Scottsdale resident Steve Sieger and two friends swirled and sipped small samples of merlots and cabernets at the dimlylit Kazimierz World Wine Bar in Scottsdale.
Sieger organized the recent afternoon outing to show off Scottsdale’s unique wine scene to his Canadian visitors. Several Scottsdale wine bars, like Kazimierz, give wine drinkers the options of comparing different varieties in small quantities.
“It’s a really neat way for people to try new types of wines,” said Heather Gray, who was visiting from Win- nipeg, Manitoba, to consider buying a condominium. “I’ve never been to one like this in Winnipeg where you can get different wine-flight samples.”
While wine-tasting has long been a favorite hobby for Scottsdale residents like Sieger, the city will soon be home to wine producing, blending and bottling.
In February, Scottsdale will get its first winery called Su Vino on downtown Main Street.
But experts say it likely won’t be the last.
Recent legislation reformed Arizona wine laws and made the state more accommodating for wineries. And, as the Valley’s wine industry grows, Scottsdale is expected to be a hot spot for a new model of winery bars.
“If the law hadn’t changed, we would not be able to be here,” said Cory Whalin, Su Vino Winery owner.
Before the new law, wineries were not able to acquire dual licenses to be both a winery and a bar. The old law also required wineries to use Arizona-grown grapes 75 percent of the time, restricting the types of wine that could be made.
In May 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these laws violated interstate commerce. After the ruling, Arizona was forced to change its wine laws to allow small wineries to also have a wine bar license and use out-of-state grapes.
For Su Vino, the new law made Scottsdale accessible for a custom winery, which allows patrons to choose the method of wine making to meet their tastes.
“We just found that the downtown Scottsdale was the place to be,” Whalin said. “With the growth that it has and the art district, we felt that our winery concept flowed perfectly with the city.”
The winery bar concept is similar to a restaurant beerbrewery, which has been popularized by eateries like Gordon Biersch and B.J.’s Brewery. Winery bars have been popular for years in states like California that didn’t have restrictive wine laws.
Now that the Arizona market has opened up, the state’s wine industry has the potential to grow exponentially, said Rod Keeling, president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association.
“The new law really creates the opportunity for a model we’ve never seen before in Arizona,” he said. “What it does is it makes us a lot more like California.”
For a state to have a prosperous wine industry, it must have a good climate and farming conditions and suitable wine law, he said.
“Arizona’s a great place to grow wine,” Keeling said. “But in order for the wine industry to grow we had to have a change in the law. And we got it.”
In the past decade, wine bars and stores have proliferated in Scottsdale, largely due to an expanding wine-drinking culture.
“It’s huge in Scottsdale,” said Tagan Dering, Kazimierz manger. “Wine in this town is ‘the thing.’ And to see how much it’s grown in the past few years, it’s just amazing.”
The culture has really expanded across all age groups because of greater availability and affordability of wine, said Mario Wilson, Scottsdale Wine Academy founder.
“There’s all varieties of people drinking wine,” he said. “People are getting more into drinking wine and more and more people are learning to appreciate wine because of its availability.”