Arizona Wine Trails

September 2019
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Strolling the vineyard at D.A. Ranch; Photo by Lipczynski; Models Colleen Hartnett, Sasha Hunter/Ford Robert Black Agency
Strolling the vineyard at D.A. Ranch; Photo by Lipczynski; Models Colleen Hartnett, Sasha Hunter/Ford Robert Black Agency
Calling all winos – fall is the time to get your fix.

The weather is ideal, the colors are beautiful and Arizona’s flourishing oases of high-desert wineries are hives of activity. Crush your wine-trail weekend with our guide to the state’s choicest clusters of tasting rooms and estate vineyards.

By Leah LeMoine, Craig Outhier & Madison Rutherford

Photography by Mirelle Inglefield, Leah LeMoine, Mark Lipczynski, Richard Maack & Madison Rutherford

Using this Guide
We’ve stacked Arizona’s wine trails roughly north to south, starting with the Verde Valley in Central Arizona, then migrating to the Willcox wineries in the southeast, then curling southwest to Sonoita/Elgin.

Contents

SONOITA/ELGIN TRAILS
ONE-OFF WINERIES

Verde Valley Trails

Jerome

Draped over the loamy Black Hills of Yavapai County, this former mining town is an excitingly ramshackle birdcage of artists, hoteliers and assorted misfits where a thousand secret intrigues seem to be happening at once. It’s also a scenic and necessary stop on any Verde Valley wine tour.

Caduceus Cellars
Sample finely structured single-varietal wines from the vineyards of rock-star vintner (and Jerome resident) Maynard James Keenan, in a stylish and creatively merchandised tasting room with a carved Hindu god perched over the entry. Lots of Arizona hot sauces, tinctures and T-shirts to browse while you sip Keenan’s dry and delightful Kitsuné Sangiovese. 928-639-9463, caduceus.org

Four Eight Wineworks
Keenan’s wine-label “incubator” gives emerging Arizona winemakers a needed stage. Current cast members include Oddity Wine Collective, a joint effort of three graduates of the nearby Yavapai College winemaking program, and Iniquus Cellars, the personal label of longtime Caduceus wine hand Tim White. 928-639-3516, four8wineworks.com

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Passion Cellars
Set in a broad, comfortable space with a neato backsplash mural of the Jerome sprawl, this imprint of Willcox winemaker Jason Domanico (also known for Salvatore Vineyards) scored a gold medal rating from the San Francisco Chronicle for its floral 2016 Malvasia Bianca (available as part of a somewhat gouge-y $25 flight). 928-649-9800, passioncellars.com

Cellar 433
Based in the southern Arizona farming community of Willcox, John McLaughlin is a hard one to peg. He markets wine under a dizzying mishmash of current and former labels – including Bitter Creek Winery, Jerome Winery, Sultry Cellars and Arizona Angel – and has a spotty reputation in the wine community (a Google search is revealing). Nonetheless, the tasting room is lovely, with commanding views of the Verde Valley. 928-634-7033, cellar433.com

Cabal Cellars
This “custom-crush collective” overseen by the Passion/Salvatore brain trust invites employees to choose and blend varietals, and design a label that reflects the winery’s vaguely Masonic branding philosophy. The limited but fun tasting menu includes an oak-aged Moscato with hints of elderflower. 928-634-9576, cabalcellars.com

AZ Juice FACT

Currently, there are 116 licensed Arizona wineries and vineyards… and about 60 wineries actively bottling wine.

Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo courtesy Caduceus Cellars
Photo courtesy Caduceus Cellars
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Caduceus cellars 2016
Airavata Garnacha
$50

Farmed on Keenan’s terraced Eliphante Blocks near the lower Oak Creek, this nuanced, medium-bodied Garnacha – the Spanish version of a Rhonian Grenache – is the quintessential expression of the style in Arizona: challenging to grow, but classic, firm and rewarding.

Sip & Stay

For a big, unvarnished dose of Jerome history and charm, check out The Surgeon’s House (surgeonshouse.com, 928-639-1452, pictured righ), which is exactly as it presents itself – the one-time residence of the United Verde Mining Co.’s chief surgeon. Somewhere along the line, the Arthur Kelly-designed Mediterranean-style building was transformed into a three-room bed and breakfast, tucked into a hillside explosion of wisteria, hollyhocks and peach trees.

Photo courtesy The Surgeon’s House
Photo courtesy The Surgeon’s House
Restaurant Recs

Does every hospitality venue in Jerome have a past life in health care? Set in an old miner’s hospital (now The Grand Hotel), The Asylum (928-649-5855, asylumrestaurant.com) is perhaps the town’s top fine dining destination, with Southwest-inflected offerings like achiote-glazed pork tenderloin. For more casual early-day fare, slip into The Mine Café (928-639-0123, minecafejerome.com) for hearty egg sandwiches, copious cappuccinos and artful salads.

Trail Talk

Tim White

Caduceus Cellars and Iniquus Cellars
A fixture in Arizona wine since 2007, when Eric Glomski plucked him off a vineyard in Virginia to work at Page Springs Cellars, White switched allegiances and currently works with Maynard James Keenan as co-vintner at Caduceus Cellars, keeping the wine flowing when the boss is off playing Coachella and the like. Like many in the wine trenches, he also has a side hustle.

What made you throw in with MJK after he and Glomski dissolved their Arizona Stronghold (ASV) partnership [in 2013]?
Well, through the years he and I developed similar tastes… and a lot of trust. He’d be the only person to volunteer when we were doing [grape] punch-downs at midnight – he’d show up with a pizza and do it with us. So his idea was always in line with what I wanted to do, and my understanding of Caduceus.

Tim White at Four Eight Wineworks; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Tim White at Four Eight Wineworks; Photo by Mark Lipczynski

And your winemaking styles jibe?
Absolutely. The biggest change [was], we just wanted quality. When we were sourcing grapes from ASV, the vineyard was a bit in shambles, and we were uncertain what condition grapes we’d get. Well, Maynard went out and completely redid the vineyard, got it under control. [With Caduceus], we’re using only one cluster per shoot, which is unheard of unless you’re aiming for the highest quality. It also makes the grapes ripen earlier, so it’s more of an Italian style… high acid and goes really well with food.

You also have a personal label: Iniquus. Do you use that as a creative outlet?
Sort of. I started it in 2008 – and in those days there were not a lot of Arizona grapes and not a lot of quality Arizona grapes. [Winemakers] here were using California fruit. So it was my attempt to reimagine things with Arizona grapes. I haven’t been as active with it [of late]… but it’s not dead by any means.

What is your favorite emerging Arizona grape varietal?
Maynard and myself early on realized that Tempranillo would be an amazing grape for this state. And that’s proving to be the case.

Old Town Cottonwood

Though not a major producer of grapes or nexus of estate wineries, Cottonwood does boast one of the state’s densest clusters of satellite tasting rooms – all located in a flavorful, quarter-mile historical stretch known as Old Town.

AZ Juice FACT

People often assume heat is the main impediment to making wine in AZ, but it’s actually early-season frost, since all the state’s vineyards sit above 3,000 feet.

