Southwest Wine Center is now a Certified Sustainable Business at the Innovator/Silver level
The Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College (Clarkdale campus) exemplifies the integration of social, economic, and environmental practices at the heart of sustainability. It is a central part of the Viticulture and Enology program at Yavapai College, created to support and grow the burgeoning wine industry in Arizona.
Arizona wine tourism creates an annual $56.2 million in total economic output, according to the state Office of Tourism. “There’s a lot of economic development happening in rural Arizona as a product of the wine program, not just in the wine industry but in tourism, restaurants and hotels,” said Michael Pierce, program director of the Viticulture and Enology Program at the college.
Students in the program graduate ready to work in or start a successful winery or vineyard. They learn by actively working in the vineyard, winery, and tasting room in addition to completing coursework – a fully immersive experience. Many students work in the wine industry while taking classes, and more than a dozen graduates have started vineyards or wineries of their own.
Sustainability is literally built into the foundation of the Southwest Wine Center. The building itself is a former racquetball complex. Through a process of “adaptive reuse,” the four courts were converted into a full production winery and learning lab. One of the courts is the tasting room, another is used for production, and the other two spaces hold the wine as it ages. The building’s thick walls add thermal mass and keep the rooms at appropriate temperatures. An oversized roof shades the building walls and windows, and captures rainwater for landscaping. In total the building uses only half the energy of a similar sized Arizona home.
The tasting room uses smart-building technology so it can be precisely controlled from YC’s main campus in Prescott. Clerestory windows let in natural light and minimize the use of artificial light, while floor-level louvers in the wine production area draw cool nighttime air without fans.
Out in the vineyard, the team is experimenting with organic and biodynamic practices like using cover crops to aid in soil moisture retention. They let coyotes and owls contain rodents and leave pruned grapes on the ground to feed wildlife and nourish the soil.
Grapes destined for wine grow best with a bit of stress, so the vines require very little water compared with other crops and make this a very climate-appropriate agricultural choice. Sensors determine precisely where and when irrigation is needed. All of the irrigation comes from reclaimed water delivered through pipes installed in partnership with the City of Cottonwood.
Not surprisingly, the Southwest Wine Center is a major player in the Arizona wine industry. Viticulture & Enology Program Director Michael Pierce is Vice President and Northern Arizona Representative as well as Legislative Committee Chair for the Arizona Winegrowers Association (AWGA). He also serves on the Board of Yavapai County Farm Bureau.
Southwest Wine Center is part of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium and Verde Valley Wine Trail. They sponsor Grand Crew, a very active Viticulture & Enology organization for students and alumni of Yavapai College and other wine industry supporters. Volunteers from Grand Crew organize the annual Emerging Winemakers Competition & Symposium at the college, and many helped pick grapes for this year’s harvest.
“But how’s the wine?” you may wonder. They’ve won awards every year since 2015 and recently received Best in Show for their 2018 Viognier at the 2019 AWGA & AZ Central Grand Wine Festival and Competition. The list of awards is on the tasting room web page. Learn more. See who else is certified.
Darcy Hitchcock, Sustainability Alliance,