When considering the great wine grape growing regions of the world, Arizona probably doesn't make the top ten. But you might be surprised to know that there are several varieties of wine grapes that do very well in Arizona, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sangiovese.
Vineyards were first planted in Arizona in the 17th century by Franciscan missionaries. Arizona has three growing regions, and you'll find a concentration of wine tasting rooms in those areas. The oldest/first region in the stae is the one in the Sonoita/Elgin area in Southern Arizona. It is a federally-recognized growing region, or American Viticultural Area (AVA). The second, and ghe largest growing region in the state, is in the southeast in and around Willcox. It's a farther off the beaten path than the other two, but you'll find many tasting rooms in Southern Arizona and Northern Arizona that feature wines made from grapes grown in Willcox.
The third region is the newest, the north central part of the state, is the wine region of the Verde Valley.
On this trip we decided to visit three wineries in and around Elgin, Arizona. Bring along your designated driver, and visit these wineries with me!
Sonoita Vineyards, Ltd. was our first stop. It is located in Elgin, about 50 miles from Tucson. The vineyard was established in 1983 by Dr. Gordon Dutt, who is, for all intents and purposes, the father of Arizona viticulture. They describe the soil of the area as nearly identical to that of Burgundy, France. Sonoita Vineyards have produced several award-winning wines, especially in the category of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine-tasting is available daily at Sonoita Vineyards except on holidays. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy their wines on the patio, or enjoy the view of the vineyard and the surrounding mountains from the balcony.
Sonoita Vineyards allows you to bring your own glass, in which case you may receive a discount on the tasting charge. When I visited, there was no choice of wines to taste; they decided for you, a combination of white and reds.
Village of Elgin Winery was our next stop. The winery is located in Elgin, about 55 miles from Tucson and about 5 miles from Sonoita. The vineyard uses classic Claret varietals and Syrahs. Elgin Winery uses traditional techniques and is the only winery that still stomps the grapes and uses only wood casks. It is a family owned winery, and the capacity is only 120,000 bottles.
The varieties of wines here are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Colombard, Merlot, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. They use Sonoita AVA grapes, and, since, 2077, all are bottled with screw caps.
The website is pretty sketchy on details, but their Facebook page is usually up-to-date. The property itself is a but rustic; they do host and participate in several festivals throughout the year.
Callaghan Vineyards was our third stop. It is just a couple of miles east of the Elgin Winery. This vineyard was founded in 1990 and there are two vineyards from which their wines come: the Buena Suerte Vineyard, which is the newest one we visited in Elgin, and the Dos Cabezas Vineyard near Willcox, Arizona.
At Callaghan Vineyards a nice wine glass was included in the tasting charge. You may bring your own glass and taste their wines for a discount. The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday and there was a nice variety of eleven wines from which to choose.
Patagonia is a small town at an elevation of over 4,000 feet located between the Santa Rita Mountains and the Patagonia Mountains. It has a population of about 1,000. There are some shops and a nice park in town, along with a couple of local bars and a modern high school.
As nice a small town Patagonia is, it is internationally known as a premier bird watching destination. We stopped at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, which is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It is a cottonwood-willow riparian forest and over 290 species of birds have been seen in the area. There are guided tours at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve every Saturday morning. If you are interested in Arizona bird watching, don't miss Patagonia!