When I tell people about Arizona’s winegrowing areas south and east of Tucson, the response usually goes something like: “What?! I didn’t even know wine was being made in Arizona.”
When I tell people about Arizona’s wine-growing areas south and east of Tucson, the response usually goes something like: “What?! I didn’t even know wine was being made in Arizona.”
And the next question usually is: “Are the wines any good?”
The answers to both are a resounding “yes,” and visiting the state’s wine country is getting easier and more enriching all the time.
The area I’m talking about is off state Routes 82 and 83 near Sonoita and Elgin, and Interstate 10 near Benson. The top nameplates of Callaghan, Dos Cabezas, Keeling-Schaefer and Sonoita Vineyards have vineyards, production and, perhaps more importantly, tasting facilities here. We’re going to leave Yavapai County/the Verde Valley out of this conversation since most of its winemaking programs are still in their infancy. The areas in Santa Cruz and Cochise counties are where you want to go to get a taste of Arizona’s wine country.
For the longest time that meant visiting the town of Elgin and Sonoita Vineyards, the only producer with a decent tasting room 10 years ago. Though the wines were not so terrific, I always had a great time there. The wines have since improved some, and the staff is eager to show off its wares. The open and airy space looks like it’s right out of Central California. Racks of barrels are visible from the tasting room, and rows of chardonnay vines are seen outside the picture windows. Winery founder Gordon Dutt makes comparisons of Burgundy and the chalkiness of the soil. I’m still not convinced, but the winery is still worth experiencing.
Thankfully, the king of Arizona wines, Kent Callaghan, has opened his own tasting room up the road, which is open for a few hours Friday through Sunday. The wines are much better here, and you can compare notes with the man who knows more about growing good vines in the area than anyone else. He loves to talk shop and will show off bits of his facilities and vineyards if you ask.
I’m sure that at one time, the lesser-known areas of California operated a lot like how these facilities, with production and tasting in one building and the vineyards located out back or up the road. It’s all done on a grass-roots level with conversation and tasting. Convert one wine sipper and they’ll tell their friends, and they’ll tell their friends …
Back in Sonoita, visit the state’s other great producer in Dos Cabezas Wineworks on state Route 82. I like putting the Rhone-inspired El Norte and the big and round La Montana side by side without having to buy two bottles (at $20 and $30 respectively). Most of their line of seven reds, three whites and one rosé and dessert wine are available for tasting, but if you don’t see something, just ask. They’re looking to spread the gospel of state wines like everyone else. Other places to stop in to sample locally produced wines are at Canelo Hills Winery, Rancho Rossa Vineyards and Village of Elgin Winery, all in Elgin, and Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards in Pearce.
Where do you stay while traipsing from one vineyard to the next? There are a couple of good options. I like the Sonoita Inn at the crossroads of state Routes 82 and 83. The accommodations, artwork and decor speak to the area’s ranching background, and when you look out the window, that is what is conjured. You expect to see Hoss galloping up from an episode of “Bonanza.” The rooms are comfortable and clean, and you’re centrally located to the wineries and dining. For something more intimate, Xanadu Ranch Bed & Breakfast is a good option. This is where you’ll find dogs lounging on the porch and an apple pie cooling in the window.
During your visit, stop in for dinner at Café Sonoita for the only haute cuisine in the area, and peruse their wine list filled with area bottles, many by the glass. Try a few and offer a toast to your wine country weekend — in Arizona!
Arizona Wine Country Weekend
At state routes 82 and 83
Xanadu Ranch Bed & Breakfast
336 Elgin Road, Elgin
Dos Cabezas Wineworks
3248 Highway 82, Sonoita
10277 E. Rock Creek Lane, Pearce
By appointment only
3280 Highway 82