Monsoon rain fuels the Arizona wine industry

While we all await those first summer storms, no one is banking on that rain more than Arizona farmers.
Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 5:30 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 6:17 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — While we all await those first summer storms, no one is banking on that rain more than Arizona farmers. That’s the case in Wilcox, where 80% of Arizona’s wine grapes are grown.

Winemaker Robert Carlson admits that while the rain is needed, the monsoon can be a double-edged sword. “One of the major things it adds is uncertainty,” said Carlson. “With the monsoons coming at kind of random times, it’s really hard for us to plan our harvest because it comes exactly during the harvest.”

Harvest happens in August and September, the peak of monsoon season, and southern Arizona is one of the most active spots in the state for storms. “When those monsoons come in, we have to stop harvesting,” said Carlson. “Other than the fact that it brings lightning and thunder --which we pull our guys from the vineyard immediately-- it can also swamp this whole vineyard.”

He said they can see ankle-deep water sometimes, making it impossible to bring out tractors or mechanical harvesters. Too much water can also cause rot and mold. But Carlson says a grape grower’s worst fear is hail. “A good, strong hailstorm can defoliate your vines and damage the grapes so they end up rotting on the vine,” says Carlson. “It can wipe out your vineyard. In fact, in other wine regions in the state such as Sonoita, they have had severe problems with it, where it will wipe out the entire vintage.”

The threats are real and constant in the summer months, but without the monsoon, none of their crops would grow. That rain also recharges the aquifer, providing the groundwater that sustains the land for the rest of the year. “It’s one of the things we rely on to keep doing the thing we do,” said Carlson. “This valley has had continuous agriculture in it for a very long time, and those monsoon seasons are the source of life in this valley.” Along with the warm afternoons and cool nights, those summer storms complete the recipe for turning high-desert water into wine.