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9:56 AM Sat, Nov. 17th

Festival celebrates the role of pecans, wine in Arizona

The festival begins Friday Feb. 13, from noon to 6 p.m. It continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14, and10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday Feb. 15.

This gathering features a pecan bakeoff, fresh pecan pie, wine tasting, numerous antique booths, live jazz music, wool spinning and blacksmithing demonstrations, hayrides to a pecan farm, and exhibits on the culture of pecans and grapes.

Admission into the antique portion of the festival is $3, but $6 will be charged to participate in the pecan festival, wine tasting, and antique displays in their entirety.

Michelle Villa, the Fort Verde State Historic Park's assistant to the events coordinator, said they expect 20 to 40 entries for the bakeoff. It accepts any type of baked pecan recipe, including pies, cookies, and breads, which will be judged for taste. A $100 gift certificate from Bashas' will be go to the winner.

Sinful Delights, a Camp Verde bakery, will bake about 200 pecan pies from scratch for the festival using all-natural ingredients. Last year the bakery had made 300 pies and finished with only 20 leftovers. A slice of pie will cost $2.50 this year.

The festival also showcases a pecan contest, one in which dozens of Verde Valley growers haul in their pecans to have them reviewed. Master gardeners judge the nuts based on weight, look, size, appearance and flavor. Last year Villa said 20 to 30 growers entered the contest, but the 2004 number has yet to be determined.

Exhibits on the culture of pecans will highlight the history of the nut in the Camp Verde area. Villa said that 70 years ago a grower planted pecan trees by hand along a one-mile stretch of Montezuma Castle Highway, a famous spot known as Pecan Lane.

"The history of pecans has only come to light in the last five or six years," she said.

The event's wine tasting offers participants the chance to learn about a handful of Arizona wineries and locally made fine wines. Winery representatives from Sharron (Tucson), Village of Elgin (Tucson), Kokapelli, Fort Bowie (Bowie), and Oak Creek Winery (Page Springs) will showcase a number of vintages.

One wine that has stood out in the past is "Pecan Delight" of Fort Bowie Vineyards and Orchard Products, located south of Tucson. It is a sparkling wine that carries with it a tinge of pecan aftertaste.

"A lot of people like that a lot," Villa said. "It's a little on the sweeter side."

For a $6 fee, a visitor can purchase a wine glass and six tasting tickets to five vendor booths for the wine tasting.

"You can go to one or any number of vendors," Villa said.

Exhibits on the culture of grapes and informative seminars on the pruning and care of pecan trees and grapevines are additional festival highlights. Michael Kilby, a fruit and nut specialist from the University of Arizona, and Jeff Schalua of the Yavapai County Cooperative Extension will head the seminars.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com