IT’S THE PITTS – Meet Tom Pitts

Bastille Day Celebration in 2000 in Texas

It’s the Pitts

I’m a California native, an alum of the University of Arizona (Chemical Engineering, Marketing, and Economics), with additional studies in Texas and Europe, and an Army veteran. I have spent time based on the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast, and in the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest, and two years in Italy, before returning to Arizona in 2005 and coming to the Verde Valley.

Over that time, as a dedicated serial entrepreneur, I had successful careers in radio and television broadcasting and in the marketing and advertising industries, as well as extensive experience in the publishing and entertainment industries. That includes having been a performer, a booking agent, a personal manager, an operations manager of a record label distributed by CBS, and a major concert promoter. I was the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the worldwide trade magazine for the live entertainment industry.

I also spent time as a major sports promoter, primarily focused on live and closed circuit world championship boxing events. I created and operated a marketing and consulting firm to develop projects and business plans to create new companies while I operated a very successful resort development, marketing, and management group of companies in major resort destination areas around the country, before “retiring” and moving here.

Travel and Education

I grew up in California in a family that enjoyed a nice bottle of wine with a serious dinner and that travelled extensively. I enjoyed fishing as a kid in the Russian River. As I grew up and travelled, I learned to regularly enjoy a bottle of wine with a nice meal and I set out to study and learn more about wine, initially primarily as a consumer, visiting wine producing regions when possible. My knowledge and exposure soared when I was living in Europe.

When Sharon, my wife, and I got together, I quickly discovered that she had an interest in wine. She had a great palate, but little experience – coupled with an enthusiast’s desire to learn. So, we began to get serious and make wine a key part of our life together until it became a shared passion. We joined wine clubs and organizations and began to build a wine cellar. Over time, I took on leadership roles in various organizations.

I served as a Bailli (chapter president) and national board member for the Paris-based Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the largest international wine and food society in the world. (Sedona, of course, has its own fabulous chapter.) I was a Cellar Master for the London-based International Wine & Food Society. I took on leadership roles with the Commanderie de Bordeaux, the Jurade de Saint-Émilion, the Confrérie Saint-Etienne (Alsace), the Confrérie des Vignerons de Saint Vincent (Burgundy), the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine (the American wine society) and a number of others, including Italian and German societies. I was the president of a local 450-member wine-tasting group. I was hosting or involved in presenting about one major wine tasting a month and attending about one per week with visiting winemakers or importers.

My wife and I would visit Europe and the West Coast in alternating years. I served on a number of tasting panels, was a member of two blind tasting groups, wrote quite a few articles and taught wine classes along the way. It was fun to visit wineries in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, the Rhone, Champagne, Tuscany, the Piedmont, the Rhine, and the Mosel, along with visits to Australia, Greece and most of the major wine-producing areas in North America. In many cases, I was welcomed into the cellars and vineyards by people for whom I had hosted events. I began to do marketing and public relations for winemakers, importers, distributors, and retail chains and help to develop trade-based tours to Italy and Northern California. When we came here in 2005, before Arizona’s laws changed, I thought I had left all of that behind me. I promised my wife I wasn’t going to get involved. She thought that was the funniest thing she’d ever heard!

An Active Committee Member

I soon became the President and Chairman of the Board of the Jerome Chamber of Commerce, and, as such, a principal in the Sedona Verde Valley Tourism Council. I was the Secretary of the Jerome Historical Society and a member of the Jerome Planning and Zoning Commission. I served on the Founding Board of Directors of the Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization (VVREO). When Arizona changed the laws in 2006, allowing the wine industry to begin to operate as they do today, I joined in, to help champion the growth of the new industry.

When we formed the Verde Valley Wine Consortium in 2008, I served as the Founding President and Chairman of the Board and took on the role of
leading our legislative outreach efforts. Tom Schumacher, my successor as President, took the lead in working with Yavapai College to create the Viticulture and Enology program at the school, and Paula Woolsey the organization’s current President, chaired the Education Committee. She was the first instructor in the program; I was the second.

Shortly thereafter, I was selected to serve on the Governor’s statewide Sector Strategy Strategic Partnership Committee, and I joined the Arizona Association for Economic Development (AAED). I was named AAED’s “Member of the Year” in 2017.

Verde Valley Winemaking

I quickly reached out to the University of Arizona and worked with them to develop a study for the Consortium titled “The Economic Contributions of Verde Valley Winemaking.” The study was for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010 – only four years after the law change – and concluded that the total of all economic activity in Arizona related to Verde Valley wine was estimated to be almost $25 million. It also stated that over 78 acres in the Verde Valley were already under vine and the industry was employing 124 people.

I had the UA print and bind 100 copies of the study and I hand-carried them to the Governor, state agencies, state legislators, and country and community officials. I used that study to have the Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT) declare the Verde Valley a “destination driver” (the attractions they automatically support) because of the efforts of the Verde Valley Wine Consortium. I joined AOT’s “Research Roundtable” and convinced AOT to undertake the first Arizona Wine Tourism Economic Impact Study which I then helped produce for them with Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) research department. That study met with such great success that we did an updated study that I co-authored with the NAU team in 2017.

We are currently preparing our second update for presentation at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Tucson in July.

Tom Pitts is an author, business consultant, and grant writer. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Association for Economic Development and is a very active member of their Government Affairs Committee. He is in his 14th year of writing the monthly wine column for Sedona Monthly Magazine and writes for numerous other publications. He may be reached at
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