When we stayed at the Spirit Tree Inn in Patagonia, Arizona we were in a perfect place to begin a journey into the Southern Arizona Wine Country. We planned for a day of photography and tasting.
The Wine Country is about 55 miles from Tucson, Arizona. The areas you will want to visit are Sonoita and Elgin and the beautiful rolling countryside in between. The loop takes you from Highway 82 (running between Sierra Vista and Patagonia) along Upper Elgin Road, Elgin Road, and Lower Elgin Road. To get your bearings, we recommend picking up a “Wineries of Sonoita” flyer in Patagonia or reviewing the Arizona Wine Country Website.
What to Take
Depending on the time of year, you may need a jacket to protect you from the wind on the open plains. A picnic lunch would be a nice addition to your gear and a cooler for your wine purchases is recommended during warm weather. Take your map with you so you won’t miss any of the tasting rooms.
About Wine Country
The first experimental vineyard was established in 1973. Arizona wines have gained an international reputation. There are 14 vineyards and wineries. According to the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association, climate and soil studies have revealed that this region is similar to Ribera Del Duero, Spain, Southeastern Australia, Southern France and is almost identical to that of Paso Robles, California.
One of the first things you will notice about Arizona Wine Country is that it isn’t like the Napa or Sonoma Valleys of California. There are no crowds, no in-your-face commercialization and you will drive along windswept plains from winery to winery. Some of them are so simple that they don’t have signs on the tasting room! But as you travel you will find that you have discovered a diamond in the rough. The wine growers in the area know their business and are slowly earning a world-wide reputation.
About Wine Tasting
The flyer, “Wineries of Sonoita” lists the tasting rooms that offer a “glass discount.” When you arrive at the first tasting room, you will be offered a tasting for about $3.00. This includes a glass. If you accept the plain tasting glass, you can take it to other wineries and be charged a dollar less for the tasting. Wineries participating in the glass discount are:
- Dos Cabezas Wine Works
- Rancho Rossa Vineyards
- Sonoita Vineyards
- Callaghan Vineyards
Our Tasting Experience
We drove “the back way” from Patagonia enjoying the views and vastness of the windswept plains. It was April and the grasses were a lovely light flaxen color. As we drove, our friend pointed out the mountains of Mexico. We were indeed in the borderlands. Having said that, we saw only one border patrol vehicle the whole day and quite a few vans of tourist tasters who were being driven from winery to winery.
Our first stop was at Sonoita Vineyards, the original 1973 experimental vineyard founded by A. Blake Brophy and Dr. Gordon Dutt. The tasting room was simple and was situated on a hill overlooking the rolling plains. It is a two story building and we heard that there is room upstairs for wedding receptions and large meetings. There were places to sit outside and enjoy the view on a less windy day. The $3.00 tasting charge was explained and a group of us made our way from the whites to the reds enjoying the stories of the host.
Of course, they have some award-winning wines, but what we remember most are the stories about the wines with the unusual names… Arizona Sunset, a lovely rose, and Angel Wings, chosen as a communion wine. Our favorite was the Sonora Rossa, a Chianti-style wine which would be good served with a nice pasta with marinara sauce. It was lighter than most Chiantis.
As we approached the small tasting room at Callaghan, we suspected this was a special place. Although there was no name on the tasting room, wine lovers apparently were able to find it without a problem. There were quite a few cars in the parking lot. People were leaving the tasting room with heavy cases of wines.
We went inside and saw that the Callaghan family, Kent, Lisa and their daughter were swamped. Kent and Lisa poured and their young daughter swiped credit cards. The atmosphere was one of a friendly party in a small home.
The wines of The Callaghan Vineyards, founded in 1988, have received praise from wine critics. One of their wines was served at Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement dinner. No wonder people had come from near and far to visit the winery.
We made our way through a few recommended wines and we stopped…. The “Z5” had to be one of the best red wines we tasted… anywhere! This blend of 56% Zinfandel, 22% Mourvedre and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, was as smooth as they come. We are no wine experts and tend to stick to only the more affordable wines, but we snapped up two bottles to take home to serve with beefy Mexican dishes.
We noticed that the wine had a screw cap. Callaghan has taken the screw cap plunge. He is convinced that wine ages better. According to Kent, “In fact, in my view, the research suggests that if you want the wine to age well, screwcaps are the best closure to use." And, they ship their wine. You can order online.
The Rock and Roll Winery
Our friend said she was taking us to a “rock and roll winery” so our interest was piqued. As we headed into Rancho Rossa Vineyards, we passed beautiful young grape vines all carefully pruned. Again, we entered a simple tasting room with no signage. The friendly owner was there pouring. She was very busy so we perused the walls with Rock and Roll photos and posters. Amazingly, rock and roll music was not blaring in the tasting room and the wines didn’t have cutesy rock and roll names.
Quality wines come from this 17-acre vineyard. Their 2004 Syrah won the 2005 Governor's Choice Award for Best Red Wine in the state. Rancho Rossa also ships wines and has a Wine Buyers Club.
Plan your visits in advance and map out the wineries you want to visit. They all have websites that list their offerings, awards and history. Print out this great winery map.
- Be sure and include Callaghan Vineyards on your list.
- While the Village of Elgin is a draw, it is rather touristy. We would taste at the outlying vineyards and head to little Elgin for postcards and souvenirs.
- Take time to savor the wines and be patient with those who are pouring. With van tours going from winery to winery, the tasting rooms can get temporarily crowded.
- Arizona Vineyards is closer to Nogales. It’s a fun and funky building located on Patagonia Highway. We didn’t check it out but our knowledgeable friend said it’s a great place to buy wine gifts. The wines have fun labels and are all reasonably priced.
- Callaghan Vineyards, Elgin
- Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Sonoita
- Dos Cabezas Wine Works, Sonoita
- Rancho Rossa Vineyards, Sonoita
- Sonoita Vineyards, Elgin
- Village of Elgin, Elgin
- Charron Vineyards, Sonoita
- Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards, Pearce
- Arizona Vintners List of Wineries
- Arizona Vines and Wines Magazine - Great site for winery information, maps, etc.