Arizona Stronghold Vineyards
Jointly founded by Eric Glomski (Page Springs Cellars) and Maynard James Keenan (Caduceus Cellars) in 2006, ASV was designed to project Arizona wine to the masses, and it succeeded – sourcing from volume vineyards, it was the first winery to crack the $10-bottle riddle, with its daily-driver Provisioner line. Tasting flights are a bargain at $9. 928-639-2789, azstronghold.com

Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria
The Toyota to Caduceus’ Lexus in the MJK wine empire, Merkin specializes in firm, Old World-style varietals (Sangiovese, Tempranillo) sourced from Keenan’s Willcox vineyard. Like its sister location in Scottsdale, the tasting room doubles as a sophisticated nosh spot, with scratch-made pasta and creatively phrased vegetables. 928-639-1001, merkinvineyards.com

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Burning Tree Cellars
Early Page Spring Cellars wine hand Corey Turnbull spun off his own label several years ago, sourcing strictly from Arizona vineyards and favoring the Rhone styles (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, et al) that thrive in the state. BT is a small-batch operation, meaning it’s a good spot to get bottles you won’t normally find in the Valley. 928-649-8733, burningtreecellars.com

Carlson Creek Vineyard
Another Willcox winery with a northern outpost (see page 96), CCV is the newest addition to Old Town, having opened in February. No food menu, but they do have a must-try 2014 Sangiovese. 928-634-3866, carlsoncreek.com

Pillsbury Wine Company
Kiwi filmmaker turned wine maestro Sam Pillsbury grows and makes his wine in Willcox, but pours a great deal of it on the Old Town drag. Tasting flights are sanely scaled at $10-$12, and if you want to taste the state’s best Malvasia Bianca – the floral white favored by so many Arizona winemakers – look no further: Pillsbury’s 2017 vintage scored a Best of Class at the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Awards. 928-639-0646, pillsburywine.com

Sip & Stay

So many overnight choices, so few available rooms – at least during the summer-fall high season. The Tavern Hotel (928-639-1669, thetavernhotel.com) is the most resort-like of the Old Town strip’s three high-quality hotels, with luxe rooms and an embedded fine dining restaurant, while the Cottonwood Hotel (928-634-9455, cottonwoodhotel.com) and the Iron Horse Inn (928-634-8031, ironhorseoldtown.com) get ’er done with rustic, territorial charm.

Pillsbury Wine Company; Photo by Richard Maack
Pillsbury Wine Company; Photo by Richard Maack
Restaurant Recs

Follow your serial sipping with small bites at 3 Kings Kasbar (928-639-4433, 3kingskasbar.com), a cocktail-centric tapas bar. Get your brunch on the next morning at Crema Craft Kitchen + Bar (928-649-5785, cremacottonwood.com), which sports a lively back patio anchored by a converted shipping container. (They turned it into a bar, those scamps.)

Photo courtesy Pillsbury Wine Company
Photo courtesy Pillsbury Wine Company
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Pillsbury Wine Company
Guns and Kisses
$72

You want critical love? This “intense and fragrant” Shiraz won a 2018 gold medal from the San Francisco Chronicle. We’re also partial to the winemaker’s Wild Child Red, an easy-drinking Sangiovese-Grenache blend that’s earthy and ethereal all at once.

AZ-89

At just over a mile in elevation, the territorial town of Prescott sits a bit too high for wine grape cultivation – hence, the area’s handful of vineyards sit downslope in Chino Valley. But that isn’t to say Prescott has nothing to offer for tipplers. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Superstition Meadery’s Jeff and Jennifer Herbert; Photo courtesy Superstition Meadery
Superstition Meadery’s Jeff and Jennifer Herbert; Photo courtesy Superstition Meadery

Superstition Meadery
Legally speaking, the fermentation of honey (i.e. mead) is considered winemaking in Arizona – so who are we to exclude Arizona’s most stunning beverage industry success story? Founded by Phoenix firefighter Jeff Herbert and his wife, Jennifer, in 2012, SM was the only Arizona company to make RateBeer.com’s list of the world’s Top 100 brewers in 2018. (Beer, wine, whatever.) Another encomium for the Herberts: The U.S. Small Business Administration named them the 2019 Persons of the Year. You’ll see why when you visit the meadery’s downtown Prescott tasting room – the $24 tasting flight includes 12 different styles, each an ambrosial sensation of sweetness, smoothness and aroma. 928-458-4256, superstitionmeadery.com

Granite Creek Vineyards
Set down the AZ-89 highway from Prescott about 12 miles, Granite Creek is not well-known to Valley wine fans, but ranks as one of the loveliest, most accessible estate wineries in Arizona – a tamed stretch of sylvan wilderness filled with shade trees, comfortable outdoor seating and roaming peacocks. And, yes, there’s a barn – and, yes, you can get married in it. Tastings Th-Su. 928-636-2003, granitecreekvineyards.com

Del Rio Springs Vineyard
Before making it his full-time gig, Richard Skladzien futzed around with winemaking in Idaho – and if he made a decent wine in Idaho, doesn’t it stand to reason he could do it anywhere? The vintner started planting on his Paulden estate – rimmed by the Mingus, Bradshaw and Juniper mountain ranges – in 2009, and crushed his first commercial vintage in 2013. Any visit must include a taste of his Carmenere, a spicy “grandfather” grape from Bordeaux not grown elsewhere in the state. By appointment only. 928-636-9046, delriospringsvineyard.com

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Sip & Stay

Set on 40 undeveloped acres overlooking the magical point where the Verde River and Granite Creek meet, the three-room Little Thumb Butte (928-636-4413, littlethumb.net) bed and breakfast offers handsome views of the desert, along with an adventurous location in Paulden near Del Rio Springs Vineyard.

Restaurant Recs

The best panang in Prescott or nearby environs? Really no question, you’ll find it at Toi’s Thai Kitchen (928-237-9099, toisthaikitchen.com) in Prescott Valley, a shoebox-size purveyor of regional Asian cuisine for pad fans in the know.

Photo courtesy Superstition Meadery
Photo courtesy Superstition Meadery
Must-Take-Home Bottle
SuperStition Meadery
Country Pumpkin
$32

The fall pumpkin-everything movement includes mead, you know. Sniff for “bourbon on the nose” and “persistent legs” as you swirl in the glass, Herbert says, with notes of nutmeg and wild clove.

Clarkdale

Often the forgotten stepchild in the Verde Valley wine nexus, Clarkdale is putting together its own little
galaxy of wine-tasting rooms on the AZ-89A highway – including one at Arizona’s only bonded wine college.

Chateau Tumbleweed
Endowed with an airy roadside patio and crew of beaming, knowledgeable wine fraus, Chateau Tumbleweed’s tasting room reflects the wine itself – buoyant, creative and youthful. Started by four former employees at Page Springs Cellars – Kris Pothier, Joe Bechard, Kim Koistinen and Jeff Hendricks – CT spent a few years in Maynard James Keenan’s Four Eight Wineworks incubator before hanging its own shingle in 2015, staking out its own unique piece of the Verde Valley. 928-634-0443, chateautumbleweed.com

Bodega Pierce
Trailblazers in the Arizona wine scene, the Pierce family opened this Verde Valley outpost last year to project their brand beyond Willcox, where their estate winery is located. Harder-to-find old-world varietals such as Graziano and Tannat are the order of the day. 928-634-0301, bodegapierce.com

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Southwest Wine Center; Photo courtesy Southwest Wine Center
Southwest Wine Center; Photo courtesy Southwest Wine Center

Southwest Wine Center
Why confine yourself to one winemaker per tasting room visit? At this public-facing proving ground run by Yavapai College’s viticulture program, you can sample the wares of students past and present. The young’uns know their stuff, claiming several medals at the 2018 Arizona Wine Competition, including a silver for Best Graciano. 928-634-6566, southwestwinecenter.com

Sip & Stay

Given that a mere 2 miles separate Clarkdale from Old Town Cottonwood, suggestions for overnight accommodations are generally one in the same. But if you’re hellbent on staying within Clarkdale town limits, check out the Mescal Canyon Retreat (928-634-2067, mescalcanyonretreat.com), a health- and sustainability-focused B&B in the foothills with on-site massage, an inviting hot tub and chimenea setup, its own terraced organic garden and all the sunset-lit seclusion you could ask for.

Restaurant Rec

Start your trail tour in charming downtown Clarkdale with a coffee-and-crone tandem at Violette’s Bakery Café (928-607-6808, facebook.com/violetsfinepastries), a breakfast-and-lunch favorite irresistibly set in a converted railroad caboose.

Photo courtesy Violette’s Bakery Café
Photo courtesy Violette’s Bakery Café
AZ Juice FACT

The earliest Arizona winemaker was Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino, who planted grapes in the vicinity of present-day Tucson in 1703 – pre-dating California.

