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Willcox Wine Festival highlights local vineyards, wine this weekend

Posted at 4:44 PM, May 17, 2024

WILLCOX, Ariz. (KGUN) — Desiree and Ryan Gerth risked it all to start a vineyard in Willcox, after getting the wine-making itch with a home-starter kit. A decade later, they are helping grow Willcox’s Wine Country.

“Willcox is an (American Viticultural Area) for a reason," Desiree said. "We're growing really good fruit here, which can make really good wines.”

The couple started making wine from starter kits they bought from a brew store in the Phoenix area.

“They were horrible, totally undrinkable," Desiree said. "So, of course, we thought, 'let's scale up.'”

They got grapes from California, which produced a better product. After more practice, taking classes, and visiting Willcox they decided to plant roots in northern Cochise County, turning their hobby into a career.

“We both were kind of fed up with our day jobs, I guess you could say," Ryan said. "We said life is too short, let's take a risk and go for it.”

They purchased land in Willcox, and built their vineyard from scratch. The couple installed their own irrigation, solar panels, fencing and all that they would need for a vineyard. Their hard work and effort inspired their business' name: Strive Vineyards.

“The name came from (the) blood, sweat and tears of the two of us doing everything from the ground up ourselves," Desiree said. "We just said, 'You have to embrace life's challenges and savor the victories along the way.'”

Ten years later, they're using their award-winning wines to show what Willcox Wine Country has to offer. They've won awards: gold, silver, and bronze medals for their wines at the state competition in 2023. They have also won at a national competition, held by the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I’m proud of Willcox," Desiree said. "I think we just want to share kind of our little hidden gem here with the rest of Arizona and say, 'Come on, look at what wonderful things we have that are really local and you can enjoy.”

This weekend, Strive Vineyards and the other local wineries are participating in the Willcox Wine Festival at Railroad Park.

“Hopefully, it’s a really good turnout for this festival," Desiree said. "Everyone’s looking forward to it.”

The weekend will feature wine tastings, live music, vendors and other activities. Desiree says what makes the local festivals special is that the different wineries work together because they want every one to keep their doors open, after their peak tourist season ends.

“Everyone's got each other's backs... which is really unique," she said. "We're not in competition with each other.”

The festival beings at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and ends at 5 p.m. on both days.

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Alexis Ramanjulu is a reporter in Cochise County for KGUN 9. She began her journalism career reporting for the Herald/Review in Sierra Vista, which she also calls home. Share your story ideas with Alexis by emailing alexis.ramanjulu@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook.