Wine is grown in all 50 American states. Yes, even Utah.

But it’s a struggle here. Perhaps more than anywhere else except Alaska. Take a look at our neighboring states: In 2009, Colorado produced 325,195 gallons of wine. Idaho produced 604,702 gallons. New Mexico produced 700,00 gallons.

Utah’s production was too tiny to count.

“Wine is a multi-million dollar industry in neighboring states,” says Stacy Dezelsky, co-owner of Spanish Valley Vineyards in Moab. “And wine-growing got started at the same time in Colorado and Utah. But Utah has never really supported it as an agricultural venture.”

Back in the 1970s, the Four Corners Regional Economic Development Commission, along with the University of Arizona, did some test plantings of orchard fruit and wine grapes in the Moab area and got positive results. The days are hot but nights are cool, and the sandy soil proved to be good for grapes. The growing season is short, but there is a lot of late summer sun, and the dry climate discourages common vineyard problems like bunch rot and fungus. In fact, the climate of Southeastern Utah, like the climate of Southwestern Colorado and New Mexico, is a lot like the southern and eastern Mediterranean, where European wine grapes originated.

By the early 1980s, with a little financial aid from the county agricultural office, a few daring farmers had started planting wine grapes. It takes five years for a vine to produce, and by 1986 grapes were being harvested and sold to the wineries across the state line in Grand Junction, Colo. There was no local market for wine grapes, and before long, the grape growers found out it was illegal to make or sell wine commercially in Utah.

The stubborn would-be winemakers banded together and lobbied the Utah Legislature. Finally, in 1988, wineries were legalized. The next year, Anita and Alan Bradford founded the pioneering Arches Winery and produced 1,500 gallons in their first bottling. The Bradfords operated Arches for 10 years before selling it; that was the basis of Castle Creek.

Sixteen years later,the Utah wine business is far from thriving. Dezelsky thinks that part of the problem is a lack of state support. “Colorado has separate licensing for wineries who use at least 65 percent state-grown juice in their wines,” says Dezelsky. “Both Colorado and Idaho have tax-funded development boards to promote and support their growing wine industries. Utah doesn’t do anything.”

She says it wasn’t until Jon Huntsman was governor that state stores finally put Utah wine on the shelves. “That’s after eight years of trying.”

The truth is, Utah-grown wine isn’t much more than a souvenir at this point. Although Castle Creek and Spanish Valley have won medals in competition, their quality generally doesn’t measure up to the price tag. That’s often true for infant wine regions, though. Dezelsky is discouraged; she’s had Spanish Valley up for sale for three years. But she still believes there is as much potential for a grape-growing industry in Utah as in neighboring states. And there are successful grape growers in the Moab area, including Castle Creek. “It’s not a farming issue,” she says of the Utah wine industry’s sluggish growth.

Tip
Utah is the Beehive State, so honey wine is a natural. Slide Ridge Honey produces one of the world’s finest honeys and a complex honey wine vinegar. Next spring, Martin James and his family will debut their first wine, an apple and honey dessert wine called Old Ephraim, to restaurants before bringing it to the public. Says VP of Sales (and sister) Kelli Bess, “We’re a sustainable agricultural company. We try to help out other farmers by sourcing locally.” 452 E. 250 South, Mendon, 435-752-4956, slideridgehoney.com

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