By Leah LeMoine, Craig Outhier, Madison Rutherford
Plentiful overnight options have never been the calling card of Arizona wine country – but the times they are a-changin’. Find a hotel, B&B or guesthouse with our update of the Willcox, Sonoita and Verde Valley hospitality scenes.
Flanked by Mingus Mountain and the Mogollon Rim, this lush riparian valley comprises the high-desert towns of Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cornville, Cottonwood, Jerome and Sedona, each boasting its own brand of high-country hospitality, eclectic eateries and, of course, wineries.
Start your vino-centric vacay in Jerome, which was founded by copper magnates in the late 19th century. Nowadays, fewer than 500 people inhabit this historical haven in the hills, but it is populated by myriad restaurants, shops and hotels that bring in plenty of visitors. The Clinkscale (theclinkscale.com, $209/night) is Jerome’s newest boutique boarding house, boasting six guest rooms that marry the building’s vintage appeal with modern amenities. Book the Memories of the Heart room for some country charm and stunning views of Main Street and the valley beyond. You needn’t go far to score a five-star nosh – simply mosey downstairs to the hotel’s bar and grill and feast on filet mignon, gourmet shrimp and grits, and creamy tortellini mac and cheese, plus sensational (and strong) craft cocktails.
But you’re here for the wine. Luckily, The Clinkscale is within walking distance from Jerome’s premier tasting rooms –Four Eight Wineworks, Caduceus Cellars, Passion Cellars, The Original Jerome Winery and Cabal Cellars.
You could also commence your Verde Valley excursion in Cornville, home to Page Springs Cellars, which offers a slew of wide-ranging wine flights on its spacious deck, replete with heat lamps and commanding vineyard views. You could also hit up D.A. Ranch, take a picture on its signature tree swing, sip some seriously awesome Petite Sirah and say hi to the winery’s pups, Sadie and Baja, who can often be found lounging around the ranch’s lodge. If you’re looking for a traditional wine country bed and breakfast in Cornville, pay a visit to The Vineyards (thevineyardsbandb.com, $289-$425/night) and book the Tiki Tree House, a tropical-themed hideaway overlooking neighboring vineyards, the property’s pool and a private tiki bar. The B&B’s proprietor, Tambrala Shurman, makes guests feel at home by stocking the fridge with farm-fresh eggs and seasonal fruit, encouraging them to explore the 2-acre property and offering helpful suggestions on what to see, do and sip during their stay.
Verde Valley visitors will also feel at home in Old Town Cottonwood, where The Tavern Hotel’s (thetavernhotel.com) Sip & Stay Wine Package, which includes welcome drinks and complimentary wine tastings at Pillsbury Wine Company, Burning Tree Cellars and Winery 101 ($299/night).
Camp Verde’s new-ish wineries are worth a visit. Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery features a verdant estate vineyard and a wine party bus. Salt Mine Wine, which specializes in Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Malvasia Bianca, has temporarily suspended tastings due to COVID-19, but remains open on weekends for delivery and curbside pickup. Conclude your journey at Fort Verde Suites (fvsuites.com, $77/night), which has bragging rights as the only hotel on Camp Verde’s historic Main Street.
Must-Visit: While you may think sipping Shiraz is the Verde Valley’s main attraction, it’s also known for its rich riparian areas. To wit: Dead Horse Ranch State Park – a 423-acre nature reserve with an abundance of hiking trails, camping spots, lagoons for fishing and birdwatching (azstateparks.com/dead-horse).
The majority of the grapes grown in Arizona come from Cochise County, home to the majestic Chiricahua Mountains, the Willcox Bench alluvial plain, downtown Willcox and smaller burgs to the south including Pearce, Sunsites and Sunizona.
Satisfy your cravings for safe travel and quaint historical lodging in one swoop at Dos Cabezas Retreat Bed & Breakfast (doscabezasretreat.com), located a quick drive away from both downtown Willcox and the Willcox Bench wineries: Bodega Pierce, Zarpara Vineyard, Birds & Barrels Vineyards, Laramita Cellars and Pillsbury Wine Company. Owners Sam and Dorothy Laage retired to the Chiricahua Mountains from their native California several years ago and rehabbed the retreat, which has guesthouse bedrooms ($159/night) that date back to the 1870s and early 1900s (bonus: each has a private entrance). The Laages obtained AZSafe + Clean lodging certification from the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and have adapted their offerings (complimentary wine social, itinerary help, etc.) to be distanced and/or virtual. They plan to operate at 50 percent capacity throughout 2021 for continued distancing. You won’t want to distance from Sam’s cooking, though – the restaurant veteran makes gourmet breakfasts like a Dutch baby pancake with prickly pear syrup, locally made sausage, fried potatoes and locally roasted coffee.
For an overnight option even closer to the action, Rhumb Line Vineyard (rhumblinevineyard.com) offers four spanking-new studio units in the heart of the Willcox Bench, next door to Pillsbury. Constructed out of military-style Quonset huts, the striking, tastefully appointed rooms ($139-$169/night) are the handiwork of Valley transplants Todd Myers and Michelle Minta, a quintessential wine-country power couple who also grow grapes, lavender and olives on their 60-acre property. “We sell grapes to a lot of Arizona wineries, but we have no interest in winemaking ourselves,” Minta says equably. Instead, the industrious couple – who bought the land in 2012 – focuses on their line of lavender-infused body oils, candles and bathroom products; plots an in-the-works roadside café that will feature wines from their vineyard clients; and puts the finishing touches on their bright, clean Quonset abodes.