Photo courtesy Chateau Tumbleweed
Photo courtesy Chateau Tumbleweed
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Chateau Tumbleweed 2018
The Descendants
$24

Chateau Tumbleweed’s flagship white is a blend of three Rhône varietals, with Viognier doing the heavy lifting via floral pear notes, Roussanne adding a touch of cardamom spice, and a final dash of Grenache Blanc for acid and citrus. So easily drinkable, your offspring will feel it.

Trail Talk

Joe Bechard

Chateau Tumbleweed
Chateau Tumbleweed vintner Joe Bechard doesn’t take offense when people forget exactly which co-owner is his wife – after all, the winery is a bit of a marital tangle. “I’m married to Kris, and Kim and Jeff are married,” he clarifies. “But none of us have the same last names, which sometimes adds to the confusion.” Together, the quaffing couples have built one of Arizona’s most promising new wineries.

So how do you divide the labor between the four of you?
I’m the winemaker, and Jeff is the vineyard manager. Kris is an anomaly who does a little of everything. She’s great with people, which I’m not. She’s also my cellar rat, and she also draws the labels for our wine bottles. And Jeff has [a] background in graphic design, so we do all that in-house. And Kim has a business background from Page Springs. She’s who keeps us on track and does the accounting.

Chateau Tumbleweed crew, left to right: Jeff Hendricks, Kris Pothier, Joe Bechard and Kim Koistinen; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Chateau Tumbleweed crew, left to right: Jeff Hendricks, Kris Pothier, Joe Bechard and Kim Koistinen; Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Even though CT doesn’t physically own a vineyard, you need a vineyard manager. Explain how that works.
Right. We source all our grapes from Arizona vineyards… we have [contracts] with between 11 to 13 growers every season. We assign contracts in early spring and let [growers] know what we’re looking for, and Jeff visits them all regularly to keep an eye on sugar and ripeness, especially this time of the year [during harvest]. He’s our eyes and ears at the vineyards.

You make the wine for D.A. Ranch, and they invested in your winery. How are your wines distinct from theirs?
It’s a different winemaking approach. They do one blend, but their wines tend to be single-varietal, and they only work with fruit [from] their estate vineyard, so it has a very distinct character and terroir. They celebrate the varietal, and try to treat them a little more special. Most of our wines are approachable, everyday-drinking [blends] for the most part. A little brighter, fruitier and not as [barrel-] aged as long.

You make a nice Tannat, and that seems to be a varietal that’s gaining traction in Arizona.
Yeah, 2018 was our first year getting that from Cimarron Vineyards. It’s really dark and tannic and kind of spicy, but fruity and not too intense, with good acid. It’s great with food.

Cornville

They don’t grow corn in Cornville – the town was supposed to be named “Cohenville,” but for a typo on some territorial paperwork. Grapes, on the other hand, are well-covered. Driving or biking on a half-mile stretch of Page Springs Road, you’ll find a lush riparian valley boasting the densest cluster of estate wineries in Northern Arizona. It’s also the closest wine trail to Sedona.

Page Springs Cellars
Arizona wine trailblazer Eric Glomski holds court at his estate vineyard and winemaking facility. Find some of Arizona’s best Rhône-style reds – PSC took first place both for its Syrah and Petite Sirah at the 2018 Arizona Wine Competition – along with strollable grounds, tame peacocks and a tight menu of cheeseboards, charcuterie and wine-friendly roasted veggies. 928-639-3004, pagespringscellars.com

Javelina Leap Vineyard
Founder Rod Snapp ceded head winemaking duties to wife Cynthia earlier in the decade, focusing on the winery’s new tasting room and food program, and JLV didn’t miss a beat, picking up 12 medals from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition between 2015 and 2017. Commonly thought to pour the state’s best Zinfandel. 928-649-2681, javelinaleapwinery.com

D.A. Ranch
When the Petznick family does something, they do it right. The well-heeled Arizona agri-business clan purchased this vast, spring-fed property in 2002 and gradually tamed it to become the gobsmackingly pretty wine lodge and boutique event space it is today. Farmed from the adjacent, 7-acre estate vineyard, the winery’s formidable, single-varietal wines first came online in 2017. 928-301-0791, daranch.com

Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery
Winemaker Florian Wahl sells his wines solely through the Oak Creek tasting room and wine club, so you’ll be sipping on something new when you order a tasting flight ($10). Selections include a spicy Syrah-Zinfandel blend, and a single-varietal Merlot – rare in Arizona. 928-649-0290, oakcreekvineyards.net

Page Springs Cellars; Models Colleen Hartnett, Sasha Hunter/Ford Robert Black Agency; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Page Springs Cellars; Models Colleen Hartnett, Sasha Hunter/Ford Robert Black Agency; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
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Sip and Stay

Oak Creek is truly an Arizona treasure. In the spirit of honoring the snaking 30-mile waterway, trace it north from Cornville to Sedona and book a stay at Briar Patch Inn (928-282-2342, briarpatchinn.com), an insanely idyllic bed and breakfast cabin community tucked under a canopy of cottonwoods on the banks of Oak Creek. With red canyon rock rising up on all sides, the property offers 19 free-standing cottages, lending a sense of seclusion and majesty all at once. And the breakfasts: exquisite. Look for interesting, house-baked breads, egg casseroles and tasty fruit cocktails.

Restaurant Recs

If you stay in Sedona, check out Mariposa (928-862-4444, mariposasedona.com), chef Lisa Dahl’s palace of pan-Latin dining, which is even better than you might have heard. The small plates are particularly nice, including filet-potato empanadas studded with bittersweet currants, and a masterful collection of roasted-vegetable sides.

Photo courtesy D.A. Ranch
Photo courtesy D.A. Ranch
Must-Take-Home Bottle
D.A. Ranch Capra
$45

It’s a smoky red wine, and we mean that literally. The vineyard that produces the single-varietal Tannat gets routinely wafted with campfire smoke from a nearby state campground, creating perhaps Arizona’s most distinctive terroir. We say: Pair with barbecue.

Trail Talk

Eric Glomski

Page Springs Cellars
In the midst of running a wine empire, it’s nice to have occasional alone time. Which is why, on a balmy monsoon evening in late August, we find Glomski in self-imposed solitary confinement on his remote Colibri vineyard in southeastern Arizona, about 15 miles from the New Mexico border, pruning and primping in a final surge of upkeep before harvest. Having recently divested himself of Arizona Stronghold Vineyards (ASV) – the volume label he started more than a decade ago – the 50-something winemaker is full of reflection.

You were the first Arizona winemaker to crack the $10-a-bottle threshold with ASV. Sad seeing it go?
It was just too much, workwise. I was running [Page Springs and ASV] at the same time, and getting burned out. So I do this. If I had my druthers, I would do farming and delegate everything else.

Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo by Mark Lipczynski

You mentioned that this vineyard sits at over 5,000 feet, which is unusually high. Don’t you get hit with early-season frost?
You would think so, but we’re at the base of [Chiricahua Peak], and there’s a small hill near the vineyard that acts as a boomerang-shaped diverter… the frost goes around it! We’ve been hit just once in the last 10 years with frost.

You were one of the first Arizona winegrowers to make a mark. How has the culture changed? More competitive?
Eh, there’s always the petty infighting. Industries like this are full of strong-willed people. They’re basically pioneers, carving out a niche where no one’s done it before. But on the viticultural side, we’ve all learned a shitload. I look around and see what people are doing, and it’s impressive. Bringing in brighter, cleaner-quality grapes than a decade ago.

Most of you had to import grapes from California 10 years ago. That’s not the case anymore, is it?
Right, it took us several years to completely wean ourselves off California wine. [And] it’s cool to see we’re attracting young talent now that we weren’t a decade ago. I talked to a guy earning $140,000 as an assistant vineyard manager in Napa, but he was still like: “Damn, I can’t afford land out here.” So he’s coming to Arizona to possibly buy something. You can get land in Willcox for – what? – $5,000 an acre? That’s still accessible for people starting out.

