Arizona Wine: Explore Arizona Wine Country

Arizona Wine Country: Elevating the Art of Wine Making

Tucson is a thriving metropolitan area, renowned for its restaurants, history, Spanish influence and more. With ample sightseeing opportunities, it’s a perfect destination for a long weekend. Tucson’s elevation level is about 2,400 feet and you’ll notice the city is nestled between several mountain ranges.

With all the amenities of any major metropolitan area, Tucson is perfect for exploring via car. If you’re a history buff, you may want to consider staying at the wonderfully funky Hotel Congress, located in the heart of downtown. Hotel Congress is just steps away from Tucson’s 4th Avenue shopping district, a veritable mix and match of everything from thrift stores to tiny boutiques. At the Congress, you find reasonable rates and comfortable amenities. Be sure to enjoy a meal (particularly breakfast) at the hotel’s Cup Cafe, one of many Tucson restaurants featured on The Food Network.

While the good folks at Tucson’s Convention and Visitors Bureau can fill you in on all the details, you’ll find Tucson blends a relaxed and casual outdoor style with world-class culture and cuisine. It’s a metro area suited to dining, shopping and sampling.

If you’re an animal lover or a naturalist, be sure to visit the famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s an atypical “museum” — this world class attraction is a combination garden and zoo. You’ll see hundreds of species of plants and animals in their natural desert setting.

For unique Tucson treasures, the downtown area boasts Old Town Artisans, an old adobe complex which occupies an entire city block. Old Town Artisans offers unique independent shops where you can peruse art, jewelry, home furnishings and fashion.

Nearby, enjoy the well known Fourth Avenue Shopping District, containing about five blocks of galleries, eclectic boutiques and restaurants. Allow yourself a good half-day to cover these two shopping and strolling destinations.

Tucson is also known for its many diverse, independent restaurants — from casual pub grub to local Mexican cuisine to fine dining. Cafe Poca Cosa, recommended by The Food Network, features cuisine from all across Mexico and a menu that changes daily. Frog and Firkin — with a great outdoor patio overlooking the bustling university scene — serves hand-prepared pizzas, fresh salads, burgers, appetizers and all sorts of interesting Arizona beer on tap. Elle Wine Country Restaurant has approachable gourmet fare, a great wine list and excellent Happy Hour specials. Try the steamed mussels! Kingfisher Bar and Grill, winner of a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, is Tucson’s destination for seafood with a Cajun twist.

Off to Arizona Wine Country

Our first visit to Arizona Wine Country was 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 Route 83. Note the changing topography as you climb more than 2,000 feet through your journey.

Traveling south on Route 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 Route 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.

A Few of Southern Arizona Wine Country’s Wineries

Let’s spend a little time at a few of this area’s 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 in 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 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: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, 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. Our favorite was Lisa’s White, with its spicy apple aroma and subtle rich taste of pear and grapefruit.

Canelo Hills Vineyard & 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 Route 83 and 82 crossroads in the small village of Elgin, Canelo Hills is open for tasting Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 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 Governor’s Choice Awards in December 2007 for Arizona’s best red and white wine. Their Viogner took honors for the whites category, while their El Norte took home the award for reds. Located on Route 82, their tasting room is open Fridays through Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Make a point to try the deep, complex El Norte.

Rancho Rossa Vineyards: Rancho Rossa is one of Arizona’s largest family owned wineries, producing more than 1,200 cases per year entirely from their own fruit. Located about six miles southeast of Sonoita, they’re open for tasting Friday-Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. 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 more than 25 years ago, Village of Elgin is well known for hosting two annual wine festivals, which take place in April and September. Offering a full and unique selection of reds and whites, Village of Elgin’s wines will please any palate. There are several unique offerings including 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: Another newcomer to the area is Kief-Joshua, which is located in the cluster of wineries known as “Winery Row”. It’s 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, who has been making wine since he was a teenager, 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. The green chile dip mix, sold in the gift shop, is also recommended.

Sonoita Vineyards: Sonoita Vineyards, founded in 1983, is the largest winery in the area. 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.

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. Xanadu Ranch Getaway offers reasonably priced, pet-friendly lodging close to the wineries. You can find all the information at the Sonoita-Elgin at the local Chamber of Commerce website. Another option to extend your trip are the nearby historic towns of Tombstone and Bisbee.

Special thanks to Leslie Kramer of the Sonoita Elgin Chamber of Commerce for her knowledge and assistance!

For more information on Arizona wines, visit the Arizona Wine Growers website, which is an excellent one stop destination for events and the latest developments of Arizona wineries.


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