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Leading Arizona Vineyard is Burned to the ground

One of Arizona’s oldest wineries has burned to the ground, sending ripples through the state’s wine industry that it helped developed.

Arizona Vineyards, established in 1984, was located off the Patagonia Highway northeast of Nogales in the southeastern part of the state.

It was destroyed early Friday morning after police believe a man set it on fire.

“I’ve lost everything,” owner Tino Ocheltree said Monday as he walked through the ashes.

Ocheltree estimated his losses at $2 million, but said he doesn’t intend to walk away. “I will build again,” he said.

Alfonso Obregon, 43, of Nogales, has been arrested on charges of arson of an occupied structure and aggravated criminal damage.

He remains in Santa Cruz County jail.

Nogales police Detective Jose Pimienta said several people saw Obregon leaving Arizona Vineyards after the fire started.

No one was injured, and police are investigating a possible motive.

Gary Reeves, owner of the nearby Village of Elgin Winery, said if Ocheltree isn’t able to recover, the state is losing a pioneer of the wine industry.

“And that kind of experience you can’t replace,” Reeves said. “The reality is it’s a blow to the business.”

Nestled in grassy hills between Patagonia and Nogales, Arizona Vineyards was known for its Old World, museum-like feel.

The winery boasted giant wooden wine casks that were stacked to the ceiling, was decorated with quirky antiques, sculptures and paintings, and produced such only-in-Arizona vintages as Desert Dust, Rattlesnake Red and Coyote Red.

“It was a real novelty kind of place,” said Fran Lightly, winemaker at nearby Sonoita Vineyards. “Anybody who had been there always had interesting comments about the kinds of souvenir-type things they found there.

Rod Keeling of the Arizona Wine Growers Association said Arizona Vineyards was one of four vineyards — including Sonoita, Village of Elgin and Callaghan — that came into their own in the 1980s and for several years served as the entire Arizona industry.

Reeves said a few more vineyards came along in the 1990s, and in the past few years there has been an explosion.

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Thursday, January 18, 3:35 pm

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