Camp Verde

For many years, Alcantara Vineyards represented the southeastern extremity of the Verde Valley wine region. No longer. With the recent unveiling of two new wineries across the I-17, Camp Verde is now a bona fide wine trail.

Alcantara Vineyards; Photo by Richard Maack
Alcantara Vineyards; Photo by Richard Maack

Alcantara Vineyards
Located roughly 6 miles northwest of the I-17, Alcantara is physically the closest estate winery to the Phoenix metro area, if you simply must pop a cork as quickly as humanly possible after that agonizing 70-minute drive. The 10-year-old winery has other appealing qualities, too, set on a lush piece of river valley, with a handsome Tuscan-style main house that thematically reflects its import on old-world styles like Sangiovese and Rosso Tosca. Tastings $10. 928-649-8463, alcantaravineyard.com

Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery
Three words: wine party bus. They say a lot about this freewheeling, upstart winery from owner-vintner Ignacio Mesa, a one-time University of Arizona viticulture student who finally realized his 30-year dream in 1999 by staking out a piece of wilderness in West Clear Creek and laying down his first vines. It took a while to open the tasting room – that happened in 2016 – but you won’t find a more placid, pretty place to sip in the Verde Valley. $10. 602-859-7418, clearcreekwineryaz.com

Salt Mine Wine
Italian varietals are the order of the day at this tyro winery set on a hillside near a natural salt mine: Sangiovese, Malvasia Bianca, Graciano and a Tempranillo blend called Uno. Sibling owners Chip and Kevin Norton started crushing and fermenting outsourced grapes in 2015, simultaneously planting rootstalks that should yield the winery’s first estate vintage next year. 928-910-2075, saltminewine.com

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Sip & Stay

Hoof it up the I-17 a bit – like, 10 minutes – to Beaver Creek Inn (928-567-4475, beavercreekinnaz.com), a family-run, 22-room, motel-style lodge in the town of Rimrock. Complimentary grab-and-go breakfast, followed by a walk around nearby Lake Montezuma, will start your wine day right.

Restaurant Rec

With a name like Moscato (928-567-7417, facebook.com/moscatoitalianaz) – and an Italian fine dining menu that features such pairable delicacies as braised pork shank in a lusty ragù of tomato, roasted garlic and spinach – this Camp Verde patio eatery is a safe bet for wine lovers. Or go po at Sam’s Hawaiian Bar Be Q, a popular roadside vendor on Middle Verde Road just east of the I-17.

Photo courtesy Alcantara Vineyards
Photo courtesy Alcantara Vineyards
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Alcantara Vineyards
Zinfandel
$45

Like a full-bodied, jammy wine? Give Alcantara’s much-admired Zinfandel a shot. The 2014 vintage scored a best-in-class prize at the Arizona Wine Competition, scoring no fewer than 90 points from each judge.

Scottsdale Trails

Scottsdale

We may not have vineyards in the Valley, but we do love our wine. Thankfully, an influx of Arizona winemakers have staked their claims in the Most Livable City, which now boasts five tasting rooms. A wine trail we don’t have to leave town for? We’ll toast to that.

Merkin Vineyards; Photo by Alex Landeen/courtesy Merkin Vineyards
Merkin Vineyards; Photo by Alex Landeen/courtesy Merkin Vineyards

Merkin Vineyards
The new kid on the block is arguably the coolest, with a rock-star winemaker (Maynard James Keenan, pictured) and a veg-centric food menu that has foodies salivating. Finally, something heartier than a cheese plate at a tasting room. See more on Merkin on page 86. 480-912-1027, merkinoldtownscottsdale.com

LDV Winery
Come for the wine – like the lemongrass- and honeysuckle-kissed Sky Island Viognier – but stay for the tasty nibbles (sometimes made by co-owner Peggy Fiandaca) and fun crafts, like wineglass painting and pet portrait classes. See more on LDV on page 98. 480-664-4822, ldvwinery.com

Carlson Creek Vineyard
The Scottsdale outpost of the Willcox winery hosts events and corporate happy hours and is dog-friendly, so bring your pooch along for a tasting. See more on Carlson Creek on page 96. 480-947-0636, carlsoncreek.com

Aridus Wine Company
Many Arizona winemakers honed their craft at Aridus, which produces a stunning variety of wines. Bring home a bottle from the tasting room and visit Aridus’ website for food pairing recipes. See more on Aridus on page 96. 520-954-2676, ariduswineco.com

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Salvatore Vineyards
Winemaker Jason Domanico of Passion Cellars named his line of reserve wines after his grandfather, Salvatore. The Sangiovese won a gold medal at the 2018 Arizona Wine Competition. 480-423-2901, passioncellars.com/locations

Sip & Stay

Make it a wine-centric staycation at Bespoke Inn (844-861-6715, bespokeinn.com), a boutique hostelry in the heart of Old Town that allows guests complimentary use of its bicycles. Stash your wine in your bike basket and cycle back for a contemporary Italian dinner by chef Gio Osso at on-site Virtù Honest Craft (480-946-3477, virtuscottsdale.com).

Restaurant Rec

Chef-owner Charleen Badman and front-of-house maestro/co-owner Pavle Milic were supporting and pouring Arizona wine before it was cool, and FnB (480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com) is still your best bet in town for interesting local vino and veg-centric cuisine.

AZ Juice FACT

Arizona wineries are legally prohibited from making more than 40,000 gallons (about 202,020 bottles) without impeding their retail licenses. The largest single winemaker: Arizona Stronghold (36,000 gallons)

Photo courtesy LDV Winery
Photo courtesy LDV Winery
Must-Take-Home Bottle
LDV Winery
2014 The Signature Petite Sirah
$45

If you like a big, bold red, LDV’s Petite Sirah is the bottle for you. Dubbed “Liquid Midnight,” it’s crafted from LDV’s oldest vines and is fruit-forward, smoky, spicy, dense and chewy. It’s a dream paired with hearty proteins and dark, complex sauces, or simply as an experience on its own.

Willcox Trails

Willcox Bench

The majority of the grapes used in Arizona wine is grown in Cochise County. A good chunk of those grapes is grown on the “Willcox Bench,” an alluvial fan that elevates the vineyards along the historical Kansas Settlement farmland. The result: excellent grape-growing conditions.

Pillsbury Wine Company; Photo by Richard Maack
Pillsbury Wine Company; Photo by Richard Maack

Bodega Pierce
To taste the work of a true master of his craft, visit Bodega Pierce. Winemaker Michael Pierce lives and teaches oenology and viticulture in Northern Arizona, but he comes down to Willcox to make wine for his family’s imprints. Mom and pop Barbara and Dan Pierce keep the vineyard and tasting room going all year long. 602-320-1722, bodegapierce.com

Zarpara Vineyard
Spanish wines are the passion of owners/winemakers Rhona MacMillan and Mark Jorve, who chose the name Zarpara because it means “to set sail.” Try the delicate, crisp Rosado (a rosé of Monastrell, the Spanish word for Mourvèdre) and the moody, romantic Odisea (Tempranillo and Syrah). 520-222-7114, zarpara.com

Birds & Barrels Vineyards
Mesa transplants Chad and Monica Preston are among the newest winemakers in the Willcox region – and they have some of the coolest labels. In addition to steady Eddie varietals, they’re growing the less common Pinotage, Graciano and Petit Manseng. 520-507-0354, birdsandbarrels.com

Laramita Cellars
The tasting room is currently under construction on the site of Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards, but winemaker Greg Gonnerman is happy to give tours of his vines (some quite experimental) if you call ahead. 480-560-2605, laramitacellars.com

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Pillsbury Wine Company
Beloved winemaker and filmmaker Sam Pillsbury has tasting rooms at his Willcox vineyard and in Cottonwood. His Wild Child White and Roan Red are seminal Arizona wines. 928-595-1001, pillsburywine.com

Sand-Reckoner Vineyards
Winemaker Rob Hammelman’s vineyards and winery are not open to the public, but he does have a tasting room in Tucson’s Warehouse Arts District. Pop in on your way back to Phoenix and try the 2017 Orange Roussanne. 520-833-0121, sand-reckoner.com

Golden Rule Vineyards
It’s not technically in Willcox, but it’s still part of rural Willcox Wine Country, so we’re counting it. Owners Jim and Ruth Graham are both from farming families (they grow the pistachios guests nosh on in the tasting room), and wunderkind winemaker Mark Phillips is doing amazing things with “winemaker’s wine” Cab Franc and “problem child” Zinfandel. 520-507-3310, goldenrulevineyards.com

AZ Juice FACT

The state’s biggest vineyard: John McLoughlin’s 110-acre Dragoon Mountain Vineyard in Willcox, which provides the grapes for his Cellar 433 and Bitter Creek labels.

