Salt Mine Wine is now a Certified Sustainable Business at the Conservationist/Bronze level

salt-mine-wine-logoHow do you start a sustainable winery from scratch? Kevin and Chip Norton are learning the answer with Salt Mine Wine in Camp Verde. In 2013, the Norton family chose an historic farm site to create their vineyard and winery. Today Kevin grows the grapes and makes the wine, and Chip runs the business and planning. Their wives, Leann and Kathy, manage the tasting room and help with harvest.

The Nortons worked with Michael Pierce, Director of Viticulture and Enology at Yavapai College, on a plan to establish and grow Salt Mine Wine over time. To get started quickly, they produced the first wine in 2015 using grapes from the Southwest Wine Center and vineyards in Southern Arizona. In parallel they began planting vines in Camp Verde in 2014, and harvested their first estate grapes in 2018. Over the next several years, they will rely more on their vineyard until it supplies most of the grapes for Salt Mine Wine, “although I see us always sourcing some grapes from other vineyards in the Verde Valley,” says Chip.

In the vineyard, Kevin aims for the least intervention possible. He practices no-till viticulture, which is far less disruptive to the soil than plowing. It avoids releasing extra carbon into the atmosphere, and retains moisture in the soil. Weeds are cut back when needed, but otherwise left alone. “Weeds in themselves are not a problem – it’s only a visual aesthetic. We just live with them,” says Kevin. In the future he will use cover crops rather than commercial fertilizer to supply nitrogen to the soil.

For the winery itself they buy used barrels, which saves resources. Barrels are cleaned with steam, and fermentation tanks are cleaned and sanitized with food-grade products. Leftover skins and seeds from the winemaking process become mulch for the vineyard. Retired barrels are used on property or donated to make furniture.

Salt Mine Wine plans to stay small and local, selling only from the winery tasting room or within the Verde Valley. The tasting room atmosphere is informal, and you can often hang out and chat with Chip and Kevin.

“What makes us different is not just wine,” says Chip. “We are always promoting sustainable agriculture and agri-tourism in Camp Verde, including the Farmers’ Market, aquaponics, fresh eggs, local sweet corn, pecans, and produce stands. This is a place-based story. Our winery gives us the opportunity to be a venue for the community and host cool gatherings.”

Over time Chip and Kevin will evaluate other sustainable practices such as solar power, thinner wine bottles, and tap wine in the tasting room. They have exciting plans for the future – stay tuned!

Darcy Hitchcock, Sustainability Alliance, 928-554-5171