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Wine shortage refuted, but Verde Valley vintners say demand still high

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CORNVILLE – Though national officials are refuting reports of a global wine shortage, Deb Wahl of Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery says increasing demand is pressuring her, and other Verde Valley winemakers, to produce more.

“We can’t plant enough, we can’t produce (enough),” said Wahl, Oak Creek’s owner. “Even with my small winery, I’m always under the gun to produce more (and) produce better. That’s a good problem to have, right?”

Arizona always faces a shortage because wineries here can’t keep up with the growing number of wine drinkers, Wahl said.

“The most important part is that we monitor it,” she said. “I don’t fear it. Do I see the rising number of consumers? Absolutely.”

Responding to the demand, Wahl said her winery will be increasing production, which means planting more vines and bringing in more grapes from out of state.

Oak Creek Winery is now starting to entertain the idea of attracting larger customers, such as restaurants, resorts and grocery stores, Wahl said. The winery, which encompasses 10 acres, will sell about 2,000 cases this year and doesn’t distribute much outside of the state, she said.

“I’m feeling for the first time that I might want to venture out into the wholesale aspect,” Wahl said.

Barbara Predmore, owner of Alcantara Vineyards in Cottonwood, said that haywire weather across the globe was a factor in the reported shortage.

A lot of Predmore’s harvest was ruined by a spring frost, meaning Alcantara Vineyards will face a shortage of its own this year, she said.

“It’s that relationship with the earth … that every year is different,” Predmore said. “It’s weather, it’s dirt, it’s demand and the demand for this industry is just growing.”

China’s recent entrance into the wine market is an example, she said.

“Up here in the Verde Valley in central Arizona we’ve created a vineyard-winery region,” Predmore said. “I sell out here. The demand is right up there.”

Like Wahl at Oak Creek, Predmore said she realizes that she needs to tap into the possibilities that come with a larger distribution market and more grape production.

The vineyards at Alcantara spanned six acres when Predmore purchased the land with her husband in 2005. Since then, it’s been expanded to 13 acres.

At boutique wineries such as Alcantara and Oak Creek, four to six tons of grapes are picked by hand annually, Predmore said. Bigger wineries that use machinery to pick grapes produce more than 10 tons, she said.

“Alcantara will never be a household word anywhere other than probably in our wine club and different people like that,” Predmore said.

Experts have been disputing the Morgan Stanley research report that claimed a global wine shortage was looming since its release in October.

“There’s no shortage,” said Gladys Horiuchi, spokeswoman for the Wine Institute in San Francisco. “You have to look beyond the numbers to see what the real backstory is.”

The numbers actually reflect a decline of a global wine surplus in the past year, she said. The institute’s 2012 world vineyard, grape and wine report said that reasons for the surplus decline include improved economic conditions around the world, adverse weather conditions, the effects of a European Union vineyard removal program in 2009-2011 and increased consumer demand.

Consumption and production in the U.S. have both increased, so there’s no reason to be alarmed about a shortage, Horiuchi said.

Michael Kaiser, a spokesman for Wine America, said Oregon and Washington actually had two of their largest harvests ever this year.

“In Arizona, they just don’t have enough grapes in the ground to keep up with demand,” Kaiser said.

Predmore from Alcantara said she isn’t concerned either way because winemakers, like farmers, will continue doing their best to move forward.

“It is more than a beverage, it is a way of life,” Predmore said. “How can this industry not continue to grow?”