Believe it or not, Arizona produces wine. In fact, Southeastern Arizona is home to 19 family-owned vineyards some which have been in business for over 25 years. As a true wine-lover I must admit I was a bit skeptical about Arizona wines. But an afternoon spent wine tasting in lovely Sonoita proved my early convictions wrong. Not only is this straw-colored, rugged landscape lovely, the mix of quirky to elegant vineyards are definitely worth a visit.
Located about an hour’s drive southeast of Tucson, Sonoita is a real treasure. At 5,000 feet, the landscape is unexpectedly barren, treeless and serene. There are no cactus here as cactus stop growing at this elevation. Instead, there is mile after mile of yellow-gold fields that turn green in the monsoon season and rugged mountains in the far off distance that remind you that Tucson is not that far away.
Sonoita Vineyards is the oldest commercial vineyard and winery in the area, opening in 1983 and home to several award-wining wines. Another well-established vineyard in Sonoita is Callaghan Vineyards, established in 1990 by father and son duo Kent Callaghan and his father Harold.
The wine country is serene and lovely. A rather nostalgic reminder of the good old Wild West.
There are 19 established vineyards in Sonoita and we visited four. Our first stop was the quirky, whimsical AZ Hops and Vines that at first glance did not look all too impressive until we stepped inside.
The unassuming entrance to the tasting room lead one to believe that this would be a bust but we were very wrong. The hip, whimsical two-year-old AZ Hops and Vines, run by two fun-loving sisters Megan and Shannon, is a hoot. The decor is fun, the wine is delicious and who else would invite the Arizona Firefighter’s Calendar guys out to serve wine shirtless on the Valentines Day? (Ok, I know I just wrote a post called “Miss Representation” about women’s portrayal as sex objects but it is nice to see it the other way around sometimes!).
Our next visit was to Rancho Rossa Vineyards, one of the largest family owned wineries in Sonoita which produces about 2,000 cases of wine each year and made their first wine in 2004. We learned quickly that not only is it acceptable to carry in your glass from the past vineyard, it is more economical and environmentally friendly. Our $5 glass from AZ Hops and Vines came in handy at our next three stops. At the four vineyards we visited, the cost for a taste of all wines (anywhere from 5- 9 different varieties) cost a mere $5 and $10 with the purchase of the vineyard’s souvenir glass.
Our last stop was at the gorgeous Kief-Joshua Vineyards. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the tasting room and Mediterranean-style home where Kief Manning and his father reside but I did buy some of his delightful wine and regret not buying more. The Divino was fabulous and cannot be found outside the state of Arizona like all Sonoita wines.
Inside the luxurious tasting room was a young, unassuming guy dressed in jeans and a t-shirt pouring our wines. I asked him my standard questions about the vineyard and was surprised by his immense knowledge. Out of curiosity, I asked who the owner was and he replied “Me“.
Kief started making wines and beers in his closet as a college student at Arizona State University, and moved on to get a graduate degree in enology and viticulture in Australia. Kief fulfilled his long held dream of opening and running his own vineyard in 2005 with the first planting at Kief-Joshua Vineyards. His dry, full-bodied wines are outstanding and admirable as Kief practices sustainable viticulture with the hope of sustaining his vineyard for hundreds of years virtually pesticide free. Pretty impressive for a young man just passed 30.
As the afternoon sunlight waned, it was sadly time to head back to Tucson. It was too bad we couldn’t head back to Sonoita the next day for the big party being held at AZ Hops and Vines. But I know I’ll be back.
If you go:
Check out the Visit Sierra Vista website.
Here is a listing of all the vineyards in Sonoita and more are being opened soon:
Arizona Hops and Vines: www.azhopsandvines.com or 888-569-1642
Callaghan Vineyards: www.callaghanvineyards.com or 520-455-5322
Carlson Creek: www.carlsoncreek.com or 520-766-3000
Charron Vineyards: www.charronvineyards.com or 520-762-8585
Colibri Vineyards: www.colibrivineyard.com or 520-558-2401
Coronado Vineyards: www.coronadovineyards.com or 520-384-2993
Domaines Ellam Winery: 520-455-9309
Dos Cabezas WineWorks: www.doscabezaswinery.com or 520-455-5141
Flying Leap Vineyards: www.flyingleapvineyards.com or 520-455-5499
Fort Bowie Vineyards: www.fortbowievineyards.net or 520-299-5951
Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards: www.keelingschaefervineyards.com or 520-824-2500
Kief-Joshua Vineyard: www.kiefjoshuavineyards.com or 520-455-5582
Lawrence Dunham Vineyard: www.lawrencedunhamvineyards.com or 602-320-1485
Lightning Ridge Cellars: www.lightningridgecellars.com or 520-678-8220
Passion cellars: http://passioncellars.com or 602-750-7771
Rancho Rossa Vineyards: www.ranchorossa.com or 520-455-0700
Silver Strike Winery: www.silverstrikewinery.com or 520-678-8200
Sonoita Vineyards: www.sonoitavineyards.com or 520-455-5893
Village of Elgin/Four Monkey: www.elginwines.com or 520-455-9309
Wilhelm Family Vineyards: www.wilhelmfamilyvineyards.com or 520-455-9291
Zarpara Vineyard: www.zarpara.com or 602-885-8903
AZ Wine Lifestyle provides maps, calendar of events and helps with itineraries for wine trails.