Wineries in Arizona actually saw an uptick in business last year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s largely because members of their wine clubs — where subscribers get bottles of wine every month or so — were loyal to wineries.

“We have a very, very loyal customer base,” observed Lisa Strid, winemaker at Willcox’s Aridus Wine Company. “We have seen our wine club grow and we have seen our wine sales grow year to year.”

And this year, the winery will release its first vintage that uses fruit grown on their 40-acre vineyard in the Chiricahua Foothills, 45 miles outside Willcox.

“We’ve been sourcing fruit from Arizona, a little bit from California and New Mexico,” said owner Scott Dahmer. “Now it’s exciting that all of the fruit is coming from our estate.”

Dahmer and his wife Joan opened their custom commercial crush facility in 2013 and released their first vintages using fruit sourced from other growers not long afterward. They planted their first vines in 2015 and now have 28 of their 40 acres under vine; most of the remaining acreage is not usable largely because Turkey Creek cuts through the property, Joan Dahmer said.

But in the past year, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns and limitations on their tasting room operations, the Dahmers planted Graciano Spanish red wine grapes in every available spot, she said.

“We did things kind of backwards. We started with the winery first and then we started planting,” Scott Dahmer said.

Aridus’ portfolio of nearly two dozen wines includes a semisweet 2016 Malvasia Bianca, a fruity and crisp 2017 Fumé Blanc and a handful of reds from their 2016 Merlot to a 2017 Graciano, Syrah and Malbec.

Strid, who joined Aridus in 2016 after working for the behemoth E. & J. Gallo Winery in California’s wine country, said she expects Aridus will harvest nearly 80 tons of fruit this fall, but the yield could fluctuate to as much as 200 tons a year going forward depending on the weather and other growing conditions.

“From a vintage and production standpoint, starting this year everything will be (estate). Everything from 2021 onward our customers will know is estate,” she said.

Joan Dahmer, who commutes to Willcox from the Phoenix area where she is an oncologist, said the pandemic shutdowns have given her a chance to work on a memoir of her and husband’s wine journey.

“This has been a very interesting ride,” she said. “This is one of the good things that came out of the pandemic. I finally got around to doing the book.”


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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch.