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Geography And Strong Wines
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How The Bottles Are 855.SOL.STAY Being Sealed CASINODELSOLRESORT.COM TUCSON, ARIZONA
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Geography and Strong Wines
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Story by Mark Beres Photos and Graphics Courtesy of Flying Leap Vineyards
rizonaâ€™s farm wineries are blessed with being situated at just above 32 degrees north latitude on the globe. Our geographical location gives Arizona
grape farmers long growing seasons, full sun and bountiful fruit yields of grapes high in sugar and, in the case of red grapes, deeply colored skins. These grapes produce many exceptional wines of relatively high alcohol content and impressive body, color depth and structure. Additionally, our long growing season spreads out our harvest activities considerably, which gives farm wineries here great latitude in harvest timing and helps with the logistics of bringing in the fruit and processing the harvest into wine at the winery.
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Arizona Viticulture and Geography
The vast majority of the world’s wine-producing regions are found between the temperate latitudes of 30 degrees and 50 degrees in each hemisphere, as shown below. Within these global zones, the annual mean temperatures are between 50 degrees and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Arizona’s vineyards are planted at the southern extreme of this band, which means two specific things in terms of microclimate: (1) Arizona vineyards enjoy a long growing season, compared to vineyards planted at the other extreme of the latitude band (such as Chablis, which is located at 47 degrees north latitude); and (2) Arizona vineyards produce fruit that is fully ripe at sugar levels sufficient to produce strong wines (greater than 14 percent without chaptalization — in winemaking, the correction or improvement of grape must by the addition of sugar to increase alcohol strength).
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comparisonofofWillcox Willcoxand andChablis Chablisviticultural viticulturalenvironments. environments. AAcomparison
At 32 degrees north latitude, Willcox, Ariz. lies at the southern extreme of the northern hemisphere viticultural zone. At 47 degrees north latitude, Chablis lies at its northern extreme. Grape viticulture generally is possible between 30 and 50 degrees latitude, and mean temperatures decrease the further a region lies from the equator. The bulk of Arizona’s wine grapes (76 percent) are grown in the state’s southeastern region near the town of Willcox, a small rural community most known for its territorial past as a whistlestop on the Southern Pacific Railroad line, and for many colorful western personalities including Warren Earp and country music stars Rex Allen and Tanya Tucker. Willcox is home to most of Arizona’s largest commercial grape vineyards, including Flying Leap’s Blocks 1 and 2, which are located in a rural, unincorporated area approximately 15 miles south of Willcox and referred to locally as “the Kansas Settlement,” or “the KS.” In general, grapevines thrive in temperate climates that grant the vines long, warm periods during the crucial flowering, fruit set and ripening periods. The physiological processes of a lot of grapevines begin when temperatures reach around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Below this temperature, the vines usually remain in a period of dormancy. The graphic above is useful for understanding the unique character of authentic Arizona wine (i.e., wine produced from
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grapes grown in Arizona), by drawing a comparison with the viticultural aspects of Chablis, which lies at the opposite extreme of the northern hemisphere’s wine-grape growing zone. There are three key things to note: First, Arizona’s growing season is 82 percent longer than Chablis (285 days versus 157 days). Grapevines in the Kansas Settlement bud out as early as late February or early March, but bud break in Chablis doesn’t happen until early May. Additionally, Arizona’s vineyards contain actively growing vines until as late as December in some years, whereas the vineyards in Chablis are dormant long before this (by the end of October). In Willcox, active vine growth occurs for nearly 80 percent of the year, whereas in Chablis, the growing season encompasses just 43 percent of the year. Interestingly, the lengthy growing season in Willcox results in extremely ripe fruit (and thus high sugar levels with low acidity), whereas in Chablis their short season results in often underripe fruit with low sugar levels and high acidity, requiring winemakers to add sugar to raise alcohol to sufficient levels. Accordingly, Willcox and Chablis wines are opposite in character. The second key difference to note is that Willcox’s harvest season is a whopping 500 percent longer than Chablis (120 days versus 20 days). At Flying Leap, we began harvesting in early August last year (2014), and our final harvest (Cabernet Sauvignon) took place on December 2. In contrast, the harvest in Chablis takes place at the end of September each year, and it lasts merely three weeks, with all activities complete in their fields by mid-October. The long harvest season in Willcox is a function of our geographic location. This extended harvest season is particularly helpful in terms of logistics in the winery. Fruit can be brought in over many months, which eases the physical space constraints in the winery itself and allows Arizona wineries to spread out a
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winter dormancy period requires Arizona grape farmers to complete their winter cane pruning in quick time. At Flying Leap’s vineyards, for example, we begin pruning in December, shortly after the leaves fall to the ground. Pruning is laborious and expensive, and its cost is exacerbated by the shortened pruning season each year. Arizona’s geographic location at the southern extreme of grape viticutlure in the northern hemisphere gives the state’s vineyards an extraordinarily long growing season, which allows Arizona-grown fruit to fully ripen, producing strong wines with deep color and concentrated, bold fruit flavor plus a rich mouthfeel. Truly, Arizona’s vineyards produce excellent fruit yields with optimum ripeness, color and flavor. This makes for very strong wines (more than 14 percent alcohol). The long growing period results in a drawn-out harvest season, which eases logistics at the crush pads of the state’s small farm wineries. However, the lengthy growing period results in a short period of winter dormancy, which forces Arizona’s grape farmers to prune with skill and great efficiency to prepare for the early spring in our desert each year.
harvest’s production cost over many months, thus easing seasonal cash flow constraints. Arizona winery tasting rooms see large seasonal slumps in sales during the hot summer months, which put a harsh pinch on cash flow at the very time when it is most important: during the harvest. Ultimately, this extended harvest season allows Arizona winemakers to process fruit in a smaller space as compared to the winemakers in Chablis, who have to process all of their harvest into wine in a comparatively and significantly shorter time period. Lastly, however, this long Arizona growing season has a liability in that the winter dormancy period is much shorter than it is in other growing regions. This has the opposite effect of the extended harvest season. That is, a constricted
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