Eureka. The Verde Valley has found a valuable niche with viticulture.

Finding an economic niche is like finding gold. For an economy that is mostly tourism-based, viticulture, the art of growing grapes in a way that’s favorable to winemaking, creates one more reason for people to come to the Verde Valley — and offers a product to sell.

grape_vines_courtesyIn fact, with the number of wineries springing up in Sedona and the Verde Valley, a person can take a tour to visit them and taste their products. Currently there are seven vineyards.

One more will sprout soon, if plans keep moving forward. A long-range goal for Yavapai College Verde Campus is to expand into a full-fledged winery with up to 60 or more acres of grape vines.

The campus offers courses to educate the community on the local wines that are part of the Verde Valley’s history while getting them prepared for a growing industry that will play a large role in the regional economy.

One of the college’s viticulture instructors, Nikki Check, said she intends to start planting the first acre of wine grapes on the campus this spring.

“We’re putting in negro amaro grapes which should grow well here. They’re grown in Sicily and if you look at a world map, we’re very close in latitude here. The vineyard will be integrated into the class,” said Check, who teaches Introduction to Viticulture. “I know the students are anxious to work in and be a part of an emerging vineyard.”

The next session of Introduction to Viticulture will be offered in the fall beginning Thursday, Aug. 26.

Check studied agriculture for five years, starting at Yavapai College and went on to study agroecology at Prescott College. Currently she is managing several vineyards in the Verde Valley.

According to Paula Woolsey, another viticulture instructor for Yavapai College, the Verde Valley is perfect for growing wine grapes because of the latitude and altitude.

“Grapes grow naturally here. They come from the desert — they’re a desert plant and they are low water users. The reason we have good grapes is we plant above 3,500 feet, high desert where the diurnal shift is more drastic. It’s cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. Grapes appreciate that shift,” Woolsey said. “If you look at a world map at where the wine regions are and go across, Arizona is right there.”

The Verde Valley ranges from 34.7 degrees and 34.8 degrees north latitude, whereas Sicily is 37.3 degrees north, France is between 43.3 and 47 degrees north, which Spain is around 37 degrees north latitude.

The Verde Valley also has great soil for grape growing in many areas, rich in calcium and other nutrients upon which grapes thrive. Grape plants also send their roots deep, even 20-plus feet, to get water and pick up nutrients and minerals along the way.

“There are super spots and the Verde campus is one of them,” Woolsey said.

The campus is located on a large piece of land in the foothills of Mingus Mountain off Black Hills Drive in Clarkdale. Only a few acres are currently used, according to Executive Dean Tom Schumacher, who was instrumental in bringing viticulture classes to the campus.

“Viticulture is brand new this year at the college. Our president, James Horton, asked me to find a niche. I went to [University of California] Davis, which is an agriculture-based school. It’s the ‘go-to’ place for wine classes. They have vineyards and a complete winery. I thought why couldn’t we do this at Yavapai College? Our campus is located in an area that is good for grape growing,” Schumacher said. “We can become what UC Davis is. Plus there’s an interest. Every class has been full.”

Schumacher said the college, because of involvement with the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, anticipated the classes would be filled with its members, but found most of the students were members of the community not necessary involved with the consortium but with a huge interest in the subject.

“Grapes are the perfect sustainable crop, and we have a perfect area to grow them,” Schumacher said. The plan for the vineyard is to use reclaimed water and power everything with solar energy. The vineyard could turn out to be one of the greenest in the nation.

“We could even get a cooper in this area and apprentice people to make wine barrels,” Woolsey said.

Woolsey is just finishing her class on Wines of the World. Beginning Wednesday, May 5, she will start her new class, Wines of the United States. The class will start with California and move up the coast to Oregon and Washington as well as Arizona.

Woolsey has a vast background in grapes, wine and winemaking beginning with her father who was in the wine business. She also has degrees from various countries related to wine, including Italy, and is a member of the Society of Wine Educators. She ran and co-owned the Asylum restaurant in Jerome with her husband Eric Woolsey. They sold the restaurant in July and she moved on to working in the wine industry and teaching.

