulture and enology.
"We have 20 students in the classes now," Check said, noting many have internships and are finding careers with local wineries.
In the four years since the first commercial winery in the region began operating, 17 vineyards, 13 wineries, and 10 tasting rooms have developed in the Verde Valley, and those wineries created 124 jobs, and contributed an estimated $25 million to the local economy, Pitts said.
"When a young lady and her mother came into my restaurant in Jerome all excited about wine making and told me she's relocated from California to take part in the Yavapai College program, I thought OK, score," Pitts said.