Cochise County expects economic boost with wine culture


TED SIMONS: WINE COUNTRY IS A LOT CLOSER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK. THE TOWN OF WILLCOX, FOR EXAMPLE, HAS BECOME A VITICULTURE HOT-BED WITH THE INCREASING POPULARITY OF TASTING ROOMS AT THE AREA'S INCREASING NUMBER OF WINERIES. HERE NOW WITH MORE ON ALL THIS IS COCHISE COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR ED GILLIGAN AND ROD KEELING, OF KEELING, SHAFER VINDEYARDS. IS GOOD TO HAVE YOU BOTH HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

TED SIMONS: FROM AN ADMINISTRATIVE STANDPOINT, WHAT IS GOING ON IN WILCOX?

ED GILLIGAN: WE ARE SEEING THE GROWTH OF AN INDUSTRY WITH SIGNIFICANT PRIVATE CAPITAL INVESTMENTS IN LAND FOR VINEYARDS, IN BUILDINGS TO SUPPORT TASTING ROOMS, WINERY, WINE PRODUCTION. IT'S LEADING TO INCREASED TOURISM AND THE REVITALIZATION OF THE DOWNTOWN DISTRICT AND OTHER COMMUNITY DOWNTOWN.

TED SIMONS: SO WILCOX HAS A DOWNTOWN DISTRICT, IS THERE A DOWNTOWN IN WILCOX?

ED GILLIGAN: WE ARE TRYING TO PUSH IT BACK ON TO THE MAP AND INTO EXISTENCE.

TED SIMONS: AND ROD, THE ECONOMIC OUTPUT, $56 MILLION, JOBS, 640, TAX REVENUE, $3.6 MILLION, THAT'S JUST IN THE COUNTY, CORRECT?

ROD KEELING: THAT'S STATEWIDE, BUT IT'S JUST THE TOURISM IMPACT. IT'S NOT THE PRODUCT OR INDUSTRY IMPACT.

TED SIMONS: LET'S SEE IF WE GOT THIS RIGHT? 75% OF THE STATE’S GRAPES ARE GROWN IN THE WILCOX AREA?

ROD KEELING: THAT’S CORRECT, WE CALL IT THE WILCOX BASIN, WHICH IS THE WATER BASIN WHICH STRETCHES INTO GRAHAM COUNTY.

TED SIMONS: ARE THERE CERTAIN HOT SPOTS IN THAT PART OF THE WORLD?

ROD KEELING: THERE IS A PLACE WE CALL THE WILCOX BENCH, WHICH IS AN AREA OF 11-MILES SOUTH OF WILCOX CITY.

TED SIMONS: WHAT KIND OF GRAPES GROW BEST IN THE AREA?

ROD KEELING: WE HAVEN'T FIGURED THAT OUT YET. THEY HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THAT FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS IN FRANCE AND OTHER PLACES WHERE THEY GROW A LOT OF GRAPES. WE ARE EXPERIENCING WITH A WIDE VARIETY. MOSTLY THE MEDITERRANEAN VARIETIES, SOUTH OF FRANCE, SPAIN, ITALIAN. THOSE VARIETIES ARE WHAT'S LEADING THE WAY.

TED SIMONS: I WAS READING ABOUT THOSE THAT ARE GOOD.

ROD KEELING: YES, WE GROW SIX VARIETIES ON OUR VINEYARD AND THEY’RE ALL GROWN RIGHT.

TED SIMONS: MERLOT, NOT SO MUCH?

ROD KEELING: YOU KNOW CAB GROWS PRETTY GOOD, IT’S NOT WORLD CLASS.

TED SIMONS: I WANT TO GET BACK TO YOU WITH WINE IN A SECOND. AS FAR AS THE INFRASTRUCTURE, THIS IS A LOT OF GROWTH AND A PART OF THE WORLD NOT USED TO THIS. HOW IS THE INFRASTRUCTURE GOING?

ED GILLIGAN: ROD MENTIONED THE WILCOX BENCH AREA. IT'S AN AREA ACCESSED PRIMARILY THROUGH DIRT ROADS, OFF OF PAVE AND CHIP SEALED ROADS IN KANSAS SETTLEMENTS. THOSE ROADS REALLY NEED IMPROVEMENT IN THEIR CONDITION. IN ORDER TO SUPPORT TOURISM IN THE AREA.

TED SIMONS: IS IT HAPPENING? ARE YOU GETTING COOPERATION?

ED GILLIGAN: WE ARE GETTING STRONG CORPORATION. OUR BOARD OF SUPERVISORS MET ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS WITH THE WINE GROWERS IN THE AREA. WE ARE REALLY ALL IN. WORKING TOGETHER TO EXPLORE GRANT OPPORTUNITIES, LOCAL INVESTMENT USING HERF REVENUES AT THE COUNTY LEVEL TO SUPPORT THAT INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE AREA.

TED SIMONS: WE HAVE PHOTOS HERE OF THE FESTIVALS THAT GO ON, THE TASTING ROOM, THE WHOLE NINE YARDS. IT'S A BOTTLE OF WINE AND A BUNCH OF PEOPLE ENJOYING THEMSELVES.

ROD KEELING: A WINE IS A SOCIAL DRINK IN MANY WAYS. IT'S THE MOST SOCIAL DRINK. IT’S A GREAT INDUSTRY TO BE IN. YOU MEET A LOT OF PEOPLE. MOST OF THEM ARE HAPPY.

TED SIMONS: I WANT TO GET BACK TO THE GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE THERE. HIGHER ALTITUDE THAN WHAT YOU WOULD EXPECT IN NAPA, CORRECT?

ROD KEELING: MUCH HIGHER, WE ARE BETWEEN 4300 TO 5500 FEET.

TED SIMONS: OK VOLCANIC SOIL, UNIQUE CLIMATE THERE. WHAT DOES THAT DO WITH THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE WINE? WE WENT OUT TO DINNER A FEW WEEKS AGO AND HAD ARIZONA WINE. I WISH I COULD REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS, I CAN’T. IT WAS WONDERFUL.

ROD KEELING: WE HAVE HAD TREMENDOUS IMPROVEMENT IN THE OVERALL QUALITY AND THE OVERALL CONSISTENCY. THERE ARE A LOT OF GOOD WINES IN ARIZONA NOW, AND FEW BAD ONES.

TED SIMONS: THAT OBVIOUSLY WILL INCREASE, AS YOU SAY AS PEOPLE GET TO KNOW WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN'T.

ROD KEELING: THAT'S RIGHT. AS WE LEARN. IT'S A LEARNING PROCESS. WE’VE REALLY COME A LONG WAYS ON OUR VITICULTURE, TECHNOLOGY AND EVERYTHING ELSE.

TED SIMONS: IS THE CLIMATE AND GEOGRAPHY SIMILAR TO AREAS IN MEDITERRANEAN --

ROD KEELING: IT'S SIMILAR TO MENDOSA, ARGENTINA BECAUSE IT’S A HIGH ALTITUDE. IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, WHAT MAKES WINE GREAT, IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DAY TIME TEMPERATURE AND THE NIGHT TIME TEMPERATURE. AND BECAUSE OF OUR HIGH DESERT CLIMATE, WE GET A HUGE SWING IN THE SUMMER TIME AND IT COOLS OFF, AND THAT’S WHAT SETS THE SUGARS AND THE FLAVORS.

TED SIMONS: AND THAT’S WHAT SETS THE TOURISM INDUSTRY. GIVE ME THE AVERAGE TOURIST. WHERE DO THEY COME FROM? WHAT ARE THEY DOING WHEN THEY GET THERE?

ED GILLIGAN: PHOENIX METROPOLITAN AREA AND TUCSON METROPOLITAN AREA ARE THE LARGEST CONTRIBUTORS RIGHT NOW. IT'S WEEKEND TOURISM. TWO OR THREE DAYS IN WILCOX AND COCHIES COUNTY, THERE’S JUST SUCH DIVERSITY AND ACTIVITY. GO TO THE TASTING ROOMS, SOCIALIZE WITH THE WINE MAKERS AND SUCCESSFUL TO THE NATIONAL MONUMENT. THE CAVERNS. THE AREA HAS A LOT TO OFFER. YOU CAN WORK IN A LOT OF ACTIVITIES IN ONE WEEKEND.

TED SIMONS: HOW ARE THE OLD-TIMERS IN WILCOX TAKING ALL OF THIS?

ED GILLIGAN: TO ME, IN A VERY POSITIVE WAY, AND THAT'S ONE OF THE IMPACTS OF THE BOARD WORKING, IT'S NOT JUST THE VINEYARD OWNERS AT THE MEETING. LOCAL RESIDENTS COMING AND SAYING, I WASN'T SURE WHAT WE WERE GETTING WHEN THIS WAS HAPPENING, BUT THIS IS GREAT. WE ARE SEEING INVESTMENT IN THE AREA. WE LIKE OUR NEIGHBORS. WE ARE MOVING FORWARD WITH THAT.

TED SIMONS: GIVE US YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. YOU WERE A BIG DEAL IN TEMPE. YOU MADE A LOT OF CHANGES THERE. YOU GO TO WILCOX AND WHAT GOT INTO YOU?

ROD KEELING: WE GOT INTO WINE. THEY STARTED SERVING BY GLASS ON MILL AVENUE. I WAS EDUCATED BY OUR BOARD MEMBERS AND I THOUGHT THIS IS GREAT. I WANT TO MAKE IT NOT COLLECT IT. MY WIFE AND I, JEN SHAFER, WE WORKED FOR THE TOWN OF TEMPE FOR MANY YEARS, WE FOUND A PIECE OF PROPERTY IN COCHESE COUNTY AND 10 MILES SOUTH OF THE NATIONAL MONUMENT AND WE BOUGHT IT.

TED SIMONS: WERE YOU LIKE OLIVER WENDEL DOUGLASS AT GREEN ACRES, YOU GOT THERE AND DIDN'T KNOW A LOT ABOUT IT?

ROD KEELING: THIS IS THE 99TH YEAR THAT THE KEELING’S AND THE MONTGOMERYS HAVE BEEN FARMING IN ARIZONA. MY BROTHER FARMED FOR 44 YEARS. I GOT A LOT OF HELP FROM HIM.

TED SIMONS: I BET YOU DID. WHAT'S NEXT? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE?

ED GILLIGAN: I WANT TO SEE A LOT OF INVESTMENT IN THE AREA. IT'S ONE OF THOSE RARE CLIMATES WITH JUST IDEAL CIRCUMSTANCE FOR GROWING GRAPES AND HAVING VINEYARDS, RESTAURANTS, SUPPORTING INDUSTRIES, BED AND BREAKFASTS, DIVERSITY IN PLACES TO STAY. WE HAVE A WONDERFUL CLIMATE. IT'S GETTING ALL OF THE SUPPORTING INDUSTRY.

TED SIMONS: ROD DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH WATER DOWN THERE FOR ALL OF THIS?

ROD KEELING: THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. I HAVE BEEN SPENDING TIME ON VARIOUS COMMITTEES WORKING ON THAT ISSUE. WILCOX BASIN HAS A LOT OF WATER. WE ARE IN A 5-1 OVERDRAFT OF GROUND WATER, NO IMPORTED WATER. THE EASY ANSWER TO THAT, IF ALL 60,000 IRRIGATED ACRES IN THE BASIN WERE IN OVERDRAFT, WE WOULD BE IN BALANCE. IT'S IMPORTANT TO LET THE MARKETPLACE DRIVE THE TRANSITION TO THE HIGH QUALITY, HIGH VALUE, LOW WATER USE PLANTS AND FARMING. IT WILL TRANSFORM THE WATER PROBLEM BUT IT’LL ALSO TRANSFORM THE ECONOMY.

TED SIMONS: SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF PROBLEMS GOING ON. GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR FUTURE. THANK YOU.

The population of a small town in southern Arizona may have struck gold with their growing wine industry, supplying over 75% of the state’s grapes and contributing to the $56 million in wine tourism statewide.

“We’re seeing the growth of an industry,” Cochise County Administrator Ed Gilligan says. “[There are] significant private capital investments for vineyards and buildings to support wine tasting… It’s really leading to increased tourism and revitalization of the downtown district.”

Rod Keeling, partner in Keeling Shaefer Vineyards, says he grows six varieties of grapes. The Mediterranean variety grows best despite the climate being closer to Mendoza, Argentina because of the high altitude. Keeling says one of the most important climate factors to take into account for vineyards are the daytime and nighttime temperatures. As the temperatures dip after the sun goes down, it allows the sugar and tastes to set, says Keeling.

Gilligan hopes to see more investments in the area in the future. There are plenty of activities to keep a visitor busy for an entire weekend in Wilcox, Gilligan says, but he wants to see a greater diversity in places to stay. Also, the roads to Willcox Bench, which is a popular area, is dirt. If they were paved, it would make it easier for tourists to visit. Luckily, Gilligan says there has been strong cooperation to get these goals met.

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In this segment:

Ed Gilligan: Administrator, Cochise County
Rod Keeling: Keeling Schaefer Vineyards

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