Most recently she and Tom Pitts are co-teaching a Wine Appreciation course that began April 5 in Sedona.

“We plan to make it an ongoing class. It’s very popular. I have people coming from Phoenix to take the class,” Woolsey said. Participants will have the chance to taste different wines, so they must be 21 years or older to enroll.

On Sunday, April 11, Woolsey will help host a screening of the movie “Blood Into Wine” that was made in the Verde Valley. There will be a bottle signing and wine tasting at the Old Town Cottonwood Civic Center, 805 N. Main St.

Some advice Woolsey and Check gave for people growing grapes in the Verde Valley is to not worry if the vines still look like sticks. The grapes are just starting to bud.

“They go dormant in the winter and you don’t have to water them heavily or often, except when you’re starting new vines, but still be careful. They like to dry out between waterings.  “Overwatering hinders the growth,” Check said. “Grapes here will be ready to harvest from mid-August through October, depending on the variety.”

The city of Sedona began its budget process not knowing whether sales tax figures will increase in Sedona in the next three months.

The offices of the city manager and finance are reviewing departments’ budget proposals presented to them.



Assistant City Manager Alison Zelms said community agencies and organizations were notified there may be donation reductions this coming year.

For example, the donation the city gave to Sedona Recycles, Sedona Chamber of Commerce or the Sedona Public Library this past year could significantly decrease.

The city is hoping for a good spring to offset the loss of sales tax revenues for the first six months of the current fiscal year. Zelms said this is typically the busiest time of the year for Sedona.

She said a small percentage on a high-volume amount could wipe out the 12.5 percent decrease because there are fewer visitors in winter.

“The months that make the big difference are in spring, which are our busiest times,” Zelms said. “That could bring you back.”

Everything else is still on the table, Zelms said.

The city is looking into possible cuts, while it tries to determine revenue projections.

Zelms said staff reductions are being finalized, and added nonessential positions could be eliminated by not filling vacancies, which helped the city in its current budget.

The city currently has 5.5 positions not being filled. Zelms said this is in addition to the nine to 10 vacancies that occurred at the beginning of the 2009-2010 budget cycle.

Departments were also asked to not exceed their midyear budgets created in January when the city found their sales tax revenues decreased by more than 12 percent during the first half of the fiscal year.

“We are looking at another year with no salary increases,” Zelms said, adding staff travel will falso be reduced to a minimum.

The city will implement an audit to ensure it is collecting the correct sales tax amounts from businesses, Zelms said. A request for proposal has gone out to hire an auditor for this purpose.

The sewer fee increases the Sedona City Council will discuss Tuesday, April 13, could be included in the budget when implemented, and Zelms said increases could go into effect Thursday, July 1.

Zelms said she anticipates the budget for next year will not exceed the current one. The original operational budget for FY 2009-2010 was $11.9 million, but the midyear budget was decreased to $10.7 million.

She said the plan is to take next year’s tentative budget to council in the second week of May, and once council approves this, the figures can decrease, but the cap cannot be exceeded.

She said the new council members will have to play a role in this process since they will vote on the final document in June.

“It’s been a challenge, but it has been a challenge everywhere,” Zelms said, adding it was not an atypical year except for the downturn in the economy.

Sedona resident Robert Oliver Bernhagan took nine months to bring “Grasshopper Flats” from conception to a finished book, and found that was only the beginning.

grasshopper-bookBernhagan is a first-time writer and self-published his novel about survival in the Old West, set in what is now West Sedona in the early 1880s.

He wrote in his spare time while working and enjoying his hobbies of riding around the Verde Valley in his 1959 Thunderbird, hiking the Sedona hills and talking with the people he met along the trails.

“It’s a straight fantasy but a little different from most Westerns,” Bernhagan said as he shifted his hat back a little off his forehead, noting that the West was not quite as romantic as many books and movies have portrayed.

Although Bernhagan was reared in Madison, Wis., he has always had a penchant for things Western.

He and his wife, Iva, bought a house in Sedona in 1993 and moved here in 1995. Western boots, jeans, shirt and hat are part of his daily wardrobe.