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Saeculum Cellars
2018 Malvasia Bianca
$28

Orange wine was trending elsewhere last year, but it only made it to a few Arizona wineries. Luckily for us, Saeculum was one of them. Winemaker Michael Pierce took the same grapes he uses to make Bodega Pierce’s sweet Malvasia Bianca and let them ferment with skin contact for seven days. The result: BP label Saeculum’s orange Malvasia Bianca, which is funkier and drier than its sweet sister, with a long apricot finish.

Sip & Stay

Californians Sam and Dorothy Laage were enchanted by the Chiricahuas when they first visited Willcox several years ago. So enchanted, in fact, that the avid hikers, birders and wine enthusiasts decided to retire a little ahead of schedule to buy Dos Cabezas Retreat Bed & Breakfast (520-507-1244, doscabezasretreat.com), a charming property with stunning views of the Chiricahuas and guesthouse bedrooms that date back to the 1870s and early 1900s. The Laages go above and beyond the usual B&B perks with a complimentary wine social (Arizona wine, of course), expert suggestions for your itinerary and what may have been the best breakfast at a B&B we’ve ever had: locally roasted coffee, local sausage, fried potatoes and a homemade Dutch baby pancake with local fruit and prickly pear syrup.

Dos Cabezas Retreat Bed & Breakfast; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Dos Cabezas Retreat Bed & Breakfast; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Restaurant Recs

There aren’t really any restaurants out on the Bench, so your best bet is to pop into downtown Willcox for a ribeye or grilled salmon filet at Double S Steakhouse (520-766-3800, doublessteakhouse.com) or over to Sunizona for breakfast (omelets and hash brown casserole) or lunch (sandwiches, salads and soup) at Sandy’s Restaurant & RV Park (855-327-7192, sandysrestaurantandrvpark.com).

Trail Talk

Mark Phillips

Golden Rule Vineyards
At first glance, you’d think Mark Phillips was a winemaker’s son or a college kid working in Golden Rule’s tasting room. In fact, the fresh-faced 29-year-old is already 10 years into his wine career, which began in his native California and included stints at JUSTIN in Paso Robles and Aridus Wine Company in Willcox. He now makes wine for Golden Rule, Golder Estates in Catalina and his own yet-to-be-released Folklore label.

How did you get into wine, especially at such a young age?
I’m a really good cook, and I worked in some kitchens when I was young. I was thinking of going to culinary school, but I was like, “Eh, I want to go to regular university first.” What goes good with food? Wine… You can be creative in the winery while still doing normal nine-to-five hours. It’s more stable than restaurants.

Photo by Leah LeMoine
Photo by Leah LeMoine

Initially you were skeptical of Arizona wine, but now you’re an evangelist.
I was in San Francisco with a couple of friends recently. There were like six people there, and they were all somms. There was this guy who is working on his advanced [sommelier certification], and he was saying things like, “Oh you can’t grow grapes because you won’t be able to get phenolically ripe” and all of this other stuff. And I was like, “OK, what’s the temperature of the winegrowing regions? What are the winegrowing regions of Arizona? What’s the soil type?” He didn’t know any of it. So, you’re just saying that you’ve been to Phoenix, so therefore you know everything about Arizona… People have a very narrow idea of what Arizona is like, and they don’t understand the diversity of microclimates around here.

Can you speak a little about that?
The monsoon is probably the one distinguishing factor of the area that really changes the flavor profile of the wine… A lot of the things that become the distinctive qualities of a wine region are its challenges, not its assets. And I think that’s probably what the monsoon does. It keeps things cool. You get a little more overcast in the afternoon so you can reduce sunburning on your grapes and the added moisture in the air allows for better evapotranspiration so you have healthier canopies.

Downtown Willcox

While most vineyards and wineries are farther afield in the Willcox Bench area, a tidy cluster of tasting rooms can be found along a few streets in Willcox proper (willcoxwines.com). Bonus: more restaurants and other things to do, from the Rex Allen Museum to antique shopping.

Carlson Creek Vineyard; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Carlson Creek Vineyard; Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Aridus Wine Company
Aridus founders Scott and Joan Dahmer own the largest custom crush facility in the state and have helped countless Arizona winemakers launch their own labels. Winemaker Lisa Strid oversees a diverse roster of varietals, from a prune-y, berry-rich Montepulciano to a classic, buttery Chardonnay. 520-766-9463, ariduswineco.com

Keeling Schaefer Vineyards
Winemaker Rod Keeling is one of the godfathers of Willcox wine. He and his wife and co-owner, Jan Schaefer, welcome wine club members and private groups to their vineyard by appointment, but their downtown tasting room is bright, airy and full of local art and photography to pair with their Three Sisters Syrah. 520-766-0600, keelingschaefervineyards.com

Carlson Creek Vineyard
The Carlson clan – siblings Robert III, Katherine and John and parents Robert “Bob” Jr. and Elizabeth – have big plans this year for a new tasting room (and eventually guest casitas) at their Willcox Bench vineyard. Until then, visit them at this downtown tasting room. 520-766-3000, carlsoncreek.com

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Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery
With eight tasting rooms throughout the state, from Prescott to Tubac, Flying Leap may be the most omnipresent Arizona winery. It also has a line of spirits and a dry rub, of course. 520-455-5499, flyingleapvineyards.com

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Keeling Schaefer
2018 Rock Creek Rosé
$10

This Provençal-style rosé of Grenache is the perfect Arizona summer wine: low ABV (about 11 percent), dry and crisp, with notes of juicy watermelon, cherry and prickly pear. It’s also an absolute steal at only $10 per bottle in the Willcox tasting room.

Sip & Stay

Want an affordable, no-frills hostelry a stone’s throw from the tasting rooms downtown? Arizona Sunset Inn (520-766-3400, sunsetwillcox.com) is clean, comfortable and independently owned. It’s a great home base for exploration of downtown Willcox.

Restaurant Recs

Locals love Big Tex BBQ (520-384-4423, bigtexbbqaz.com), a Texas-style smokehouse that recently reopened after a fire caused so much damage the restaurant had to be rebuilt. Owners Jeff and Isabel Willey also run Mexican restaurant Isabel’s South of the Border (520-766-0859, facebook.com/isabelsmexicanfood) across the street, so you can get Tex or Mex after a day of wine tasting.

Big Tex BBQ; Photo by Leah LeMoine
Big Tex BBQ; Photo by Leah LeMoine
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Trail Talk

Robert Carlson III

Carlson Creek Vineyard
Robert Carlson III does a lot of splitting. He splits ownership of his winery with his parents and siblings. He splits grape-growing and winemaking duties with his brother, John (though lately John has taken the winemaker reins). And he splits his time between their Willcox vineyard and his Scottsdale apartment, a quick walk from Carlson Creek’s Old Town tasting room.

All of your wines are single-varietal except the Rule of Three, a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (GSM) blend. What was the inspiration there?
I’ve got two siblings. If two of us are together, we’re perfectly well-behaved. If all three of us get together, all hell breaks loose. It’s also a concept in art. Our father is an amateur photographer, and I study art as well.

What is your approach to wine?
We want wines that pair well with the glass. Even if we do, say, the Malbec or the Cab, and they’re a little bigger, it’s not like you’re like, “Wow, I can only drink this with a slab of steak.” … It’s also built around where we live and who we’re selling to. Our Chardonnay is low oak and it doesn’t particularly have a huge amount of malolactic [acid] because you can’t drink a big, buttery, oaky Chard by the pool in Arizona in August.

