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June 26, 2012

Sangiovese – Flying Leap Vineyards, Inc.


Dear Friend,


Thank you for your continued interest in our rapidly growing vineyards & winery in southeastern Arizona! We’ve been here, there and everywhere, and we haven’t sent out a blog posting in a while. Be rest-assured, we have been working very steadily this summer, and in addition to the ongoing agriculture out at our farms, we have some really exciting new initiatives & starts in other parts of our business. So, we wanted to send out an update to give you some fresh news & photographs detailing some of what we’ve learned & accomplished this growing season, and we want to share with you some new & exciting developments, too.


The Podcast of Our Radio Interview is Published Online!


Listen to Marc Moeller & Mark Beres’ Podcast of their June 9th, 2012 on-air interview with Dr. Zara Larsen! Below is the hyperlink, which will take you to the podcast – you can stream it or download it for free from anywhere using your internet connection and a web browser. It’s about 20 minutes long. Marc & I were interviewed by Dr. Larsen on her weekly live radio show here in Tucson, called “Circles of Change”. We spoke about our backgrounds, the Arizona wine industry, how we go into the wine business and a bit about our farms and future growth plans. It was a lot of fun doing the radio show. Here is the hyperlink to the podcast:


Our new (beta) website is up & running … take a look and see what you think. This is a work in progress, so we are making daily changes – BUT, we now have our web presence established, so take a peek and send us your feedback/comments to marcmoeller@flyingleapvineyards.com. We will be transitioning our “blog” from the format you’re currently accustomed to (a direct e-mail) to a true web-log so stay tuned, as we’re still trying to figure that all out. The new website will have a real abundance of cool stuff – including an online store for customers to read about and purchase our wines.

Our goal is to create a colorful & comprehensive Flying Leap Vineyards web presence that is informative, persuasive, interactive and of value to our community. We hope you like it, and we really would value your feedback to help us refine the website.

Friends, Arizona’s summer heat is really merciless. Out at our farms, the daily high bakes our acreage at about 104F, and it’s easily 90F by about 9:00A in the morning. And, as the summer monsoons bring in the humidity from the south, the vineyard environment is quite harsh. This is hard on people, but the grapevines absolutely love it. To illustrate my point, I’ve attached a great near-sunset picture of our newly-planted 2012 Tannat grafts

We’ve put in approximately 1.5-acres of Tannat, composing 2,500 strong 2-year grafted vines grown for us under contract in St. Helena, California. We’re the first Arizona vineyard to put in such a large plot of this varietal, as we expect it will be one of our premium producers, giving us an incredible depth of blending options. If you’d like to read a quick history of Tannat, here is a hyperlink to its source description from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tannat. All of our 2012 plants, with the exception of Piquepoul are coming in quite strong. The Piquepoul is very slow.

Heat? Yes, It’s Hot in Arizona … So, Let’s Talk About Water

One of the most often asked questions we receive is about the native heat in Arizona and how it is we can grow grapes in it. The answer is simple – the grape varietals we plant here are heat tolerant. Additionally, about half of our vines are grafted to a native American rootstock called the “Paulson 1103P”, which is extremely drought tolerant. So, we plant grapes here that are best suited to our dry, arid and hot climate.

And, of course we drip irrigate our grapes. There is no more frequently asked issue of us than that of water. In the desert, water is everything. You may be wondering how much water it takes to grow grapes here. The answer depends on who you ask. But, at our farms, we currently apply between 0.80-0.90 acre-feet of water to every planted acre of grapevines in our fields over the course of a single growing season.

Other growers have relayed similar water volumes to me, so this is a pretty good ball park value for how much water it takes to sustain an acre of grapes in Arizona. This number may not mean a lot to you at first glance (after all, what the hell is an “acre-foot” anyway?), but it’s very useful for gaining insight into water use and agriculture in Arizona, especially when comparing it with other crops grown in the desert heat. The best comparison we can make is by looking at the same water use metrics for Arizona’s largest cash crop – cotton Arizona’s cotton fields consume about 5 acre-feet of water per planted acre of cotton, and each acre can yield about 3 bales (a bale of cotton weighs approximately 500 lbs, and the actual acreage yield is between 2 & 3 bales per acre). In comparison, an acre of winegrapes can easily produce between 2-6 tons of fruit, or more depending on varietal and viticultural practices (i.e, thinning of grape clusters, etc). We can now do some really insightful math to compare water use – the results will astound you, so bear with me while I go through the math.

As I said, a single bale of Arizona cotton weighs approximately 500-lbs. Thus, an acre of it produces about 1,500 total pounds of cotton.  The July 2012 futures price for cotton was about $0.71/lb, so an acre of the stuff yields about $1,065 to the grower. Now, an acre-foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons. So, simple math shows us that it takes 1,530 gallons of irrigation water to grow $1 worth of cotton. As an interesting aside, Arizona has 320,000 acres of cotton currently planted statewide, with an average per acre yield of 2.47 bales/acre, and Arizona’s annual cotton crop consumes about 1.6 million acre-feet of water. The state of Arizona’s total water allotment from the upper & lower Colorado river basins is 2.85 million acre-feet, so our cotton farms consume about 56% of Arizona’s entire allotment from the Colorado river (keep in mind, not all of our cotton is watered from the river allotment – much is watered from pumped groundwater, so I’m just using our state’s allotment of the Colorado as a measuring stick). That’s a hell of a lot of water consumed to make your Fruit o’ the Looms! Now that you have some quantitative perspective, let’s switch to grapevines…

For winegrapes, the math is similar, but the result is startling & really revealing of how & why winegrapes are an ideal crop fro Arizona’s dry, water-conscious environment.

Stay with me here. A ton of Arizona winegrapes sells for around $1,500/ton (Arizona grapes have sold for more than that, and less but this is a reasonable average). If we assume (low) that we can get 2 tons of fruit per acre, then an acre of Arizona-grown winegrapes will yield about $3,000. If it takes 0.90 acre-feet of water to produce that acre of fruit, this equates to 293,266 gallons of water per planted acre of grapevines. So, it only takes 98 gallons of water to grow $1 worth of bulk winegrapes here. Recall, it took 1,530 gallons to generate that same $1 worth of cotton.

All that math sums up to one conclusion: dollar for dollar and apples to apples, Arizona winegrapes require a mere fraction (6%) of the water as cotton, which makes grape growing here a lot more appropriate for our dry, arid climate than cotton. Grapes consume a tiny fraction of the water as do larger crops grown here, and they generate nearly three times the revenue per acre as cotton. In other words, grapevines are ideally-suited for our hot weather in Arizona, and they don’t burden our limited water resources even close to what other crops here do.

At Flying Leap, we are very conscientious about our water use, and we’ve designed an amazing degree of efficiency into our well, wellhead structure and drip irrigation and electronic water management system. I’ve attached a picture from early 2011 of our Block 1 well drilling in progress (see First Drill Pipe Segment Going Down.JPG, attached).

If you’ve never seen a commercial well being drilled with a rotary rig, let me assure you that it’s quite a site to watch. This well today is capable of flowing 300 gallons of filtered water per minute to our vast field network, and our 3-phase pump can maintain that flow at 35-60 psi. This gives Flying Leap an efficient and highly-effective watering system.

Pruning Continues!

We’ve gone over our pruning with you in detail in past blog posts, so this is just an update. We completed our lengthy (and costly) sweep through our Block 1 vines in mid-June. This “build pass” was by far the most labor intensive work we’ve done to date, spanning more than a full month of monotonous, careful plant-by-plant training, clipping, shaping and tying.

We immediately set to work on the second prune, which was much, much faster. I’ve attached a great close-up photograph of what our Petit Verdot looks like following the second pruning pass (see 201206 Petit Verdot – After 2nd Pruning.JPG, attached).

Notice, we’ve secured the vine cane to a sturdy bamboo stake, which is secured to the cordon wire with a metal clip. The vine itself is growing unilaterally (in one direction), and it is nicely held to the cordon wire with vine tape.

So, What’s Next?

Kent is bottling our 2011 vintage this week. This stuff is incredibly good, too. Both our Grenache and Graciano are total home runs, so “thanks, Kent”. We’re already working to line up our Fall distribution for these wines, so both the 2011 Grenache & the Graciano will be available through limited sales in Arizona beginning in November.

As for the vineyard, we are preparing to construct our network of foliage wires on our Blocks 1 & 2 trellis systems. This is yet another monumental task, so Marc & I are burning the midnight oil to chisel out our material & labor plans, as well as prepare drawings of the design itself. The wire network will support the fruiting parts of the vine, from which our grape clusters will hang. Getting that right is really important.

Lastly, our monsoon season is here, so we’re going to have to switch to summer weed control. We haven’t had anything but trace & sparse rainfall since February, so our soil is parched. However, as soon as the rain starts to come (and it comes in buckets during our monsoons), the dormant weeds will grow like mad. So, it’s time for a summer application of pre-emergent, and our work crews will be out with the hoe as well.

See you next time!..