KINGMAN - Don Stetson has visions of acres and acres of green vines covered with wine grapes blanketing the Kingman area.
"I think we could really have something here," the newly minted vintner said.
Stetson built Stetson Winery near Valle Vista and started growing wine grapes in 2011.
"My friends Carlos (Cella) and Rand (Terwilleger) got me interested in the business," he said.
Cella and Terwilleger moved to Valle Vista several years ago from California.
Cella's parents are originally from Italy and his father taught him how to make wine when he was a child. When he bought his property in Valle Vista, he decided to plant his own vines.
Terwilleger did the same with his property. He was introduced to growing grapes when a college fraternity brother invited him to spend a summer working at his family vineyard in Lodi, Calif.
One night when the three friends were sitting out on Stetson's back patio, the topic of wine came up. The three had just finished helping Cella with his vines and Stetson was hooked. He planted five acres of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and Zinfandel vines behind his house as a test plot to see which grapes would grow best in the sandy, desert soil. Stetson has also planted three acres of grapes around his event center and is taking care of seven acres of grapes for the Lingenfelter family.
"It's just a perfect location, the climate is just right and Kingman has some of the best soil around. Carlos had it tested and it rivals the soil in Temecula (Calif.)," Stetson said. "I wanted to know what would grow best here and focus on those types of wine. Every wine is a bit different. We went over the different wines four or five times with the vintner. We wanted something that would go over well out here."
But it'll be a while before customers will be able taste the fruits of Stetson's hard work. It takes about three years for vines to mature to the point to that they can produce a good quality wine.
"We've had six or seven runnings (of grapes) since we opened, but we really won't know what the character of the wines will be like until the vines are mature," he said.
In the meantime, Stetson is using grape juice from other Arizona vineyards to produce his "Cultured Cowboy" Chardonnay, "Root 66" red blend, "Lovely Red Lady" Merlot and "Hop in the Cab Darlin'" Cabernet Sauvignon. Local residents can pick up a bottle at the Cellar Door on Beale Street in historic downtown Kingman or try a glass at Dambar & Steakhouse or at Murphy's in Prescott.
Stetson also hopes to introduce two new wines in the next few months, but he's not saying what types they will be.
"They're good wines, but I'm not ready to name them just yet," he said with a smile.
The juice for Stetson's wines is picked and mixed by Eric Glomski, a vintner from Page Springs Cellars in Cottonwood. Glomski's wines were recently chosen as the official wines of the Arizona Centennial celebration.
While the vines were taking root in May 2012, Stetson broke ground on a 6.500 square-foot tasting room and event center large enough to host the eager customers that were already lining up for a taste.
"Nearly everything you see here is locally sourced," said Jo Stetson, Don's wife. "We wanted to engage as much local labor and materials as we could."
The 40-foot long, U-shaped bar was built by one local contractor, a local artist designed and built the rolling wine barrel tables near the front entrance. Even the Air Light panels used to build the walls of the tasting room are locally made. They come from Wanessa Sue, Inc. at the Kingman Airport and Industrial Park.
The panels are constructed out of a lightweight recycled material and have an incredibily high energy efficiency rating.
The Stetsons have hosted a number of parties, weddings and special events since they opened their doors.
"The weddings out here have been just beautiful," Jo said. "We've met some really wonderful people."
The event center can hold about 200 people and the veranda, patio and pavilion outside can easily hold another 150 people. It also has a catering kitchen that can keep hot food hot and cold foods cold. The Stetsons have started offering small plates of meats and cheeses and flatbread pizzas to pair with their wines.
Brides can get also ready for their big day in a special room set aside just for them while sipping a glass of wine to calm those last minute jitters.
"We've been very satisfied with the results," Jo said. "After we opened in November, we had people return the next weekend and buy cases of wine to take home to their families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We've had people from California take cases of wine back with them. They like it that much."
"I feel we've really been blessed," Don said. "Arizona is really starting to come into its own on wines. I think we will see more wineries out here. I would like to see more wineries out here. I think it would be great boon to the area. I've never been to a wine region where the economy has been in a slump."
The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday and by appointment during the rest of the week. It is located at 10965 Moonscape Way, but its best to call for directions, since most GPS devices have a hard time finding it.
For more information on Stetson winery, call (928) 757-7206 or visit www.stetsonwinery.com.
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