This story, like so many in Arizona, starts with water. It’s been the subject of legal battles and gun fights, and fortunes have been made and lost over it. Grape vines don’t need much water, especially when compared to traditional crops in Arizona like vegetables, citrus, alfalfa, and cotton, but they do need some, and unfortunately much of the rainfall in Arizona occurs just when the vines don’t need it, during the late summer monsoons.
There are many areas around Arizona where the climate and soil would be conducive to viticulture, but after you eliminate land that is off limits because it’s owned by the government or part of a reservation, you’re left with far fewer choices. As you further consider water availability and quality, sites with potential as vineyard locations narrows even further. In many areas it’s difficult to get permits to drill new wells, and in other areas near streams and rivers, wells must be dug such that water isn’t inadvertently pulled underground from these sources, as doing so would violate someone else’s water rights.
The Willcox Playa is special when it comes to water. This large basin was once a lake. Gradually over time the lake dried as the climate changed, but even today after over a century of agriculture, ground water is still abundant in the area. Ground water is replenished by rainfall in the Dos Cabezas, Chiricahua, and other mountains that ring the basin. Rain that falls in the area simply has no where to go since this basin is the lowest point in the area. Water quality is not uniform, however. At lower elevations sulphur content can be high producing what locals sometimes call “stink water”. In some parts of the larger Willcox Playa area, flouride and arsenic levels can be dangerously high, and at slightly higher elevations in the foothills there is no guarantee that groundwater will be available. Many wells dug above 4500 feet barely produce enough water for residential use, and some don’t produce water at all.
So that brings us to the #1 factor that contributed to the site selection for Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards. It had a well and the water quality is excellent. Whether or not this well will provide enough water for the whole vineyard is yet to be seen. If not, we’ll dig a second well slightly deeper and bigger.
There are other unique aspects of this site. On this page in the future we’ll discuss them, as well as the current happenings at the vineyard. Please bookmark this page and check back soon!