A confused brow furrow, a side-eyed glance and then a bemused smirk precede the question, heavy with doubt and a hint of patronization: “They make wine there?”
That’s the reaction I get when I tell people I’m going to Mexico’s Baja California to report on its wine region for a travel piece. Comically, it’s the same reaction I get days later when I tell the people of Baja about Arizona’s three wine-growing regions.
Flagstaff’s reputation as a granola college town is well-earned – you can’t toss a hacky sack downtown without hitting a bearded vagabond or a hoodie-clad coed shuffling from coffee shop to outdoor sporting goods store. But surely, underneath the tattered cargo pants, artful dreadlocks and forest musk, Flagstaff must have a fancy side. Even outdoorsy types and iconoclasts enjoy a night on the town and a bowl of nouveau shrimp and grits, right?
“We actually get less yearly rainfall than Dallas,” my buddy Martin informs me as we pedal through Portland’s trendy Buckman neighborhood.
Given Portland’s reputation as a rain-logged kingdom of artistic misfits, it’s a fairly shocking piece of trivia – even on this blazingly agreeable late-summer afternoon. “We never really get big downpours, like monsoons or any of that,” the newsweekly editor continues, as Buckman’s pleasant New England-style clapboard homes resolve into a receiving line of high-concept yoga studios and craft brewpubs. “What we get is four or five months of perfect weather, and then a steady drizzle the rest of the time. It never stops. But I don’t mind it. I’ll bike to work in it.”
Picking Your Poison
Arizona wine is rising up faster than a tangle of summer syrah vines. In 1990, there were five licensed wineries in the state. Today, there are 91, with roughly a dozen more due to open by the end of next year – each providing an additional tourism boon to the state’s three main growing regions. Similar but distinct, these high-country hotspots each present a dreamy fall drive.
Wine character and quality are intimately linked to the climate, slope and soil of its origins. Turns out, these same elements also make for some Grand Cru hiking trails. Arizona’s three major viticulture regions sit near trails that ascend mountains, meander along rivers and wetlands, and succumb to the gravity of gaping canyons. This fortuitous juxtaposition of the imbibable with the hikable begs to be exploited by teetotalers and tipplers alike. Let the post-winery wilding begin. Here’s how.
Chiricahua National Monument.
Down Tucson-way, about an hour east of the Old Pueblo, lies one of Arizona’s great camping destinations – a high-desert range festooned with vertical rock formations, just minutes from Willcox wine country. And since hotels and guesthouses are scarce, RV camping is ideal. The campground is a logical home base, but be forewarned: maximum motorhome length is 29 feet. 520-824-3560, nps.gov
Est. drive time: 3 hours, 15 minutes
Prescott – or “Presskit,” as some say – is widely beloved as a fun, visitable vestige of old Arizona. Formerly the state’s territorial capital, it was where Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp boozed it up when they visited Yavapai County, in the downtown cluster of bars and saloons now known as Whiskey Row. A century later, one-time resident Barry Goldwater launched his 1964 presidential campaign in Prescott, delivering speeches from Courthouse Plaza, a green and shady park frequently filled with festivities and a quaint yesteryear feel bolstered by the statues of historical figures astride horses in the park, and the classic cars frequently parked around the square.