“While in Wisconsin I grew up in the city but spent a lot of time on my cousin’s farm. I loved the outdoors and the animals, and I read a lot of books about cowboys and the West,” Bernhagan said.

“In fact, I got my inspiration for ‘Grasshopper Flats’ from reading Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry. My impetus to write came from my cousin, Andrew Oliver — the one who lives in Wisconsin,” he said.

His cousin had authored children’s books and told Bernhagan he could write a book too.

“It was the right comment at the right time. Funny how that works,” Bernhagan said and gave a sideway glance out a window at the nearby mountains with patches of snow still clinging to the north slopes.

Bernhagan owned a business in West Sedona — Guitars, Guns and Gold — from 1995 to 2002. He plays guitar and bass, and performs in several clubs around town as well as during civic events.

While Bernhagan enjoyed writing his book, the publishing process was difficult to navigate, he said.

Bernhagan sent letters to about 30 mainstream publishers for which he received several rejection letters. It seems most exclude Western fiction as a popular enough genre, he said.

“Plus they’re real cautious about taking on new writers,” Bernhagan said.

When he decided to self-publish, Bernhagan started researching printing houses and found more than he thought existed. It took almost as much time to settle on a printing house as it did to write the book.

“It can be a heartache. It costs money to self-publish, too, but when they start asking for money you have to start asking why, and make them accountable,” Bernhagan said. “This is quite a journey, this self-publishing thing.”

Incoming Sedona City Council members plan to revisit and possibly change a few rulings made of the council in the past few years.

Barbara Litrell, Dan McIlroy, Dennis Rayner and Mike Ward, all elected to council in March, said State Route 89A lights in West Sedona and National Scenic Area designation will be on the table again for discussion and possible action.

barbaralitrell2Litrell said the lights issue, to her, is an emotional one.

“We have the opportunity to revisit the direction given to the Arizona Department of Transportation to let them know we oppose it,” she said.

Litrell wants ADOT representatives to come up with real safety solutions, and then bring it back to the table.

She said time is of the essence because it needs to act before ADOT starts construction.

Getting additional information before making a decision is something the current council should have done, she said, and the sidewalk lights on State Route 179 would have worked for West Sedona.

dan-mcilroyMcIlroy said the decision on the continuous lights is far from over.

He said a letter was recently sent to Gov. Jan Brewer asking her to intervene with ADOT to prevent the lights from going up.

ADOT, he thinks, would like to hear from the new council who wants the agency to reconsider the decision made in February.

There are so many alternatives to lights that were never explored or considered, McIlroy said, and he believes the federal government needs to be informed the money paid to ADOT to install lights is not something Sedona wants.

He said ADOT only considered lights, and added he thinks the federal funds could be used for what fits Sedona.

Rayner said the No. 1 concern he heard repeatedly during his campaign was in reference to the lights, and feels he owes it those who voted for him to follow through on this pledge.

dennis-raynerRayner is unsure if the decision can be reversed, but said letter-writing campaigns to the governor and state representatives is a start.

He said it is disappointing the people on the current City Council did not follow the will of the people.

Ward said ADOT received the go-ahead with the old council, not with the new council.

“What we will do is contact ADOT and ask them to sit down at the table with [us],” he said. “They never looked at anything else. We would like to change their minds.”

ADOT spokeswoman Teresa Welborn said ADOT is moving forward with the design process and officials have not been requested to speak before the new council, but added the new members are not seated yet either.

The four new council members also said they want to write a letter to U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] stating council supports her work on the NSA.

mike-wardWard said members of the U.S. Congress could balk at voting for this action if they think the city of Sedona does not want it.

The current council said it did not support it. Cottonwood representatives said they were going to support Sedona and also opposed the designation.

“If we [change] our decision on this, Cottonwood would too,” Ward said. “That gives Kirkpatrick some leverage.”

Rayner agreed, saying if there is no support from the Sedona City Council, the designation looks a little questionable.

McIlroy said Kirkpatrick is up for reelection and would like to act in the best interests of the community and like to know how the new City Council feels about the designation.

“It’s a win on both sides,” he said.

Litrell agreed with the new council members she will work with.

