NORTHERN ARIZONA WINE: The Wine Whisperers of the Verde Valley
I’ve been fascinated by wine making since my hippie dandelion wine days, so when I discovered Arizona wine and the burgeoning local wine industry, I was definitely intrigued. Wine growing in the desert? Who knew!
Not long after this discovery, we went to the old art theater in Tempe and saw a documentary movie titled Blood Into Wine, in which Grammy-winning rock star Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of the rock group Tool, speaks to his passion and long struggle for growing wine grapes in Northern Arizona and to bring Arizona’s wines some notoriety in the industry.
Okay, now I had to know more about this locally grown Arizona wine, so we headed north to Jerome, Arizona, and Caduceus Cellars.
Caduceus Cellars: Arizona wine at its best
Caduceus Cellars is located in the heart of what may be the most popular Arizona wine region. Along with a plethora of wineries dotting the Verde Valley Wine Trail, the Caduceus vineyard’s Nagual del Judith vineyard in Jerome (elevation 5,066 feet) is a terraced vineyard planted on a Black Hills mountainside in Yavapai County.
Graced with sunlight about 276 days per year, the area has two rainy seasons (called monsoons) and gets frost and/or snow in winter. The annual precipitation is about 19 inches of rain and about 7 inches of snow. Under high-desert conditions of heat, cold and seasonal drought, these high-country, award-winning Arizona wines embody a love of the land, hard work and often, persistent struggle.
A vintner’s co-operative, it’s the first and only one in Northern Arizona. The co-op provides space, equipment, and resources for producing “world-class, high-elevation Arizona wine” that’s AVA-certified.The Four8Wineworks name pays homage to Arizona as the 48th state to join the Union. The tasting rooms are located inside the Puscifer store at 140 Main Street, Jerome, Arizona 86331, and also, after a recent grand opening, at 907 Main Street, Clarkdale, AZ 86324, (928) 649-2007. Besides Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, some of the current listed tenants of the alternating proprietorship co-op are:
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards’ pride themselves on being pioneers and farmers first, using the fierce and wild Arizona terrain to produce unique and prized wines that will compliment any occasion or collection. Located at 1023 N Main St, Cottonwood, AZ 86326. (928) 639-2789. The tasting room is located in historic Old Town Cottonwood. Guests can enjoy some of the finest handcrafted Arizona wine in a quirky, relaxed setting. The Arizona Stronghold’s Tasting Room features wine-tasting flights daily, a great tapas menu, and live music on Fridays. Best yet, it’s open every day of the year.
Vineyard and Tasting Rooms, located at 4511 East Robbs Road, Willcox, Arizona 85643 and 1341 W. State Route 89A, Clarkdale, AZ 86324, celebrated its grand opening of a second tasting room at 1341 W. State Route 89A, Clarkdale, AZ 86324. Michael Pierce, the winemaker, said, “Wine is not just about consuming it. It’s about creating something from the earth.” Seven Bodega-Pierce wines have been certified for AVA (100-percent Arizona-grown and produced): 2014 Malvasia Bianca, 2015 Pandora, 2015 Emotiva, 2015 Athena, 2015 Cabernet Franc, 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 Chardonnay. Pierce advises: “Swirl responsibly; the glass is half full.” Saeculum Cellars AVA-certified wines are also available at the Bodega-Pierce Tasting Room. Willcox Map. Willcox Tasting Rooms Info. (602) 320-1722. Clarkdale Map. Clarkdale Tasting Room Info. (928) 634-0301.
At 280 acres, is one of Arizona’s largest vineyards. Carlson Creek Vineyard is a family-owned Arizona winery and vineyard in Willcox Wine Country. A new winery is being built, but tasting rooms are located in the arts district in Scottsdale and also in Willcox’s historic district. “Varietals include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Syrah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Rosé and Mourvedre, with Chenin Blanc and Merlot varietals being locally sourced.” Check Twitter or Facebook for announcements of light bites, live music, and new releases such as the November 2018 release of 2015 Mourvedre. The Scottsdale Tasting Room is at 4142 N Marshall Way, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. (480) 947-0636. The Willcox Tasting Room is at 115 N Railview Ave, Willcox, AZ 85643. (520) 766-3000.
240 Hull Avenue, Jerome, AZ 86331. (928) 634-7033. The Cellar 43 Tasting Room has two floors with views of the Verde Valley and Sedona’s red rock landscape. The grapes are grown on 400 foothill acres (4300 elevation) of the Dragoon Mountains near Willcox. Unique varietals for Arizona include Marselan, Arinarnoa, Pinotage, Montepulciano, Graciano, Albarino, Charbono, Aglianico, Malbec, Sangiovese, five port varieties, and others. Wine Business Monthly named the Cellar’s Fiddlebender one of the top 10 hottest brands. Owner John McLoughlin’s mission statement is: “Exceeding expectations through an authentic Arizona wine experience from dirt to bottle.”
