THE GRAPE DIVIDE – PART II

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Let the healing begin…

The concept behind the Arizona Vignerons Alliance (AVA) is a sound one. In fact, with the booming wine business in Arizona and the nationally recognized successes from wineries all over the state, it’s surprising it took this long for an organization like the AVA to be formed.

Some have questioned whether the AVA is necessary, since there are already governing agencies at both the Federal and State levels regulating the industry and its practices, in addition to the existing Arizona Wine Growers Association (AWGA), which was formed many years ago and remains the states largest and most viable wine-related business development association.

But unlike the AWGA (which I understand is focused primarily on business growth, education, and promotion), the new AVA is being formed as a quality control alliance, focusing on different goals primarily meant to vet a wine’s quality and to verify it’s origin is 100% Arizona.

The AVA also intends to further the development and perpetuation of improved state-wide growing & production practices, gained through the sharing of information with all winegrowers. Moving forward, both the AWGA and the AVA will be critical to the ongoing growth and success of the industry, so it’s important the two organizations figure out a way to work cooperatively and symbiotically.

After it’s initial introduction, some people in the industry and a few informed consumers (myself included) felt the formation of the AVA was being handled in a way that could be anti-competitive and unfair. These concerns were probably caused by the unilateral way in which the alliance was formed, for the most part being hashed-out behind closed doors and only involving four of the eighty-plus wineries licensed and bonded in Arizona.

For some of those excluded, they felt they deserved an opportunity to be part of the AVA’s initial formation, to assist in developing its goals, and to have a hand in designing its authoritative bylaws and especially the criteria that will be used to analyze and judge everyone’s wine. There were also concerns around the apparent conflict of interest presented by four wineries who intended to judge their direct competitors.

And although I’m sure it wasn’t their intention, the exclusion of the other winemakers created an environment of division and perceived intimidation because the outsiders found themselves in a position where they had to either go along with sharing their proprietary business practices with direct competitors, or risk being viewed as uncooperative and possibly losing market share because they don’t have the AVA stamp of approval (which could lead consumers to believe their wine is inferior, which in most cases would not necessarily be true).

Since the initial announcement of the AVA, the founding leadership have made efforts to address many of these concerns by providing additional information, some of which was discussed publicly at their launch event held March 11 at The Farm at South Mountain, and some via personal communication channels. I’m told they’re in the process of updating their website and their Facebook pages to more accurately describe the updates and new efforts being made to put many (if not most) of the concerns to rest.

The President of the AVA (Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks) to her credit, has been very responsive to personal communications and for the most part has made un-emotional attempts to answer most of the tough questions.

Here are some of the questions asked of Mrs. Bostock, and we’ll share her response in a moment:

  1. How many more founding members will be invited to join the original four?
  2. How many more winemakers will be offered an official seat on the AVA’s Board of Directors?
  3. How many other winemakers and non-competing professionals will be officially employed to assist in 1) the development of the AVA’s bylaws, 2) it’s charter, and most importantly 3) the process and rules by which they intend to judge their competitors and their own wines?
  4. How will third party arbiters will be employed to audit and ensure the rules are being interpreted and enforced fairly and equally?

RESPONSE BY AVA President Kelly Bostock: “A quick answer to your questions:  #1 we will be forming an official board in the coming weeks, and we will be expanding it beyond the founding members so that we have fresh perspective. #2 The certification panel will be handled by an outside professional. John Doe (Name redacted until made public) has volunteered to head up the first panel. He is a former wine distributor and now has his own wine import company. He will be selecting a panel of wine professionals who are not directly connected with AZ wineries. The panel guidelines should be published on our website in the next few days. It is a good overview of who will be allowed to be on the panel. We will post it on Facebook when those pieces are up on the web”.

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Based on this response, it’s obvious the AVA founders are making a real effort to address all of the initial concerns people have voiced, and although the response doesn’t address all of the issues, it shows a willingness to listen, which many people feared wouldn’t happen.

We are undeniably witnessing an evolution of the Arizona wine Industry, and with more participants included in the development and ongoing operation of the AVA, they should be able to achieve their goals and also have a shot at becoming an alliance truly representative of the entire industry.

If the AVA lives up to it’s promises of opening the Board to other members, uses 3rd parties to conduct the wine analyses, and continues to listen to the industry as a whole, it will go a long way to satisfying many of the initial concerns shared by their competitors… and hopefully in doing so will encourage more to participate. The AVA needs participation to succeed, and participation will continue to increase and grow as long as they are transparent and responsive to all the stake holders in the business.

Much of what’s being developed in the AVA is still fluid and will evolve over time, so I think the time for fear and concern is past, and now it’s prudent to take an active role in providing constructive ideas and cooperative guidance.

Initially it looks like the AVA intends to require exclusively Arizona-grown grapes but I would like to suggest an idea I think makes a lot of sense because it will expand the AVA’s participation, and at the same time allow wine growers to run their business as they see fit while still ensuring quality:

What if there were three categories of Arizona wine certification, rather than just one?

  1. 100% ARIZONA ESTATE (all AZ grapes, all AZ yeast, all from the same vineyard)
  2. 100% ARIZONA GROWN (all AZ grapes, fruit from multiple AZ regions allowed)
  3. 100% ARIZONA PRODUCED (produced in AZ, but grapes could be sourced elsewhere)

So I say give the AVA and it’s founders the benefit of the doubt, keep providing constructive input and feedback, and above all, let’s get back to making and drinking the best wines around.

Eat local, drink local, live local.

Christian Burns McBeth

Chris USMC Blues 1986

Bio: “Christian McBeth is a USMC veteran who has been published globally on FORBES and CIO Magazine as an Information Technology subject matter expert. In addition to expertise in Disaster Recovery and Big Data, Mr. McBeth has produced TV commercials broadcast on NBC promoting the Willcox Wine Country Festival (voted Top Ten by Fodor’s Travel), and he engages in creative media projects (including aerial photography & videography) to promote the Arizona wine industry as a whole.”