By Justen Ollendick, Arizona Farm Bureau: This week Arizona Agriculture has the privilege of meeting Robert Carlson III of Carlson Creek Vineyard in Cochise County! Carlson Creek Vineyard is located off Kansas Settlement Road, just outside of Willcox, which features the 160 acre vineyard surrounded by several others. You can find the winery located in historic Willcox operating with the tasting room on Railway Avenue. For more information on Carlson Creek Vineyards, visit Carlson Creek Vineyard online. Let’s meet Bob Carlson and family!

An interview with Bob Carlson of Carlson Creek Vineyard – Willcox, Arizona

Part of an ongoing series about Arizona farming and ranching families.

Tell us about your farm, ranch, or agribusiness operation(s): Carlson Creek Vineyard is a family-owned vineyard and winemaking operation based in Willcox, AZ. We have 160-acres of vines that produce Rhone-style varietals of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre, with Chenin Blanc and Merlot varietals being locally sourced.

A common saying in the wine industry is that wine is made in the vineyard, emphasizing the importance of the way in which your grapes are grown. 

We, and many others, believe Cochise County is the best place in Arizona – and perhaps even the Southwest – to grow wine grapes.  With our high altitude, diurnal swings, good water, and dry air it is an excellent locale for grape growing.

Bob Carlson and his sons, John (left) and Robert III, are establishing a solid reputation for Arizona wine-making.

Why did you choose to go into agriculture? I was a stockbroker with an appreciation for wine who was ready to leave corporate America, and with our family’s farming background this seemed like a natural fit.

What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming, ranching, or agribusiness? The biggest change I’ve seen is the spotlight of consumer attention focused on farmers’ practices. An inquisitive and informed consumer no longer blindly accepts or trusts what his grocer put on the shelves. This focus started in the organic trend but has spread to all aspects of the food chain. It is my belief that this trend will not diminish but accelerate and become the norm at all levels of production.

Will anyone in your family - younger generation - pursue farming, ranching, or agribusiness? We currently have two generations working on the vineyard, and are still waiting for the next generation to be born. But it is our belief that they will see the virtues of this life and the benefits of actually producing something that enriches our world. 

The Carlson Creek Vineyard tasting room in Willcox.

Would you ever consider changing your business model? Always.  The world moves fast and the modern farmer must find a balance between tradition and technology. To not do so is to be rendered obsolete. The modern business world has come to the farm and cannot be ignored.

What are your community activities? We support a great deal of charities by participating in a number of events throughout the year, as well as our local market cooperative. 

Why are you involved? By combining our efforts we not only amplify the footprint of a great cause, but also increase the visibility of two brands to a potentially new audience and have the opportunity to increase our sales.

What do you enjoy doing? There’s nothing like spending a day in the vineyard, whether it’s planting, harvesting or even fixing a water line. But another aspect of the business I also really enjoy is selling our final product, meeting with vendors and getting our wine in the hands of the consumer.  

Why are you a farm bureau member? The bureau is the voice of farming. We are members because this organization protects us from ignorance in legislation and provides a forum for us to move forward as a greater industry.

How will the next generation of agribusiness leaders have to operate? Part showman, part politician, part preacher. They will have to be able to cut through the noise of the world while maintaining that sense of place and authenticity that allows them to tell our stories.

Not selling you, but talking with you.  Not campaigning to you, but listening to you.  They will need an ear for all crops and an eye for the new waves of growth. Nothing will be more damaging than not understanding what we as growers need from our leaders.

“From our family to yours, we hope you enjoy our care and commitment to fine wine.” –Bob Carlson

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Editor's Note: This makes our second wine-making farm family we've profile in our Arizona Agriculture series. Our first family, Meet Arizona Agriculture's Graham Family, appeared in April of 2014. Their Golden Rule Vineyards label is becoming another well-known Arizona wine. We plan to profile other wine-making farm families in the near future.