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Vines Ripen Under Sunny Skies
July 26, 2013
Arizona’s award-winning wineries lure both oenophiles and novices
Arizona winemaking is a tradition that dates to the 1700s when Spanish missionaries offered vino for communion. Modern production started in 1973 in southern Sonoita, but today grapes are being grown in three different regions in north central and southern Arizona. And the state is proving to be fertile ground for vintners: there are more than 63 licensed and bonded wineries throughout the state with new ones debuting every year.
Our wines are fast gaining national and international prominence. Callaghan Vineyards and Dos Cabezas WineWorks in Elgin and Sonoita Vineyards have been served at White House state dinners since 1989. Dick Erath, a visionary in the development of Oregon's billion-dollar wine industry, has given the state his endorsement by investing in his own vineyard in southern Arizona. There’s even a rock star among the state's vintners.
Three Distinct Wine Regions
Arizona boasts three wine regions: the Sonoita/Elgin region in southern Arizona, the Cochise County/Willcox area in southeastern Arizona and the Verde Valley near Sedona in central Arizona.
All are located in high desert terrain, with climates comparable to that found in Mendoza, Argentina. The soil, dubbed “terra rossa,” or red earth, has been likened to that of the Burgandy, France. With elevations ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 feet, these regions enjoy an ideal weather combination of hot days and cool nights that nourish grape vines. Specific wine trails have been created to guide wine lovers through each. Maps of the trails can be found at: http://www.arizonawine.org/winetrail.html.
Sonoita/Elgin is the best known of the wine regions in the state, and was the first area developed for present day wineries. The Sonoita Wine Trail leads wine lovers through southern Arizona. The trail features 14 wineries with tasting rooms offering varieties of Petite Verdot, Petite Syrah, Syrah, Colombard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Grenache, Merlot, White Merlot, Viognier, Semillion, Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Nestled between the majestic Mt. Graham and the Dos Cabezas Mountains in Cochise County, the Willcox Wine Trail travels through southeastern Arizona and showcases four distinct wineries and four tasting rooms pouring bold reds, lively rosés and crisp whites. Tasting rooms are open on weekends; some are available by appointment on weekdays. The Willcox Wine Country Spring Festival in May is a two-day tasting event popular with both locals and visitors. The wineries in the area also offer "grape stomps" during the annual season start in August, when the electrifying monsoon season douses the region. A map of the Willcox Wine Trail is available at http://www.arizonawine.org/willcoxWineTrail.html.
In the volcanic soil of northern Arizona lies the Verde Valley Wine Trail, a path of wineries in northern Arizona’s red rock countryside and lush canyons. The towns of Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona, Clarkdale and Cornville are mellow, undiscovered gems. The trail features four wineries and six tasting rooms, with varieties of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Viognier, Rousanne, Zinfandel, Merlot and Chardonnay grown and aged in the region. Details on the Wine Trail, overseen by the Verde Valley Wine Consortium, are available at http://www.vvwinetrail.com/.
The owners and operators of Arizona’s boutique wineries take great pride in their work. Visitors savor the experience of meeting these passionate wine pioneers. The challenges and triumphs of northern Arizona winemaking is the fascinating focus of the documentary Blood Into Wine, which features multi-platinum recording artist Maynard Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer) who has a home and vineyard in the area. Additional information on the movie and a trailer can be found at http://www.bloodintowine.com/.
Wine Country Your Way
Travelers interested in booking a trip around a wine-centric event are but a click away. Numerous tour companies encourage exploration of both wine and land. Active pursuits include kayaking and jeep tours; luxury wine lovers can opt for limousine rides. For information on tour companies throughout the state, please visit http://www.arizonaguide.com/.
Annual festivals in April and May usher in the majority of wine events in the state. The Annual Blessing of the Vine Festival in Elgin showcases world-class Arizona wines, a blessing of the grapes and a grape stomping competition. The Annual Blessing of Sonoita Vineyards also takes place each April offering winery tours, food and wine pairings, tastings and a souvenir wine glass. The Annual Wine, Dine and Unwind event in June provides samplings of Elgin’s award-winning wines. To celebrate a new wine season in August, wine lovers can attend Harvestfest at Sonoita Vineyards, which offers tractor-drawn vineyard tours discussing grape cultivation in southern Arizona and tastings right from the vines. The festival also hosts grape stomping, all day tastings, delicious local food pairings and live music.
Work off your wine calories with a three-hour trail ride through the scenic grasslands and rolling hills of southern Arizona, featuring a spectacular view of the Mustang Mountains courtesy of the Arizona Horseback Experience. More information is available at http://horsebackexperience.com/winetasting.htm.
Soak up the sun of the red rocks and drink in uniquely southwestern vintages on the banks of the Verde River. Sedona Adventure Tours offers the “Water to Wine” tour, a one-hour kayak trip down the Verde River to the Tuscan-style Alcantara Winery. The ride showcases the area’s large cottonwood trees and abundant wildlife such as beavers, otters and eagles nesting along the riverbanks. The inflatable kayaks offer a smooth ride, ideal for beginners seeking a leisurely wine-tasting experience. More information on the tour is available at http://www.sedonaadventuretours.com/wine-tours/.
Wine lovers who want to uncork Arizona at home can either purchase from the wineries directly or from a wide variety of retailers throughout the state. For a list of outlets, please visit http://www.arizonavinesandwines.com/.