WILLCOX, AZ (3TV/CBS5) - Many of the wines you find on menus across Arizona come from a little corner of Cochise county.

The southern Arizona winemaker you're about to meet isn't just putting Arizona wines on the map, he's blazing a trail into unchartered territory.

Welcome to Dragoon Mountain Vineyards, home of the Cellar 443 family of wines, in Willcox, Arizona.

Winemaker, John McLaughlin, wears many hats here at his southern Arizona vineyard. "I am a purist, so I feel the winemaker should be a winemaker."

"I think if your hands aren't in the grapes, if your hands aren't in the vineyard, you're not a winemaker, you're not a vineyarder," says McLaughlin.

He also likes to experiment. "The number of grapes I currently have growing as far as varietals is roughly about 100 different varieties," says McLaughlin, "That's traditionally a lot! Most people usually do three, four, five."

And those grapes produce several lines of wine, including Arizona Angel, Sultry Cellars, Bitter Creek, Jerome Winery and Honesty Cellars.

"The reason why I grow so many different varietals is to see what is going to grow very well here. And, we don't know. Arizona is an unproven, untested ground so those of us that are actually growing and planting right now, we're the trailblazers, we're trying to figure out what's going to put Arizona on the map."

And figuring out which grapes will do that for Arizona has also turned McLaughlin into an innovator.

"So, I decided to start picking at night because I wanted to have cooler grapes, because they're easier to deal with, they're easier to ferment," says McLaughlin.

As the sun sets over the vineyards, the night harvest is about to begin. McLaughlin meets with his picking crew, which includes two french winemakers who are interning at the vineyard.

Some of the vineyard is picked by hand. Some of the vineyard is picked with a machine. McLaughlin proudly notes, "We are the only vineyard in the state that has a mechanical harvester."

Once the grapes are picked, you bring them into your processing center. The grapes are put through a machine that's going to separate the grapes from the stems, leaves and other things. "It's called a de-stemmer slash crusher, because what it does is it actually pushes the grapes and pops the skins," says McLaughlin.

The biggest, greatest improvement that's going to take Arizona wine quality from where it was to where it is going now, is basically night harvesting, says McLaughlin.

It's one of the many innovations these interns will take back to their French vineyards.

I discovered some new grapes here that I didn't know, that some people - people don't grow in France. And I learned how Gene makes wine here and I learned some tricks and I'm not going to say that to you, because they're tricks!

We're surprising people, says McLaughlin, a lot of us have taken some pretty heavy-duty, big awards throughout the country, that you would never expect.

We are the pioneers, we are the renegades in the wine industry. We're doing things, we're having to experiment with things, we're having to come up with solutions that nobody else has ever had to deal with.

When I say I'm a winemaker in Arizona, people are like, "In Arizona?"

And I go "Yeah!" and they're like, "Why Arizona?" and I say, "Because nobody else is doing it, we are the best-kept secret in the wine industry.


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