“I think given the strong support by the community, it would be important for the new council to send a letter to Ann Kirkpatrick that shows the strong support by the council [that] represents the public,” Litrell said.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross has not been forgotten in negotiations to pass National Scenic Area legislation through Congress.

House Bill 4823 omits references to the chapel and its surrounding property that previously existed in the discussion draft.

chapelholycrossIn the discussion draft legislation, the Chapel of the Holy Cross was specifically mentioned in Section 3.

When U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] sent House Bill 4823 to Congress, however, the language was omitted, but the chapel deal hasn’t been cut from the process. Instead, it was written into its own bill.

Owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, the chapel and its visitor parking lot occupies an 11.07-acre parcel of land currently leased from the U.S. Forest Service just outside city limits in the Chapel area of Sedona.

The chapel could not continue to be leased from the USFS if the Sedona area becomes an NSA, making special consideration of the property necessary.

“Through her conversations with interested stakeholders and community members, Rep. Kirkpatrick found that the unique, specific issues concerning lands around the Chapel of the Holy Cross could be best addressed through separate legislation,” according to Joe Katz, Kirkpatrick’s press secretary.

“Along with the Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area Act of 2010 [HR 4823], she also introduced HR 4824 to authorize the conveyance of those lands,” Katz stated.

The initial draft gave the diocese 180 days after the bill’s enactment to purchase the parcel from the Coconino National Forest. The proposed bill gives the diocese up to one year to complete the sale.

If both bills pass a congressional vote, the diocese will pay fair market value to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the U.S. Forest Service.

The Secretary of Agriculture would determine the value of the land with an appraisal under two federal guidelines: the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions and the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.

The cost of the land has not yet been determined.

According to House Bill 4824, the funds from the sale must be used by the Secretary of Agriculture in accordance with Public Law 90-171, commonly known as the Sisk Act.

The secretary has to use the money for acquiring land or interests in land from willing sellers within the Sedona-Red Rock National Scenic Area within three years.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix did not return phone calls as of press time.

Text of the bill:


H.R. 4824

To provide for the conveyance of a small parcel of land in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona.


Ms. KIRKPATRICK of Arizona introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on [no date provided].


To provide for the conveyance of a small parcel of land in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona.

1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) CONVEYANCE REQUIRED.—Not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall convey, by sale, to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona (in this section referred to as the ‘‘Diocese’’), all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to a parcel of land in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona, consisting of the approximately 11.07 acres and identified as lot 26 in section 30 of Township 17 North, Range 6 East, Gila and Salt River Base and Meridian, as generally depicted on the map entitled "Chapel of the Holy Cross Parcel, Sedona, Arizona" and dated October 2009.

(b) CONSIDERATION.—As consideration for the conveyance of the parcel under subsection (a), the Diocese shall pay to the Secretary an amount equal to the fair market value of the parcel, as determined by the Secretary through an appraisal performed in accordance with—

(1) the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions; and

(2) the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

(c) USE OF SALE PROCEEDS.—Moneys received by the Secretary from the sale of land under subsection (a) shall be deposited in the fund established by Public Law 90–171 (commonly known as the Sisk Act; U.S.C. 484a) for use by the Secretary for the acquisition of land or interests in land from willing sellers within the Coconino National Forest. To the maximum extent practicable, the Secretary shall utilize such moneys for the authorized purpose within three years of the deposit of the moneys in the Sisk Act fund.

(d) MINOR ERRORS.—The Secretary and the Diocese may make, by mutual agreement, minor boundary adjustments in the parcel directed for sale under subsection (a). If there is a conflict between any map, acreage estimate, or a description of the land under this section, the map shall control unless the Secretary and the Diocese mutually agree otherwise.

“Where oh where has my little dog gone?”

For people who have lost their pet the lyrics are a panicked cry. Their friend, a member of the family, is gone, and they want them back.

Sedona and Verde Valley humane societies have several stray pets in the shelters awaiting owners to retrieve them, if the owner can be found.

humanelost“We have 18 lost animal reports just since the first of February. Seven have been returned to their owners,” Humane Society of Sedona Executive Director B. Skielvig said. “I wish everyone would have their pets chipped.”

