When the Verde Valley Wine Festival first started in 2015 in Clarkdale, Arizona, organizers weren’t really sure how the community would respond. But each year, director David Baird told Vintner they have seen explosive growth and increased interest in the festival. Getting the festival off the ground has given some perspective to Baird and he shared some insights to Vintner.
This Mother Day’s weekend, the festival is expected to have 20 Arizona wineries, a record over the five-year event. *Editor’s Note: The festival has been rescheduled to November 7, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.*
”People from all over the state come to Clarkdale for Mother’s Day weekend, and more recently, we’ve had people from all around the US and even Australia and Germany for the festival,” Baird said.
Thousands of people attend the festival each year. For the winemakers, Baird said he sees it as an opportunity for some major exposure to a demographic that is already eager to know more about them.
“Our audience is a mix of local wine lovers who care deeply about the local economy and tourists that are either already aware of the winemaking industry here or are curious about it,” he said. “These are important demographics for any winery to reach to help build their customer base, and we offer it all in one day. Our goal is for these people to continue to follow these wineries after the event is over and become patrons.”
The Verde Valley Wine Festival started out as a small, hyper-local event five years ago by Four Eight Wineworks, Arizona’s only wine incubator program. Caduceus Cellars head winemaker, Maynard James Keenan, established Four Eight Wineworks and the Verde Valley Wine Festival as a way to showcase the impact local winemaking has on the surrounding community.
The goal was to educate people on Arizona winemaking.
”With the Festival, we make it possible for people to taste for themselves what is happening here and hopefully support it year-round,” Baird said. ”Obviously, wine and food go together, so we also reached out to local restaurants to partner with us. As the Festival grew, we expanded to include area breweries and distilleries, small businesses, artists, and artisans.”
”These are two organizations that are focused on promoting quality winemaking and raising awareness of the winemaking economy here in the state,” Baird said.
As the kickoff to the Festival, they host a dinner and benefit auction that has become a tradition as well. The live auction raises money for the AZVA, of which Keenan is a founding member.
”It’s an organization that is working to create standards of quality for the winemakers here, providing a level of consistency,” Baird said. “They also do outreach to national media and wine evangelists around the country to raise awareness of Arizona’s wine country.
”We’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars each year at this event. So, there is a tangible benefit for the wineries who are part of these organizations.”
Vintner also spoke with Baird about the planning and logistics of planning the event. Vintner will share those insights later this month. Photo Courtesy: Verde Valley Wine Festival.