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Southern Arizona winery fighting to revive its vineyard

Rancho Rossa's Vineyard sits mostly bare after a bacterial infection wiped out its vines over the last few years.
Posted at 10:26 PM, May 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-28 01:26:49-04

Rancho Rossa Vineyards has been in Elgin for two decades, but the winery’s vines have all but disappeared in recent years.

Chris Hamilton and his wife Breanna own the winery. They say about five years ago they began seeing the effects of a bacterial infection known as Pierce’s Disease, which started slowly killing the couple’s vines.

“[The disease] blocks the water from transferring up and down the vine,” said Chris.

Eventually, symptoms were present on more than half of the vines.

“We knew at that time, there was nothing we could do,” said Chris. “So you have to kill, get rid of everything before you re-plant new vines.”

The couple tried to do just that—ordering special Pierce’s Disease-resistant vines from a nursery in Bakersfield, California. That process began more than a year ago.

The vines finally arrived this month, but not before being delayed in transit. The couple says during that delay, the vines sat and baked in the Arizona heat, dying before they arrived at the winery.

The Hamiltons say they appear to be getting a refund, but a new order of the special vines won’t be available for delivery to them until 2024.

“I don’t think devastating is a strong enough word, really,” said Breanna. “It’s not like I can just go out and buy more, you know. It took us two years. Those vines were grown specifically for us.”

The vineyard has produced enough wine to last about another six years. But the couple says that’s generally the minimum timeframe it takes to go from planting vines to releasing new wine to customers.

“So we’re gonna make a decision of: Are we going to buy fruit, which Rancho Rossa has never done before and we don’t want to do?,” Chris explained. “We like to do everything ourselves. We don’t want bulk wine from anybody else. We don’t want grapes from anybody else. We wanna do it all, and that’s what we want to express to our customers.

“Everything’s up in the air for us right now.”

Breanna says the past several years in winemaking have taught her a lot.

“People forget that it's farming, because [wine is] romantic,” she said.

Another takeaway for her is that people have often displayed true kindness to get them through hurdles in the past.

In addition to the winery, Rancho Rossa also operates a non-profit called ‘Rescued Hearts Cellars.’ It raises money to care for animals needing medical intervention, so they can be rescued and adopted.

Breanna says many customers have generously donated to that cause or have come back to show support for the wine, and that those customers will help make this tough road ahead a little easier.

“When we were going to plant, we had volunteers to help us do that,” she said. “We may have to change the way that we do things. But we’re certainly not giving up.”