Pets become lost for many reasons, such as a dog feeling bored and digging out of his enclosure. Fear is also a factor with fireworks and thunder at the top of the list, Skielvig said.

“They don’t like loud noises and want to get away,” she said. “Other times the owners are out of town and there’s a pet sitter. With no one around, they find a way out.”

Spenser ran off from his owners Feb. 18. Becky and Dick Kruse immediately tried to find him. They first called the humane society. Becky Kruse also made color fliers with Spenser’s photo and her telephone number.

“He was lost off Cornville Road while Dick and a friend were out riding horses. Dick had Spenser on a lead rope,” Becky Kruse said.

When Dick Kruse gave the lead rope to his friend, Spenser bolted and ran off.

“We talked to the Sedona, Cottonwood and Prescott shelters. Then we all went out on horseback to look for him.

“We looked everywhere. By 4 p.m. Friday [Feb. 19] we gave up,” Becky Kruse said.

About 1½ hours later, the Kruses received a call from friends on Page Springs Road. They heard a dog barking, looked out and saw Spenser.

“He’d picked up a trail, found a scent he recognized and followed it,” Kruse said.

Again in Cornville, a store keeper found a chocolate Labrador retriever. She called Skielvig who looked through files and thought she had the owner but didn’t. The woman is keeping the dog until its owner can be found.

In Cottonwood, a pair of Labrador retrievers showed up in a resident’s carport. She took them to the Verde Valley Humane Society where an employee recognized them. The owner lived around the corner from the woman who found the dogs.

When she returned them, a pet sitter said the dogs kept digging out.

“We scan every stray to see if they’re chipped. If they are it makes it so easy,” Verde Valley Humane Society Executive Director Cyndi Sessoms said. “We sometimes get as many as 60 stray dogs a month.”

Sometimes the shelter is able to hook the animals up with their owners right away. Otherwise they hold the animal for five days then put it up for adoption.

“People should check the shelter often, and come in and look,” Sessoms said.

Skielvig said when a pet is lost, or a stray is found, first call the humane society. They may have a report of the animal. If not, the people there can give advice where to go next. Secondly put up fliers with a photograph.

“There are several Web sites that do just lost and found pets. The quicker you do all of this, the better,” Skielvig said.

The Sedona City Council listened to a presentation Tuesday, March 23, on the feasibility study for a demand-response electric transit service in Uptown.

Greg Zucco, chairman of the Sedona Electric Transit Agency Task Force, said what it is proposing would replace the RoadRunner circulator that is not working.

City staff and Mayor Rob Adams will meet with representatives from the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority to receive their input.

roadrunner_logoZucco said what the task force proposes would increase ridership by up to 92 percent from what the RoadRunner is accomplishing.

The RoadRunner is not working like it should be and is not a popular transit solution to many members of the community, Zucco said.

He also said the use of electric cars will be much better for the environment because trolleys emit greenhouse gases.

Zucco said electric vehicles cost $17,000 each compared to the $287,000 for a trolley, and added waiting times would only be a few minutes since many of them would operate at the same time.

There would be no stops, with drivers instead relying on calls for pickup service.

The cost per rider, he said, would be between 25 cents to 50 cents.

He said there is a need for this service, but the main question is how much would the city allocate for it. Another issue is what the city would do with the expensive RoadRunner vehicles if the it stopped using them. NAIPTA would have to be paid back about $600,000.

Zucco said the city could work out a transfer plan with another municipality that uses trolley cars and added the expenses would be incurred by NAIPTA.

Councilman-elect Dennis Rayner asked during public comment about the safety factor since the photos Zucco shared showed no doors on the electric vehicles.

Zucco said motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles also have no cover.

Zucco added the vehicles would never exceed 25 mph and safety is a consideration for any type of vehicle.

Councilman-elect Dan McIlroy asked during public comment whether government should be getting involved in this issue and asked whether it was the government’s business to do so.

Councilwoman Nancy Scagnelli said the decision on this change should be made by the incoming council, and she did not want to give direction to staff without knowing what the new members want.

