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Wings Over Willcox separates from the chamber

WILLCOX — The Willcox Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture bade adieu to the Wings Over Willcox Birding and Nature Festival last Thursday.

Chamber officials met with Homer Hansen, of Wings Over Willcox, who informed the chamber that the festival volunteers have created the Willcox Nature Association, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Hansen also requested the chamber to release all assets, trade names, registrations administrative documents and all ownership of Wings Over Willcox to the Willcox Nature Association.

The board approved the request unanimously.

Hansen told the chamber he had been involved with Wings Over Willcox for a long time, as well as the chamber. However, the trade name of Wings Over Willcox expired May 13, so the new nonprofit was formed.

“We went ahead and formed the Willcox Nature Association, so that’s kind of like an umbrella 501c3,” Hansen said. “We formed it, filed it; it’s approved. We gotta get the stuff run through the paper. But nonetheless, we are an existing 501c3. It’s valid and approved by the state, so we have an entity.”

The existing Chamber of Commerce board agreed to give whatever funds that belong to the Wings Over Willcox Festival to the new association, as well as whatever domain names and assets are needed by the festival.

Annual spring wine fest packs ‘em in

WILLCOX — More elbow room, more award-winning wines and perfect weather made the Spring 2019 Wine Festival different from years past.

According to the Cochise Graham Wine Council, the festival averaged about 6,000 attendees per festival in 2018. According to Mike Pigford, one of the coordinators of the festival, Saturday’s festival attendance was a record-breaker: more than 3,500 total attendance, with 1,600 wine tasters. However, the wind on Sunday was unfortunate for the festival, and Pigford attributed the wind to Sunday’s lower attendance. According to Pigford, approximately 5,550 people attended the two-day spring festival.

The Cochise Graham Wine Council chose to make this spring festival massively different by closing off the 100 block of East Maley Street, the 100 block of North Railroad and the 100 block of South Railroad. Railroad Park, however, was still used.

“I’ve been to multiple wine festivals, multiple wineries. Some aren’t here, and I was really hoping it would be. It’s bigger than the last one I went to by two blocks. It’s (the spring festival) gotten bigger,” festivalgoer Ariel Jurado said. “Here it’s grown. I like the wine. That’s the highlight, the wine. I think they could probably have a few more food options, but I do have to say that Isabel’s (South of the Border restaurant) is 10 stars.”

Valerie Beckham, of Tucson, agreed.

“I love that it expanded so we see the restaurants, and there’s more seating — it’s awesome,” Beckham said.

Saturday and Sunday remained the main festival days, while the hospital fund-raising and wine competition awards dinner were on Friday.

Of the wineries in the Willcox area, the Beverage Testing Institute rated 40 wines, and the director of the institute presented the wines of the year Friday night at the dinner. This new schedule made room for a new attraction, being the event orchestrated by the Rex Allen Museum and the Willcox Historic Theater on Saturday.

“I’ll give this festival a 90,” said Rod Keeling, of Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, LLC and the Willcox Wine Country Partnership. “I’m pretty happy with it. Lots of risk because when you do something for the first time, there’s so many things you just don’t know. And I think that we overcame most of everything that could go wrong. Of course, we’d never seen it before. You can draw maps all you want; it’s kind of like plans for a house. Until it goes up, you’re not really sure what it’s going to look like. The objective of this event was not just to sell wine. The objective of this event was to create a community development event.”

Willcox Wine Country Partnership, which oversees the Willcox wine festivals, has created a partnership with the City of Willcox. City Manager Caleb Blaschke told the Range News that not only is the wine festival beneficial for the local wineries but also for local Willcox businesses.

“The Willcox Wine Festival is great for Willcox. It brings in 7,000 to 8,000 people. And it really helps our downtown businesses. This year, we closed off Maley Street, so the wine festival was able to expand. That helped a lot of our local restaurants like Isabel’s and Big Tex because now the people that are drinking wine, they have free flow back and forth to the restaurants and museums,” Blaschke said. “The wine festival is really trying hard to give back to the local economy and allow businesses to have their day. So this is some of our businesses’ best days.”

One of those businesses — Eddy Lee’s Tattoo Shop on Maley Street — reported a robust Saturday.

“This was much better than last October,” proprietor Jamie Lee said. “If it’s like this in October, I’ll participate even more.”

David Bell contributed to this report.