You’ve studied aerospace, politics and art and worked in finance. Does winemaking scratch all of those itches?
Yes, it does… I was exceedingly thankful for the short time I spent in corporate America because it was a massive education on finance… but it did show me that at the end of the day I do want something more than a paycheck. For the first few years of the winery, we didn’t even have that. [laughs] It’s bound our family together. I talk to most of my family members on a daily basis. Now that can be trying at times, but it’s something that my grandfather wanted to get back to. A lot of our family history was farming.

Pearce

Just south of Willcox in Cochise County lie the smaller towns of Pearce, Sunsites and Sunizona, which together make a longer, stretched-out wine trail along the I-191 and I-181. Enjoy the winding drive past lush farmland and the majestic Dragoon and Chiricahua mountains as you pop from one wine spot to another.

Four Tails Vineyards; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Four Tails Vineyards; Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Four Tails Vineyard
All of the wines at Barb and Cale Coons’ boutique winery at the base of Cochise Stronghold are named in honor of their dogs, past and present. The Double Trouble Cabernet Sauvignon is rich and full, and named for labs Bruno and Bubby. The Short Temper Tempranillo is pleasantly tannic and was named for feisty Skye terrier Dash. Cute names, delicious old-world-style wines. 623-693-6547, fourtailsvineyard.com

Sándor Vineyards
The wines are few but high quality at Sándor, which is located near the picturesque Turkey Creek – currently, there are only Petite Sirah and rosé of Grenache. The fate of the vineyard is in question after the unexpected death of owner/winemaker John Kovacs last fall. Call ahead to schedule an appointment. 520-234-6757, sandorvineyards.com

LDV Winery
Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca split their time between their vineyard at the base of the Chiricahuas and their tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale. Vineyard visits and tours are by appointment only, but the couple also hosts wine events and barbecues throughout the year that are open to the public. 480-664-4822, ldvwinery.com

Mustang Mall
It looks like a gas station in the middle of nowhere (because it is), but Mustang Mall has the best selection of Arizona wine south of Tucson. Pop in to fuel up, browse Western accoutrements like saddles and cowboy hats, and then shop for any local bottles you might have missed on your tasting room excursions. 520-824-3226, mustangmall.wixsite.com/mustangmall

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AZ Juice FACT

Arizona wine production grew 1,940 percent between 2003 and 2017.

Photo courtesy Greater Than Wines
Photo courtesy Greater Than Wines
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Greater Than Wines
Red Experiment #1
$32

In his downtime, Four Tails Vineyard winemaker Gary Kurtz produces wines under his own label, Greater Than Wines, and donates 51 percent of sales to a rotating charity. Even without the philanthropy we’d love his Red Experiment #1, a blend of Mourvèdre, Counoise and Symphony grapes from Pillsbury Vineyard and Deep Sky Vineyard. It’s juicy, lusty and a little funky. “I like to call it strawberry jam, without being jammy,” Kurtz says. “It’s whole-cluster-fermented, native yeast, native malo [lactic fermentation], foot-stomped – all the fun things I’d never gotten to do before.”

Sip & Stay

You can wander more than 20 acres of ash, oak and sycamore trees at Dreamcatcher Bed & Breakfast (520-824-3127, dreamcatcherbnb.com), located a dozen miles from Chiricahua National Monument. The accommodations are comfy and kitschy, and pets are welcome for a fee of $10 per pet per night.

Photo by Janelle Bonifield/Courtesy LDV Winery
Photo by Janelle Bonifield/Courtesy LDV Winery
Restaurant Recs

Craft coffee lovers should beeline to Talking Irons Coffee Saloon (520-485-7944, facebook.com/talkingironscoffee), where owners Tom and Sara Burger use Tucson’s Exo Roast Co. beans to make incredible coffee and espresso drinks to pair with scratch-made cuisine and artisanal ice cream (there are craft cocktails, too). Don’t miss the salvadoreña, a savory El Salvadoran cake made with cheese, rice flour and sesame seeds.

Talking Irons Coffee Saloon; Photo by Leah LeMoine
Talking Irons Coffee Saloon; Photo by Leah LeMoine
Talking Irons Coffee Saloon; Photo by Leah LeMoine
Talking Irons Coffee Saloon; Photo by Leah LeMoine

Tombstone & McNeal

With Tombstone Wine Works’ decampment to Elgin, everyone’s favorite Wild West town now has only one tasting room in its city limits. Fortunately, a couple of newish wineries off the historical High Lonesome Road in neighboring town McNeal may be reviving the wine scene.

High Lonesome Vineyard
United States Army veterans Tom and Edie Gustason put down roots in McNeal in 2013 and planted their first grapevines in 2014. Now they produce eight varietals – Riesling, Picpoul Blanc, Lemberger, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre, Tannat, Nebbiolo and an award-winning Malbec – and pour them in an outdoor tasting room overlooking their vineyards. The Gustasons also started the Tombstone Wine Celebration, held every April and October. 909-557-4872, highlonesomevineyard.com

Hofmann Vineyards; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Hofmann Vineyards; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
AZ Juice FACT

Due to similarities in climate (dry, warm) and soil (silty, loamy), Arizona winemakers have disproportionally embraced grapes from the Rhône region of Southern France: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier, among others.

Hofmann Vineyards
Wine enthusiasts since the 1960s, Charles and Karen Hofmann built the first vineyard on High Lonesome Road in 2012. At their namesake estate, they grow mostly German varietals, particularly those of the Rheinland-Pfalz wine region. There’s a Riesling, of course, but also lesser-known styles like Dornfelder (a smooth red), Frauen (a sweeter white) and a Riesling-Gewurztraminer blend. 520-403-2100, hofmannvineyards.com

Silver Strike Winery
Tombstone’s mining and Wild West history are inspirations for many of the wines at Silver Strike, from the Deep Core Cab (notes of plum, cherry and smoke) to the Pure Gold (a floral, citrusy and sweet Columbard wine). Sweet rosé lovers should try the berry-rich Rose. 520-678-8200, silverstrikewinery.com

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Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Must-Take-Home Bottle
High Lonesome Vineyard
2018 Picpoul Blanc
$34

This full-bodied white is a pure, unadulterated expression of the lesser-known Rhône varietal Picpoul Blanc, which is especially rare in Arizona, where whites are usually dominated by Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The Gustasons’ Picpoul is luscious, with notes of grapefruit, white peach and apricot. Its lower alcohol content – 10.4 percent ABV – makes it an easy choice for summer day drinking.

Sip & Stay

Relive the scandalous past of Tombstone’s red-light district with a stay at Tombstone Bordello Bed & Breakfast (520-457-2394, tombstonebordello.com), where the town’s “fallen angels” once entertained miners for a price. An 1800s portrait studio is currently closed for renovation, but rumor has it a few ghosts from that time period still roam the bordello, so keep an eye out.

Restaurant Recs

East Coast transplants Daniel Torres-Scardaccione and Jeannie Andrada have brought Italian-American comfort food to Tombstone with Mario’s Bakery Café (520-266-9101, mariosbakerycafe.com). Enjoy cold sandwiches or panini including caprese, sausage and peppers, and chicken Parmigiana, as well as fresh salads and giardiniera. Finish up with creamy cannoli or Italian rum cake. Heads up: They’re open daily from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., but they close from 4-6 p.m. for a riposo aka nap/rest break, so time your visit accordingly. Tuesdays are the exception, when they are open only from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Trail Talk

Tom & Edie Gustason

High Lonesome Vineyard
Romance flourished under harsh conditions for Tom and Edie Gustason during their careers in military intelligence for the U.S. Army. “I figured if I can go to a combat zone with her, I might as well marry her,” Tom says. Growing and making wine in Arizona is the couple’s retirement project – difficult, yes, but not compared to tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What got you into wine?
Edie: We went wine tasting out in Elgin, and one of the winemakers walked out in a T-shirt and flip-flops. Tom looked at me and said, “That’s what I want to do.” Within weeks we were clearing [land], and in the spring of 2014, block one was born. We’ve been going at it ever since, just the two of us.