Formed by Aaron Weiss, Briana Nation and David Baird, three students who connected via the Viticulture and Enology program at Yavapai College. Chelle Baird, David’s wife, also joined the team. Together, they focus on making true Arizona wine with “locally sourced fruit.” Five wines are available at the tasting rooms in Jerome and Clarkdale, as well as in nine wine shops and five restaurants. The wines are AVA-certified.
Passion Cellars (Salvatore Vineyards)
Winemaker Jason Domanico, a third-generation winemaker, specializes in fruit-forward, crisp white wines, and melds Old World and New World styles of winemaking with the result: award-winning wines. Reserve wines are bottled under the Salvatore name, after the winemaker’s grandfather. Passion Cellars has three Arizona wine locations: in Jerome, in Willcox (by appointment) and in Scottsdale. (Maps
Southwest Wine Center (SWC)
Is the only viticulture/enology program in the Southwest and features a teaching vineyard, a teaching winery, and a practicum with local vintners. Michael Pierce, the winemaker at Bodega-Pierce, is Yavapai College’s director of viticulture and enology, teaching winemaking from planting to press at the Verde Valley campus in Clarkdale. The Arizona wines are AVA-certified; SWC students won the Jefferson Cup in 2017 for the 2016 Mourvedre; 2017 Amphoria, a pink wine made with Sangiovese grapes, won best rosé and also a first-place gold award for best rosé varietal category, in Arizona Wine Competition’s “Growers Cup” in 2017. The wines are AVA-certified wines. Southwest Wine Center Winery and Tasting Room is located at the Yavapai College Verde Campus, 601 Black Hills Drive, Clarkdale, AZ 86324 | Map | Tasting Room Info | Contact emails: Various
Located at 1565 N Page Springs Rd, Cornville, AZ 86325, (928) 649-2681, this intimate winery actually gives tours on wine making and grape growing. Here you’ll find a verdant park with live music (in the fall) and a menu prepared by Chef Michael Collier. Cynthia Snapp is the owner and Winemaker; Ron Brumley is the Assistant Winemaker. Javelina Leap Winery has won more than 50 awards for its AVA-certified Arizona wine!
Download your printable map here:
SOUTHERN ARIZONA: Love the Wine You’re With
Download Map of the Sonoita and Elgin Tasting Rooms
Arizona Hops and Vines, 3450 Highway 82, Sonoita, AZ 85637 is located in Sonoita. Hops and Vines has produced four AVA-certified wines, including 2014 Christian, 2012-2014 O, 2013 amanda and 2014 imbibe3. The “Family farm is a fun, warm place for families and wine aficionados alike. Come in and enjoy our patio, tell some stories, and explore the wonders of a winery.” During special events, there is also a “Sober Shack” for designated drivers and kids, with fizzy lemonade, sweet treats, outdoor games such as horseshoes, corn hole, and “weird animals to feed.”
Recent events ran the gamut from a barefoot grape-stomping crush festival, to yoga and wine, to a drag queen costume contest to music by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra percussion quartet. The winery is run by two self-proclaimed “crazy” sisters, Megan and Shannon. Their first investor is a tough Border Patrol agent named Summer who has a wine named after her—she can often be found helping guests in the tasting room. (301) 237-6556. Map | Tasting Room Info
Owned and operated by Jim and Ruth Graham, is located at 3525 N Golden Rule Road, Cochise, AZ 85606. The tasting room overlooks panoramic scenery. To the south is the Cochise Stronghold area and the Dragoon range, to the east are the Chiricahua Mountains and Dos Cabezas, almost directly over historic Willcox, Arizona. About an hour east of Tucson, Golden Rule vineyards are the “Gateway to Willcox Wine Country.” Golden Rule has produced 14 AVA-certified wines. In addition to the Arizona wine, there’s also a connected pistachio nut orchard. (520) 507-3310.
Eight ()8 miles east approximately 200 yards east of mile marker 40 on State Highway 82. Forty-five minutes SE of Tucson, Hannah’s Hill has a holistic, sustainable, and participative approach to growing grapes and making Arizona wine. Weekend wine tastings and events are announced on Facebook; a recent event featured chocolate and wine pairings. The Tempranillo Harvest in late September was followed by its pressing in October. Hannah’s Hill has been making wine for a decade and its wines are AVA-certified. (520) 456-9000.
201 Cattle Ranch Lane Elgin, AZ 85611 is one of the largest family-owned wineries in the Sonoita/Elgin area. From 24 acres of estate fruit, Rancho Rossa annually produces about 1,100 cases of AVA-certified Arizona wine. Specializing in “ultra-premium, dry varietal wines,” winemaker/owner Chris Hamilton has been making Arizona wine and beer for more than three decades. He’s also a commercial airline pilot. Owner Breanna Hamilton combines her passion for wine with non-profit, humanitarian endeavors. She runs the tasting room, the wine club and hosts animal rescue events at the winery.
3969 Highway 82, Sonoita, AZ 85637. 520-338-8823. James Callahan, the winemaker, is an Arizona native who learned the craft both internationally and stateside and became a Cellar Master. