Wine Travel – Arizona Wine Country Beckons

Just a few miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona, you’ll notice the topography starting to change before your eyes. You’ll begin a slow ascent from a desert valley to a hilly, high plains terrain offering warm days and cool nights. Soon, you’ll enter Arizona wine country, a burgeoning wine travel destination that’s garnering attention from the wine press and wine travel fans alike. Join us as we explore the secrets of this wine producing region less than an hour from downtown Tucson.

It’s easy to visit Arizona Wine Country via a short and enjoyable day trip. Going east/southeast from Tucson on I-10, it’s only an hour away. Exit I-10 about 20 miles east of the city at Exit 281 and proceed south on Arizona Rt. 83. The scenery changes and the temperature cools as you climb more than 2000 feet through your journey.

Traveling south on Rt. 83, you’ll soon enter the charming town of Sonoita, the gateway to wine country. If you arrive around lunch time, we recommend Cafe Sonoita, on scenic Route 82 just a half mile east of the Rt. 83 junction. You’ll choose from a blackboard menu, presented at your table, or the standard menu. We enjoyed a local specialty, the Hatch green chile chicken burrito, and a bowl of homemade soup. You can also enjoy a glass of Arizona wine from Cafe Sonoita’s ample wine list.

Looking at the terrain in the Sonoita area, you’ll begin to understand why wine has been produced here for many years. It’s a perfect blend of medium elevation, rich soil, and low humidity. Owners of the seven wineries in this area will tell you this area is just about perfect for growing grapes.

Southern Arizona Wine Country’s Seven Wineries

Let’s spend a little time at each of this area’s seven wineries. As is typical with a wine trail journey, these wineries are clustered together within a few miles. We recommend a late morning stop at one or two, a break for lunch, and then more wine exploring on into the afternoon.

We visited these wineries over the course of two visits, so feel free to mix and match your destinations. There’s no prescribed order, as the wineries are scattered about in this pleasant, mostly rural area. No matter which you choose, you’re guaranteed a true taste of Arizona’s highly respected wine industry.

Callaghan Vineyards: Callaghan Vineyards produces premium reds and whites from its own 25 acre vineyard. Styled in Mediterranean and Spanish varieties, owner Kent Callaghan’s wines have received accolades from prominent publications like Wine Spectator and the New York Times, and have been served at the White House on three occasions. Our favorite was Lisa’s White, with its spicy apple aroma and subtle rich taste of pear and grapfruit.

Canelo Hills Vineyard and Winery: Canelo Hills is the product of owners Tim and Joan Mueller, who founded the operation in 2003. The Muellers were delighted to open their new tasting room in September 2007, realizing a long term dream to own and operate their own winery. Located 7.5 miles east of the Rt. 83 and 82 crossroads in the small village of Elgin, Canelo Hills is open for tasting Fridays and Saturdays from 11-4. Tim and Joan are strong supporters of local sustainable products and host an annual Wine and Farm Festival. Current wine offerings include a chardonnay, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and an especially delicious crisp riesling.

Dos Cabezas Wineworks: Dos Cabezas is a relatively new arrival to the Sonoita-Elgin wine country, but not a newcomer to the Arizona wine scene. They’ve been producing wines since 1995, and recently moved the winery to this area from a location in the southeastern part of the state. Dos Cabezas was very proud to win two Governers Choice Awards in December 2007 for Arizona’s best red and white wine. Their Viognier took honors for the whites category, while their El Norte took home the award for reds. Located on Rt. 82, their tasting room is open Fridays through Sundays from 10:30-4:30. Make a point to try the deep, complex El Norte … we loved it!

Rancho Rossa Vineyards: Rancho Rossa is one of Arizona’s largest family owned wineries, producing over 1200 cases per year entirely from their own fruit. Located about 6 miles southeast of Sonoita, they’re open for tasting Friday-Sunday from 10:30 to 3:30. We enjoyed their Case Cuvee, a rich Chardonnay blend, as well as their Grenache, a red that’s fermented in French Oak.

Village of Elgin Winery: Village of Elgin Winery is one of the area’s original wineries. Established here more than a quarter century ago, Village of Elgin is well known for hosting two annual wine festivals, taking place in April and September. Offering a full and unique selection of reds and whites, Village of Elgin’s wines will please any wine lover’s palate. We couldn’t pick just one as a favorite and were intrigued by unique offerings like their Blanc de Merlot (a white merlot) and the Sonoita Valley Tierra Dulce, a sweet red similar to a port. Village of Elgin’s Tombstone Red, a red and white blend, is very popular as well and widely available in retail outlets.

Kief Joshua Vineyards: Kief-Joshua is another newcomer to the wine scene here and is located in the cluster of wineries known as “Winery Row”, very close to many of the wineries listed above. Views from the tasting room are spectacular, overlooking scenic grasslands with mountains in the distance. Owner Kief Joshua Manning has been making wine since he was a teenager, and offers a small but impressive list of whites and reds. Try the refreshingly citrusy Viognier, and don’t miss the intense dark cherry flavor of their Cabernet Sauvingnon. We also bought a green chile dip mix in their gift shop which was one of the best dips we’ve had in years!

Sonoita Vineyards: Our last stop on this Wine Trail adventure is Sonoita Vineyards, the largest winery in this area and open since 1983. Their Arizona Sunset fruity rose wine was the first Arizona wine we tried many years ago. For a change of pace, try their Sonora Rossa. It’s a spicy light red wine that’s best served slightly chilled, perfect with Italian food.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re ready to spend a bit more time in this area, consider an overnight stay at one of the area’s lodging options. The Sonoita-Elgin Chamber of Commerce will help you choose accommodations. Another option to extend your trip are the nearby historic towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, both of which offer numerous dining, shopping, and entertainment options.

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