Do you share winemaking duties?
Edie: I’m the winemaker. He’s my field ops guy.

You’re still a fairly new winery. Do you have a signature wine?
Edie: The Picpoul is really popular. I’ve got one customer, she comes back every two weeks and she buys anywhere from four to six bottles at a time.

Tom: We’ve converted those who like sweet [wines only]. “Just sample this. Try this.” They end up wanting a full glass.

Edie: People who don’t like reds like the Lemberger. I call my Picpoul the “sit by the pool and drink” kind of wine. The Lemberger is a good transition from the heavy winter reds to the light summer whites… If you like your whites cold and you’re sitting outside and it’s warm, go to the store and buy yourself some green grapes. Put them in the freezer and then put a couple in your wine glass. It keeps your wine cool, but doesn’t dilute it like an ice cube. And at the end, you’ve got some fruit. You can do it with reds, too, with red grapes.

Sonoita/Elgin Trails

AZ-82

Drive along this sloping two-lane highway in Santa Cruz County (about an hour southeast of Tucson) to discover a smattering of tasting rooms that line Sonoita’s AZ-82 highway like a string of Christmas lights. Though each winery has a distinctly different flavor, they’re all worth savoring.

AZ Juice FACT

FnB impresario and PHOENIX wine columnist Pavle Milic is launching a Sonoita winery called Los Milics. It will bottle its first vintage this fall and open in early 2020.

Rune Wines
This organic, off-the-grid winery is all about doing things differently. Consider the winery’s “tasting room” – an outdoor area covered by canopies and freckled with beach chairs that overlooks striking views of grassy, cascading hills. Winemaker James Callahan honed his craft in California and New Zealand before setting up shop in Sonoita, where his oeuvre includes a refreshing rosé and a rich Malvasia Bianca. 520-338-8823, runewines.com

Dos Cabezas WineWorks
Husband and wife team Kelly and Todd Bostock aim for a “relaxed and unpretentious” vibe in their living-room-like tasting room. According to Kelly, Dos Cabezas was one of the first Arizona wineries to put their product, which includes a delightful blush crushed by foot, into cans. The paintings featured on the labels are works of Leonard Bianco, the father of Pizzeria Bianco impresario Chris Bianco. 520-455-5141, doscabezas.com

Arizona Hops and Vines
Sibling co-owners Megan Stranik and Shannon Austin take a quirky, down-to-earth approach to viticulture. “Our tastings are all paired with different potato chips. Our wines go with Cheetos and Cocoa Puffs and things like that, so that’s pretty different from all of the wineries down here,” Stranik says. The sisters are also known for taking creative risks like adding homegrown hops to their wine, and favoring eccentric elements like hand-painted murals, a pond and a petting zoo. 301-237-6556, azhopsandvines.com

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Arizona Hops and Vines; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Arizona Hops and Vines; Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Hannah’s Hill Vineyard
Know the winery by its trademark ruby red barn, where you can find owner Ann Gardner chatting with guests. She’ll tell you that she and her husband, James, started making wine in their garage in Phoenix and that the winery was named after their daughter, Hannah. When visiting, expect to be greeted by the winery’s welcoming committee – two friendly white German shepherds – and a diverse selection of varietals that includes many Rhône styles and a Riesling. 520-456-9000, hannahshill.com

Photo courtesy Rune Wines
Photo courtesy Rune Wines
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Rune Wines
2017 Viognier
$28

Some things are worth the wait. This floral, full-bodied white wine is carefully pressed in small lots, fermented with wild yeasts and aged in neutral French oak and stainless-steel barrels for 11 months.

Sip & Stay

Stay in a studio apartment or a two-bedroom house with unique amenities like an outdoor pizza oven and a record player – no designated driver required. Next Door @ Dos Cabezas (doscabezas.com/stay-with-us) allows visitors to lodge in cozy, colorful environs right next to the winery and tasting room.

Restaurant Recs

Located in a cluster of shops and restaurants that might be considered the tiny town of Sonoita’s city center, The Café (520-455-5044, cafesonoita.com) is a must-stop favored by locals. For lunch, munch on sandwiches like the tuna melt with green apple, Southwestern-style green chile, pepper jack and pico de gallo. The dinner menu boasts heartier meals such as prime rib, shrimp scampi and stuffed mushrooms

The Café; Photo by Madison Rutherford
The Café; Photo by Madison Rutherford
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Trail Talk

James Callahan

Rune Wines
After graduating from Arizona State University with a history degree in 2006, Callahan did what many recent grads do – waited tables. But he also cultivated an expertise in wine, embarking on viticultural stints around the world until fulfilling his longtime dream of establishing his own winery in 2013. Rune is completely solar-powered and repurposed – the winery’s cold storage is constructed out of old semitruck trailers – and Callahan is committed to telling an epic story through his unique selection of organic wines.

Where did the name Rune come from?
Originally the brand was going to be called Saga. If you look at all the labels, they’re all pictures. Every wine has a different label; it’s kind of like a comic book. Since Rune is about buying grapes from other vineyards – it’s not our estate fruit yet – I like the idea of characterizing different vineyard sites, different wines and different vintages with different graphical representations. It’s all about creating something that’s collectible and fun. The marketing is unique and something that represents the wines and pays homage to the vineyards and the people that are doing a lot of hard work.

What is Rune known for?
We do all wild yeast fermentation. We’re the only winery that does that. You pick grapes and crush them and let Mother Nature take over. All that we’re doing as winemakers is creating a natural process of sugars going to alcohol, which happens in nature. We’re just shepherding it.

Tell me about the community in Sonoita-Elgin.
We have a great community. As the wine industry has been growing and growing, we get new people coming in every year and new people bringing in new ideas. There’s definitely a lot of support amongst each other here. It’s a really good community of people who are all striving to make good wine and put Arizona on the map.

Elgin Road

The cheek by jowl concentration of tasting rooms has led wine fans to refer to this bustling slice of Sonoita-Elgin as “winery row.” With many of the wineries within walking distance of each other, the Elgin trail is a welcome departure from the rural area’s unrelenting sprawl.

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Deep Sky Vineyard
Deep Sky is a strictly single-varietal winemaker. “We don’t do blends,” owner Kim Asmundson says. “We feel very strongly that people should know what a Syrah or a Malbec tastes like, and our grapes are good enough that they can stand on their own.” Patrons can nest on Deep Sky’s expansive patio or relax in the art-adorned tasting room with a glass of “Stellar” Grenache or another of its astronomy-themed wines. 520-490-6170, deepskyvineyard.com

Village of Elgin Winery & Distillery
Specializing in sweet wines, Village of Elgin has been thriving for more than three decades. “Our goal is to produce wine that everyone can enjoy,” says owner Gary Ellam. The winery’s airy tasting room, which housed a brothel in the late 1800s, invites visitors to sit down and stay awhile with an array of cozy couches. It also prides itself on a small-batch distillery that specializes in locally sourced, artisanal bourbon, brandy, rum and gin. 520-455-9309, elginwd.com

Kief-Joshua Vineyards
Vintner Kief Manning uses traditional barrel-aging techniques to craft all of his dry, full-bodied wines, which include Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah. Instead of discarding the barrels after production, he turns the casks into creative décor such as candle holders, clocks and chandeliers to furnish his cozy tasting room. 520-455-5582, kj-vineyards.com

Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery
“In the wine business, successful wineries have a backstory,” co-owner Mark Beres says. In their former lives, Beres and partners Tom Kitchens and Marc Moeller were United States Air Force pilots, starting Flying Leap in 2010 with “just our savings and our ingenuity.” That resourcefulness led them to start a distillery on the property in 2015, using the leftover wine grapes to make spirits such as vodka, brandy, bourbon and lavender-infused liqueur. 520-455-5499, flyingleapvineyards.com

