Aridus Wine Company has purchased 40 acres of land in the Turkey Creek area for vineyards and is joining a handful of other wineries to open a tasting room in Willcox. But that’s not what makes them unique here.
This wine company has built the only large-scale custom crush facility in Arizona in a remodeled 24,000 square-foot apple warehouse building in Willcox. The facility includes an outdoor crush pad, indoor fermentation room, storage and bottling facilities – everything one needs to go from grapes to bottled wine, ready to sell.
What does this mean for Willcox wineries?
Bob Carlson, owner of Carlson Creek Vineyards in Willcox, said, “Ardius means that a premier wine making facility will be in Willcox -- the premier grape-growing area of Arizona. With over 12 vineyards and 800 acres of producing vines, the Willcox area produces the majority of wine grapes in Arizona. This facility close to the vines will make the wine even better.”
Bob's son, Robert Carlson, also of Carlson Creek, said, "Aridus offers us a chance to grow rapidly with far less capital investment. It saves us money in shipping our grapes to far off facilities. For new wineries, it is a great opportunity to hit the ground running with in place production."
Since 2009, owners Scott and Joan Dahmer have been working on this huge undertaking, but this wasn’t originally his plan.
“We came down to Turkey Creek to buy 40 acres for a vineyard. We thought we’d build a winery – the location was beautiful. We (Scott and his wife Joan) hired a consultant, Cary Gott from Napa, to come down and look at it,” Dahmer said. “He told us we would have limited production of grapes from 40 acres and we wouldn’t see our money back in our lifetimes.”
“But he also told us that California has a lot of custom crush facilities, and there were very few in Arizona,” so vineyards have to bring their grapes a long way to make wine, Dahmer said. “He said this would be an excellent business opportunity and suggested we look for an old warehouse.”
“Then, Josh Moffitt (co-owner of Moffitt Real Estate and Arizona Vines & Wines publications) contacted us and said he had an old apple warehouse for us to look at. Cary came down to look at it and said it was perfect – steel, insulated and easy for us to add what we wanted,” he said.
State of the art equipment was ordered from Italy, including Diemme and Milani sorting, destemming and crush equipment, set to handle half-ton macro bins of grapes, for making white, rose or red wines.
In the indoor fermentation room, glycol jacketed stainless steel tanks monitor temperatures, while two pump-overs or punch-downs per day help ferment evenly before pressing and aging in the temperature- and humidity-controlled barrel room.
Tank sizes range from 500 to 4,000 gallons, so growers have a choice depending on the amount of grapes they bring. And closed-top and open-top tanks are available for fermentation and storage.
In the bottling and storage room, GAI bottling equipment from Italy will allow for high capacity bottling using three sizes of bottles, labeling, and either screw, cork or synthetic corks. The GAI line can bottle 1,200 cases per day, Dahmer said.
The Dahmers hired winemaker James Callahan to help growers make great wines at the facility.
Callahan, an Arizona native, has been making wine since 2007, starting his career with two years at Purvine Winery in Tempe, Ariz., and then following harvests north and south of the equator in places such as Washington and New Zealand.
“That was what we call the ‘hemisphere flip-flop’ – two harvests per year. I got international experience that way,” Callahan said.
He was an intern at Kosta Browne Winery in Sebastopol, Calif. in 2010, and was a Cellar Master until May when he saw an ad for a winemaker in Willcox.
The Dahmers, originally from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, moved to Healdsburg, Calif., in 1993 for 8 years, and then to Carefree, Ariz., during 9/11 in 2001.
While in Carefree, Scott, in communication design, and Joan, a practicing physician in Hematology and Oncology, went to a wine pairing dinner at Quiessence Restaurant at The Farm at South Mountain, in Phoenix.
“Sam Pillsbury was pairing his wine, and we discovered that Arizona has a wine region!” said Dahmer, and they decided to make a go at it with their own vineyard.
However, they put their own winemaking dreams on hold, and Scott retired from communication design to take on this much bigger role in Arizona’s wine community.
The custom crush facility is already in the process of making wine for Pillsbury Wine Co. and Carlson Creek Vineyards, both of which have vineyards in the Willcox area, but the grand opening of the facility and the separate tasting room on Railview Avenue in Willcox, is expected to be in late October.
The tasting room (in the bungalow previously known at the Blue House) is being renovated by architect Colin Bruce of Bruce Design & Build of Scottsdale/Tucson.
Bruce said he is working to “create aesthetic ties between the crush facility office (a new building built in front of the crush facility) and the tasting room” in town.
“We’re doing a lot of custom furniture and making the doors at both buildings from local wood,” he said.
“We found an old homestead in disrepair in Kansas Settlement and purchased the doors” for their wood, Bruce said.
“And we purchased wood that was from an old Doctor's house that was torn down years ago in Willcox,” Dahmer said.
“We picked varied pieces of wood. We went through piles and piles and certain ones just stood out – all weathered, with different widths, textures and colors, and we composed a piece of artwork, with the steel framing it,” Bruce said.
Each of the doors is unique, but similar, with it’s own character, and very substantial, he said.
The buildings should be ready for the grand opening.
As for Aridus’ own vineyards in Turkey Creek, Dahmer said, “We’ll start that next year. And it takes three to five years to get a vineyard going.”
The Dahmers are looking forward to making their own wine from their own grapes, but, they have enough in their cup right now.