Arizona Wine Country will surprise you

Alcantara Vineyards on the Verde Valley Wine Trail

Alcantara Vineyards on the Verde Valley Wine Trail

Most people come to Arizona for the sunshine, golf, and desert  scenery. More and more, visitors are becoming aware of the quality wines and intriguing boutique wineries to be found in Arizona’s Wine Country.

Although wine has been produced in Arizona since the 1700’s by the Spanish Missionaries, the modern state of Arizona wine started in 1973 in Sonoita at the southern end of the state. There are now 45 licensed and bonded wineries throughout Arizona.

Wine Country in Arizona?
Yes, Arizona is becoming known as a significant wine producing region. According to the editor of Arizona Wines & Vines, at the 2010 “Judgment of Arizona” Arizona wines, when pitted against wines from similar regions around the world, took 3 of the top 5 spots in both the red and white categories.

Arizona is attracting talented winemakers. A trip to Arizona’s Wine Country will leave even the most discriminating wine connoisseur with a favorable impression. Something is growing in Arizona and it appears it’s grape vines!

Northern Arizona Wine Country
You’ll find some fantastic wines along the Verde Valley Wine Trail. Just a short drive north of Phoenix, you’ll encounter wineries and tasting rooms within a stone’s throw of such famous destinations as Sedona, the old mining town of Jerome and the ancient Montezuma’s Castle National Monument.

Visit the great wineries and tasting rooms nestled in the red rock countryside and lush canyons surrounding Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale, and Cornville. Enjoy the unique experience and wines that each has to offer.  Eat at some terrific restaurants, sip wine at a tasting room owned by a Rock Star and enjoy a picnic on the lawn of a vineyard that is family owned and operated and very much feels that way!

I recently discovered some wine tasting treasures right in historic Cottonwood. On Cottonwood’s main street you’ll be treated to some excellent wines at the Pillsbury Wine Company. No, it’s not about flour and cakes this time. Sam Pillsbury is a noted filmmaker but his love is making Arizona wine. The Pillsbury vineyard is in the Willcox area to the south. My favorite Pillsbury wine is Roan Red, a delightful smooth blend.

Across the street from Pillsbury is the Arizona Stronghold tasting room. Eric Glomski and Maynard Keenan, known more for rock music than winemaking, purchased the historic Dos Cabezas Vineyards in Willcox and are adding to their holdings. Their wines are worth tasting and their tasting room “rocks out!”

While these tasting rooms will provide you with some great wine finds, know that there are vineyards along the Verde Valley Wine Trail too. A vineyard with a great view is Alcantara Vineyards, the largest vineyard in northern Arizona.

Southern Arizona Vineyard

Southern Arizona Vineyard

Southern Arizona Wine Country
The Sonoita/Elgin area south of Tucson, will provide you with ample opportunities to enjoy southern Arizona wines and, the expansive beauty of the countryside. My favorite Vineyard is the family-owned Callaghan Vineyards. They have received accolades for their wines and you will understand why once you taste their Mediterranean and Spanish varietals.

When touring the southern Arizona wine area, I enjoyed staying in Patagonia, an artsy community with some restaurants and B&B’s. You can even take a “Wine Tasting Horseback Ride” through Arizona Horseback Experience. After all, this is Arizona, the wild west!

Southeast Arizona Wine Country
An area I have yet to visit is the area around Willcox and Cochise, Arizona. In downtown Willcox you’ll find several tasting rooms. While touring wineries, you can take in the amazing rock formations at the Chiricahua National Monument and visit the Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Southern Arizona is definitely a wine destination worthy of a long weekend or vacation. There is so much to see, do and taste!

Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company

Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company at the Wine Growers Festival

Arizona Wine Growers Festival

Let’s say you haven’t had the opportunity to tour the northern and southern Arizona wine countries. Well,  relax…. you can find most of the wineries represented at the annual events put on by the Arizona Wine Growers. At the early November, Festival at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix, we enjoyed wine tasting, music , seminars and a fun auction in the shady pecan grove. A wonderful box lunch was provided by The Farm and the afternoon went quickly. That is where I tasted the now-favorite Roan Red. Sam Pillsbury, even autographed my bottle!

The event was well-run and gave me an opportunity to talk with vineyard owners and winemakers. The setting was scenic and we stayed the entire afternoon enjoying blues music by Paris James. The lively auction was fun to watch and the winemaker’s dinners that were auctioned were very enticing.

Just launched in Phoenix is the Arizona Wine Week, a week full of tastings, events and wine dinners at some of the most well-respected restaurants in the Valley.

Other events featuring Arizona wines include the Arizona Wine Festival during the Tempe Festival of the Arts in December.   List of Wine events in Arizona.

Tour the Wine Country of Arizona
The northern and southern Arizona wine countries are worth a long look or a weekend getaway. If you are from Arizona, an appreciation of Arizona wines will convince you to “drink local.”  Arizona wine touring is much preferred to the high priced, commercial, crowded scene at California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Discovering Arizona wines is an adventure. You may be surprised at what you will find along your journey.

More Information
Verde Valley Wine Trail
Arizona Wines and Vines

Arizona Wine Growers Association
Wine Trail Maps

Photo Credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

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