Mohave County winery turns to locally grown grapes
VALLE VISTA - The wine was flowing by the gallon Tuesday at the Stetson Winery.
No, the occasion wasn't a party. Owner Don Stetson and Rand Terwilleger were filtering and pouring wine into casks, and for the first time since he opened, Stetson has wine made from grapes grown exclusively in the Kingman area.
Terwilleger, who recently retired from the Kingman Daily Miner, grows zinfandel red grapes on his property in Valle Vista.
"This is our test plant," said Terwilleger. "This is the 11th year we've harvested off of those."
Terwilleger was introduced to raising grapes in college. A fraternity brother invited him to spend a summer working at a family vineyard in Lodi, Calif.
"That got me hooked on raising grapes," he said. "And I had a dream to get back in for 30 years. Now I have the opportunity."
Stetson, on the other hand, came to the winemaking business almost by accident.
He and his wife bought a home in Valle Vista and his wife wanted something green growing on their five acres.
Stetson planted grapes.
"They went crazy," he said. "Me and a buddy were sitting on my back patio drinking adult beverages when an idea was born."
His experience with winemaking, he said, was limited to drinking it.
"Fortunately, I've got a great vintner. Eric Glomski makes our wine." Glomski, the vintner at Page Springs Cellars in Cottonwood, uses a blend of Arizona- and California-grown grapes to make Stetson's chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and zinfandel wines.
Stetson has about 15 acres planted. but they won't be harvestable for three more years.
But that doesn't mean the winery will be as dormant as the grapevines surrounding the business.
This weekend from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Stetson Winery is having a slightly belated Valentine's Day weekend.
Father's Day plans call for a "wannabe Jimmy Buffet beach party," he said, and grape stomps, live music and other events, like weddings, will also take place before the first harvest.
"As grapes mature, we'll do the dirty work outside," Stetson said. "The aging and actual winemaking will be inside."
He is optimistic grapes grown in northwestern Arizona will make a fine wine.
"It's the soil," he said. "We had it tested and it came back as good (as the soil) in Temecula, Calif."
Terwilleger agrees. The two men have entered into a partnership that could turn Mohave County into a fairly vibrant grape-growing region.
To help realize their vision, Terwilleger and Stetson formed Kingman Grape Growers, LLC, a consulting firm that will teach people how to plant and raise grapes.
"My part is doing farm management," said Terwilleger. "I'll do everything."
Terwilleger said there are three things a budding grape farmer needs to succeed: acreage, water and a good fence.
An investment of about $11,000 will be required the first year. That figure drops to about $3,500 in year two and back up to about $4,500 every year thereafter.
"Your first crop will be after the third year," he said.
So what variety of grape grows best in the high desert?
Turns out, they all grow about the same way, said Terwilleger.
"What you want to look at is how they sell," he said. "Malbec grapes are really taking off. They're from Argentina.
"You need a red. The returns are a lot better on reds like a cabernet or merlot. The returns are not real high on white wines, but we'll teach you how to grow everything."
Stetson plans to plant malbec grapes this spring.
Stetson is philosophical about his transition from retiree to winery owner at this stage of his life.
"If my wife and I are able to pay the bills, make a little money, meet some wonderful people and drink some great wine, that's a pretty good finish."