Callaghan Vineyards
Depth of flavor and complexity are Kent Callaghan’s calling cards as a winemaker. Customers can peruse a plethora of wine-themed baubles in the tasting room or park on the porch overlooking the vineyards. The winery boasts an array of accolades, including being dubbed one of “Arizona’s Treasures” by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano in 2006, and Callaghan wines have been served at the White House four times. 520-455-5322, callaghanvineyards.com

Rancho Rossa Vineyards & Rescued Heart Cellars; Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Rancho Rossa Vineyards & Rescued Heart Cellars; Photo by Mark Lipczynski

Rancho Rossa Vineyards & Rescued Heart Cellars
Right before he opened Rancho Rossa in 2006, owner-winemaker Chris Hamilton was approached by the Arizona Wine Growers Association and asked if he wanted to enter his wine in its competition that year. He didn’t have any labels, so he handwrote “2004 Syrah” on each bottle. Voila! Before it even opened its doors, the winery had won an award for the best red wine in the state. 520-455-0700, ranchorossa.com

Photo courtesy Kief-Joshua Vineyards
Photo courtesy Kief-Joshua Vineyards
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Kief-Joshua Vineyards
2016 Petit Verdot
$30

This acidic, fruit-forward palate pleaser has hints of plum, black cherry and strawberry. The bold, slightly spicy blend pairs best with red meat, fresh fruit and cheese.

Sip & Stay

Make Kief-Joshua your last stop and feel free to have as many glasses as you please – this elegant master suite is right above the winery’s tasting room. Booked through Airbnb (airbnb.com/rooms/16961909) the charming room boasts a private balcony with sweeping vistas of the vineyard and Sonoita-Elgin’s picturesque pastures.

Restaurant Recs

Tia Nita’s Cantina (520-455-0500) purveys some of the best pub grub in the area. Pick from pizza, wings, sandwiches or calzones with eccentric epithets like Gypsy Tears and Dirty Hippie. If you have an adventurous palate, ask for the Half-Baked and receive a customized creation with surprise ingredients.

Tia Nita’s Cantina; Photo courtesy Tia Nita’s Cantina
Tia Nita’s Cantina; Photo courtesy Tia Nita’s Cantina
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Photo by Mark Lipczynski
Trail Talk

Kim Asmundson

Deep Sky Vineyard
The winemaker admittedly knew nothing about growing grapes when she and her husband, Phil, bought a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina, in 2009. But after a few vintages, they sensed that their slice of South America might be a winemaking facsimile of Southern Arizona, and subsequently launched vineyards in Willcox and Sonoita, where they grow Argentine staple Malbec and other varietals.

How long have you been in Sonoita-Elgin?
Two years. For my husband’s 50th birthday, we went to Argentina, got drunk one night and bought a vineyard. Should’ve bought a T-shirt, right? We could’ve gotten out of the deal, obviously, but we said, “Why not?”

Then, we started noticing the similarities between Arizona and Argentina – no ocean influence, monsoons, high desert, almost the same altitude and amplitude. We were already kind of in the wine business, so we bought 20 acres in Willcox and planted Malbec. We were the first in the state to plant it.

What type of vibe do you strive to create in your tasting room? 
We always wanted an indoor-outdoor, on-the-vineyard experience. We wanted people to be able to sit down and stay, not just have a quick sip and be on their way.

Cork or screw top?
Cork, because we own a bottling line with five other vineyards and it only does cork. We’re trying some composite corks this year. They won’t keep the wine as long. They say five years maximum on the composite, but we’re going to try it on our lighter wines that we release faster. We’re different in a lot of ways than other wineries in Arizona. One of the ways is that we age our wines a lot longer. We have not released all our 2016s yet. They go into barrel for two years and then bottle up to a year and a half after that until they’re really, really ready.

South Elgin

If you’re looking for the road less traveled, we’ve found it. Located 2 miles south of Elgin’s “winery row,” this secluded mini cluster of tasting rooms provides epic views of vast emerald fields and the Santa Rita, Huachuca and Whetstone mountain ranges looming in the distance.

Photo by Madison Rutherford
Photo by Madison Rutherford
AZ Juice FACT

Q&A with Sonoita Vineyards winemaker Lori Reynolds at phoenixmag.com/web-extras.

Sonoita Vineyards
Established in 1983, Sonoita Vineyards is the oldest commercial winery in Arizona. The tasting room was erected in 1984, the same year Sonoita-Elgin was granted American Viticultural Area (AVA) status. “They wanted the federal government to recognize it not just as a novelty, but this is a real, amazing thing that true wine drinkers should come and sample,” says winemaker Lori Reynolds. Sonoita focuses on French varietals and is one of the few wineries in the state that plants Pinot Noir. 520-455-5893, sonoitavineyards.com

Lightning Ridge Cellars 
Ann Roncone started making wine in her garage before growing grapes in the arid hills of Sonoita-Elgin. Now, she produces Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Muscat Canelli and Montepulciano, and pays homage to her heritage with Tuscan grace notes throughout the winery. Three years ago, Roncone planted olive trees on the premises, which will yield their first crop this season and be turned into olive oil available for purchase at the winery. 520-455-5383, lightningridgecellars.com

Sip & Stay

Rancho Milagro Bed and Breakfast (520-455-0380, ranchomilagrobnb.com) includes three guest rooms and a quaint studio that was previously an artist atelier. This Southwestern-inspired inn boasts bird-watching during the day and breathtaking stargazing at night.

Restaurant Recs

If you need a temporary break from all the tannins, take a breather at Copper Brothel Brewery (520-405-6721, copperbrothelbrewery.com). This family-owned and -operated brewpub serves up stellar scratch-made comfort food and craft beer. Nosh on the nachos, shrouded in melted cheese and crowned with black beans, red onions and fresh jalapeños.

Copper Brothel Brewery; Photo courtesy Copper Brothel Brewery
Copper Brothel Brewery; Photo courtesy Copper Brothel Brewery
Photo courtesy Sonoita Vineyards
Photo courtesy Sonoita Vineyards
Must-Take-Home Bottle
Sonoita Vineyards
Arizona Sunset
$17

Plop peach slices or berries in this semisweet blush for a dangerously smooth twist on sangria.

One-Off Wineries

3 Interesting One-Offs

Find these Arizona tasting rooms off the beaten wine trail.

Photo courtesy Bruzzi Vineyards
Photo courtesy Bruzzi Vineyards

Bruzzi Vineyard
Quite possibly the most remote of Arizona’s far-flung independent wineries, Bruzzi is located in Young, an Old West time capsule of 500 souls located about 20 miles east of Payson. The wine is perfectly drinkable, but it’s the ancillary pleasures at this working farm that warrant a visit. Pet the llamas, peruse the produce and join one of the wine dinners owner James Bruzzi hosts throughout the fall. If you need a place to stay, check out nearby Dead Broke Corral – a hybrid ghost town and inn (deadbrokecorral.com). 928-462-3314, bruzzivineyard.com

Photo courtesy Red Rock Vineyards
Photo courtesy Red Rock Vineyards

Red Rock Ranch Vineyards
High-elevation frost? Complete fiction, evidently. Undeterred by the 6,000-foot elevation of their farm and vineyard in Concho – a tiny Apache County town on the Colorado Plateau in northeastern Arizona – owner and vintner Mike Teeple juices varietals such as Barbera, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo. He’s also a lavender farmer of some note, and holds an annual lavender festival in June during flowering season. redrockfarms.com

Photo courtesy Stetson Winery
Photo courtesy Stetson Winery

Stetson Winery
The state’s northernmost vineyard produces wine that is manifestly a product of sunbaked Kingman’s long, hot growing season – namely, an estate Zinfandel so potent and alcohol-forward, you want to take it in a shot glass. Owners Don and Jo Stetson also built one of the state’s most versatile, fun tasting rooms, which doubles as a hangar-like indoor-outdoor event space, with a dance ramada and outdoor fireplace. 928-757-7206, stetsonwinery.com

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