Patrolled by a quintet of friendly Great Pyrenees border dogs, Rhumb Line is within biking distance of five wineries – six, when Carlson Creek Vineyard next door launches its expected estate tasting room – and affords guests big, luscious eyefuls of Willcox’s wide-open beauty. One suspects it marks the beginning of this storied farming region’s long-awaited transformation into a hospitality hub.
For a hotel in the thick of charming downtown Willcox, Arizona Sunset Inn (sunsetwillcox.com, $68/night) makes for a clean and comfortable home base. It’s within walking and biking distance of tasting rooms for Aridus Wine Company, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, Carlson Creek Vineyard, Flying Leap Vineyards & Distillery and the state’s first dual tasting room, the Willcox Commercial Building, occupied by Golden Rule Vineyards and Copper Horse Vineyard.
You can wander more than 20 acres of ash, oak and sycamore trees at Pearce’s Dreamcatcher Bed & Breakfast (dreamcatcherbnb.com, call ahead for rates), 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. It’s closest to Four Tails Vineyard, Sándor Vineyards, LDV Winery and Mustang Mall, a gas station and convenience store with a huge selection of local wine.
If you really want to get away from humans – and get in touch with the land – pitch a tent or drive your RV to Pillsbury Wine Company (pillsburywine.com). There are no services at the Willcox vineyard, but owner Sam Pillsbury welcomes people to camp and pop into the tasting room on weekends. Weekday tastings should be arranged by appointment.
Must-Visit: Talking Irons Coffee Saloon (facebook.com/talkingironscoffee) fills so many niches for foodies in Cochise County: craft coffee shop, global café, ice cream shop and cocktail bar. No wonder it’s a hit with locals and tourists. It’s also part of the new Pearce Wine Trail, which debuted in February and provides special offers for visitors who hit Talking Irons, 1764 Vineyards, Four Tails Vineyard and High Lonesome Vineyard on their trip on select weekends (facebook.com/pearcewinetrail).
The cheek-by-jowl concentration of wineries on Elgin Road near the Sonoita/Elgin border has led wine fans to dub this bustling slice of Santa Cruz County “winery row.” Together, the two towns sport no fewer than 14 estate tasting rooms.
Elizabeth Krecker and her business partners at Twisted Union Wine Co. (twistedunionwinecompany.com) – 13 of them in all, including a pair of California winemakers – acquired more than a tractor or two and 40 acres of grape vines when they purchased Kief-Joshua Vineyards early last year.
They also got the winery’s handsome Tuscan-style farmhouse and tasting room, and its two spacious upstairs bedrooms (starting at $102/night), which Krecker quickly made available for rent when the rebranded winery opened for business in December.
With ample decks and commanding south-facing views of the region’s vast, rolling chaparral, crowned by the Santa Rita, Huachuca and Whetstone mountains in the hazy distance, the rooms seem designed for meditative, late-afternoon glasses of vino – which you can conveniently fetch downstairs, obviously.
Pro tip: the units are kitchen-less, so bring snacks and a cooler to supplement your five-minute excursions to nearby AZ-82 highway for meals. “We’ll have food options [pretty soon],” Krecker says, along with the winery’s first estate wines, due this year.
Twisted Union isn’t the only embedded overnight experience available in Sonoita-Elgin’s wineries. Right off the aforementioned AZ-82, winemakers Kelly and Todd Bostock operate NextDoor @ Dos Cabezas (doscabezas.com/stay-with-us), the hospitality half of their Dos Cabezas WineWorks tasting room operation. Two options here: the two-bed Casa NextDoor ($250/night) and one-bed Casita NextDoor ($150/night), both equipped with kitchens and grilling amenities, plus friendly, funky touches like an outdoor pizza oven and in-room record player.
Somewhat farther afield, in South Elgin about two miles south of winery row, you’ll find the region’s obligatory, old-school B&B. Rancho Milagro Bed and Breakfast (ranchomilagrobnb.com, $139/night) boasts three guest rooms and a quaint studio that was previously an artist atelier. After visiting two nearby wineries – Sonoita Vineyards and Lightning Ridge Cellars – head back to the inn to indulge in the region’s other great pastime: birdwatching. According to the owners, the Southwest-inspired home is also a legendary stargazing spot.
Must-Visit: When he’s not writing PHOENIX magazine’s wine column and running things at his farm-to-table Scottsdale restaurant, FnB, food and wine impresario Pavle Milic works on his side hustle: running Los Milics Winery at 423 Upper Elgin Road in Elgin. Disclaimer: Milic is still putting the finishing touches on his tasting facility, but he’ll happily pour you some vino on his crush pad if you drop by between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. (Call ahead at 707-293-8480.) Ultimately, Milic will also operate a colony of guest casitas at the winery, which he envisions as a culinary retreat, with a tailored dining program.