Sweet Dreams

Clear Creek Vineyard sinking roots

Committed to organic farming methods, Clear Creek vineyards owner Ignacio Mesa employs geese to do his weeding, chickens to eat the bugs and a couple of cats to help keep the gophers in check.<br>
<i>Steve Ayers/VVN</i>

Committed to organic farming methods, Clear Creek vineyards owner Ignacio Mesa employs geese to do his weeding, chickens to eat the bugs and a couple of cats to help keep the gophers in check.<br> <i>Steve Ayers/VVN</i>

Oak Creek has had vineyards for years.

Three years ago, Alcantara Vineyard and Winery pioneered the Verde.

And now that Ignacio Mesa has finished jumping through all the legal hoops, Clear Creek will soon boast its first entry into the Verde Valley's burgeoning wine industry.

Actually, Mesa's vineyard has been in the ground for eight years. That's how long ago he planted an acre of experimental vines.

Three years ago he took an early retirement from his 35-year career as construction manager so he could dedicate his time to tending the vineyard and expanding it.

And doing a little more experimenting.

Two months ago he received his federal license. Last month he received a liquor license from the Town of Camp Verde.

Next spring he will plant another 4,000 vines and fill out his 10-acre plot. Then he will begin building his winery and tasting room.

To say he is passionate about his new career and his plans for Clear Creek Vineyards and Winery is an understatement.

'The soil here is perfect," he says, "The water is so clear. They don't call it Clear Creek for nothing. And the weather is perfect, about five degrees warmer during the day and about 10 degrees cooler at night than what they have in the Napa Valley.

His experiments have shown that cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, zinfandel, petite syrah, viognier and chardonnay all grow well in the microclimate along the creek.

But it is his experiments outside of the grapes, and outside of the location, that will eventually set Mesa's vineyard apart.

For starters, it is likely the only vineyard around that employs geese,

"The most time consuming part of caring for a vineyard is keeping the weeds down," Mesa said. "I have about 10 geese and they do a great job."

And yes, he said, they all have "green" cards -- at least the ones issued for organic farming.

"I got the idea to use geese about 20 years ago when I heard that cotton farmers in Mississippi were using them in the fields. They would eat the weeds but not the cotton," Mesa said.

To facilitate the use of geese, Mesa has trained his vines so they branch out about four to five feet off the ground, out of the bird's reach.

In addition to the geese he also has a flock of chickens on bug patrol and a few cats looking for gophers.

"It doesn't get more organic than that," Mesa said. "On top of it all, the birds are constantly fertilizing."

Mesa is committed to organic farming, a trademark he wants associated with his wines.

Clear Creek Vineyards and Winery is about a year away from opening to the public, according to Mesa. Some of the vines are producing and some are a few years away.

Mesa said he plans to bring in grapes from the Willcox area the first year or two. By then he hopes to see some other growers move into the area.

"Someday maybe there will be a Clear Creek appellation," he said. "I may be the first but I'm not the last."

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