TOMBSTONE — Vineyards scatter across southern Arizona like cacti.
Sonoita and Elgin, both in Santa Cruz County, have a rich history and a plethora of tasting rooms and wineries. In recent years, wine enthusiasts have planted their roots in Cochise County with vineyards in Willcox, McNeal and now just outside of Tombstone.
Tom Heshion, founder and CEO of Equine and Wines, is the latest entrepreneur to find land in the area destined for producing wine grapes. The Midwest native purchased the old Cowan Cattle Ranch east of Tombstone, which spans 21,000 acres.
“We already purchased the property, the 7,000 deeded acres,” Heshion said. “And it’s all intertwined with the state owned land. So the state owned land is currently controlled by Kelly Young and we’re under contract to purchase that (land and the lease) also.”
While Equine and Wines is Heshion’s idea, local veterans and Cochise County residents will have a stake in the company. County residents can purchase 10 acre parcels of the vineyard for $10,000 in exchange for 50 percent of the retail dollar as it’s a 50-50 split on the crop, and a lifetime membership to the Equestrian Club, Country Club and Spa that will be built on the property.
“We’re not aware of any vineyard thats ever been a cooperative,” Heshion said. “And it’s a cooperative to help the local economy rather than a big investor or somebody moving in … and taking the money out of there. What we’re doing is breaking the vineyard up into small pieces, where local people can afford to own one.”
The plan is the plant 200 acres of vineyards for 37 variables, with the goal of having 2,000 acres of vineyards. They broke ground on March 22 and plan to have the first 200 acres planted by the end of the year.
“The benefit of a cooperative is that the 10-acre vinyard owner doesn’t have to open stores, they don’t have to manage people they don’t have to come up with the money to open a store and they don’t have to figure out the industry,” Heshion said.
“Because we are such a large organization we were able to bring in the help of Daniel Fischl and Doug Frost. There are only three men in the world that are both a master sommelier and a master of wine and Doug is one of those three.”
It was Fischl, a viticulturist, who suggested Heshion venture to Cochise County to fulfill a dream he crafted decades ago.
“I have a yellow pad (and) up at the top it says ‘10-18-89’ where I wrote this out as my life ambition back in 1989. And since then I’ve done a number of things preparing for it,” Heshion said. “The letter says ‘I will build a farm. It will be self sustaining and the farm agriculture will help sustain the horse habit because I don’t see the horse industry surviving in the future’.”
While entertaining offers for his organic hay business, Heshion bought a truck in Seattle, Washington and drove to Temecula, California looking for a vineyard to purchase. But he didn’t have any luck.
“I thought my life dream was over because it was $650,000 an acre to buy a vineyard … I called Daniel Fischl looking for a viticulturist and he said stay out of California, go to Washington. I said ‘I’ve been to Washington their wine (isn’t) that good.’ … So I didn’t believe in going that way, so I wanted something more Napa climate.”
Which is when he was told not by one but two people to visit Cochise County. He said as soon as he drove onto the property, he knew he had to have it. His gut feeling was proven correct when he and Fischl ran the soil tests.
“We’re going to spend about $120 million in the first 2,000 acres,” Heshion said. “But that 2,000 acres will produce $100 million a year in sales in other parts of the country. But that’s just the startup. There’s still the ongoing expenses of maintaining and processing of the wine that gets added to that number. Probably $200 million in the next eight years in local spending.”
Part of that amount was in leveling the land and creating a whole new ecosystem. Heshion wants Equines and Wines to be an organic business, so he had the mesquite picked instead of killed and intends to put it back into the land and is creating an environment so pesticides don’t have to be used.
“So in other words, the birds will kill the rodents and all the stuff that’s done (in nature),” said Marketing Director for Equine and Wines Riyan Holte. “Bugs are being bred and created. Bees are being raised. All of that is being done to make the vineyard organic without using pesticides on it.”
A portion of the property will be used for an equine facility which Heshion hopes to break ground on this fall, or next spring at the latest. Heshion said he used horses as a form of therapy to help him with the pressure associated with the “world of big business.”
He opened a riding academy and saw how it benefited veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, so he wants to bring that to his property to help with therapy and the horse industry.
For more information visit https://equineandwines.com/.