“This is a big decision,” she said. “My biggest concern is the service model.”

She said getting Sedona residents and visitors to think outside the box will be difficult.

Scagnelli also wondered how people would know what phone number to call to get the service.

“[The presentation] was interesting, and I think the next council should look at it,” she said.

Vice Mayor Cliff Hamilton thanked the task force for its great job and presentation, but he too wondered how people would know who to call.

Zucco said the idea is to have advertising on the car, as well as all the other mediums.

Hamilton said he thinks the city would need to take care of or eliminate the RoadRunner service before moving forward on this proposal.

Mike Goimarac, Sedona city attorney, said there is an intergovernmental agreement with NAIPTA, but added he had not looked into what it would mean if council wanted to discontinue the transit service.

Councilman Dan Surber said the only direction to staff he could support was talking to NAIPTA, and asked if this service was eliminated, what would it mean to the Verde Lynx.

City Manager Tim Ernster said discussions with NAIPTA must happen before getting too involved in next year’s budget. He added the city would need to find out how it could dispose of the buses if it chose to go in this direction.

“We need to have these discussions,” he said.

Scagnelli said she does not want the city to end up without a transit service whatsoever because once the door is closed on NAIPTA, it will never open again.

Adams said the idea needs to be explored, and he will be involved in the discussions with NAIPTA. He added since he serves on this board, it could help.

The Sedona-Oak Creek School District plans to continue offering full-day kindergarten, even though the state will not fund it.

kindergartenOn March 19, Arizona lawmakers cut $218 million in program funding for all-day kindergarten for budget purposes.

When classes start in the fall, the state will pay only for half-day kindergarten sessions.

SOCSD Superintendent Mike Aylstock said the state decision means his district will lose $210,000 in revenue, but he added full-day kindergarten for Sedona is a priority and will remain.

He said the district will reduce services in some programs to ensure parents can still take advantage of full-day kindergarten.

Aylstock said the district has offered this opportunity for several years and was providing it when the state was not funding it.

“We will have to find monies in the budget as we prioritize it,” he said, and the district needs to find ways to allocate the funds it does have.

Aylstock said he was not surprised with the state’s decision because there had been rumors full-day kindergarten was going to be cut.

He said full-day kindergarten is an extremely valued program that cannot be cut without impacts, but added the district realizes the state is in a tough economic situation where hard decisions have to be made.

He said research shows children attending full-day kindergarten do better than those who attend half the day. He said full-day kindergarten prepares them for first grade where they will attend school for the full day.

“They learn the social skills,” Aylstock said when talking about the benefits of full-day kindergarten.

He said the difficult decision is trying to find what can be cut to allow the district to keep full-day kindergarten, adding the cuts will not necessarily mean eliminations.

Aylstock said full-day kindergarten has always been something the school board and the district’s executive team valued.

SOCSD School Board President Bobbie Surber said full-day kindergarten gives young children a head start in education, so keeping it for its students and the community was not a hard decision.

”It’s very disappointing,” she said in reference to the state not funding the program anymore.

“The money will have to come from somewhere,” Surber said. “How or where is something we will be discussing in the next few weeks.”

Surber said Sedona is not alone; every school district in the state is being affected by decisions where funding is being taken away from public education.

“There is no white horse coming to the rescue,” she said.

Online Poll

What do you donate to during the holidays?

Sedona Gas Prices

Lowest Gas Prices in Sedona
Sedona Gas Prices provided by
Sedona United States Cloudy, 37 °F
Current Conditions
Sunrise: 7:28 am   |   Sunset: 5:17 pm
34%     7.0 mph     28.310 bar
Sat Low: 30 °F High: 50 °F
Sun Low: 29 °F High: 53 °F
Mon Low: 27 °F High: 55 °F
Tue Low: 20 °F High: 55 °F
Wed Low: 29 °F High: 54 °F
Thu Low: 23 °F High: 44 °F
Fri Low: 16 °F High: 45 °F
Sat Low: 18 °F High: 46 °F
Sun Low: 20 °F High: 50 °F
Mon Low: 17 °F High: 45 °F