Cheers! Wine festival a hit

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Alisha Bannon of Kief-Joshua Vineyards pours a glass of white wine for a taster. The second annual Wine, Art, and History Festival was a huge success, according to those involved.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – By all accounts, the second annual Wine, Art, and History Festival in Downtown Safford was a smashing success last weekend.

The two-day festival featured seven different wineries, numerous food vendors which offered an eclectic variety of delights, live music, art, a bit of history, and a variety of vendors. 

The festival is the brainchild of Graham County Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Tim Linden and Director Patrick O’Donnell. The duo said they had seen roughly 2,000 locals leave the area to visit Willcox’s annual wine festival and decided that Safford deserved to have its own as well.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Graham County Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Tim Linden, Safford City Manager Horatio Skeete, and Chamber Director Patrick O’Donnell take in the festival.

Linden, who owns and operates III Counties Distributing which carries a wide variety of popular beer brands, said he had witnessed other such events in other counties and knew it could be a success here as well. He said it was the chamber’s job to draw the people to the area for the event and the local businesses’ jobs are to entice them to utilize their goods and services and that it has been working great so far. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Dave Stock of BluesBerry Jam Too performs to the delight of the crowd.

According to O’Donnell, the festival made enough money through tasting ticket sales alone by 4 p.m. the first day to pay for all the music acts.

“Last year, we had four wineries and they were busy all day both days,” O’Donnell said. “We brought seven wineries in (this year) and they are still busy all day, so we’re really getting excited about the potential of this to grow into (a) huge, huge event over the next year or two.”

Kief-Joshua Vineyards grows their own grapes and produces their wines in both Elgin (Sonoita) and on 40 acres in Kansas Settlement near Willcox. Owner and winemaker Kief Manning said his winery has been to both of Safford’s festivals and that he was impressed with its growth.

“We’re a 100 percent locally grown, produced, and bottled family-run establishment (and have) been down here in southern Arizona for 16 years,” Manning said. “It’s a great festival. It’s a nice way to spend a weekend drinking wine in the park.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Kief-Joshua Vineyards owner Kief Manning pours a glass of red wine.

Sisters Shannon Zouzoulas and Megan Haller own and operate Arizona Hops and Vines, which has its vineyard in Sonoita. This was the first year at the festival for the pair, but they said they were selling out fast and were having a blast doing so.

“Everyone has been fantastic,” Haller said. “The music has been awesome. We’re happy to be here.”

“It’s been great; everything about it,” Zouzoulas said. “It’s a surprising customer base. I was thrown off because I’ve heard it’s a Mormon town; I didn’t think people would be into the whole wine scene. And everyone is well-educated; they’re very interested in the wine, so it’s very interesting to me. It’s not a dry town like I thought.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Arizona Hops and Vines owners, from left, Shannon Zouzoulas and Megan Haller enjoy the festival.

In addition to the wine, the next biggest draw had to be the music, which featured performances by Porter’s Ghost, PB&H, Darryn Kamae, BluesBerry Jam Too, and a featured concert by Bad News Blues.

It wouldn’t be a complete wine, art, and history festival without a little art and history, and there were paintings and cultural items for viewing and sale, along with historic tours of Solomon and San Jose, and a historic gunfight reenactment by Shaunessy’s Shadows.

“It’s really turning into a nice event,” O’Donnell said.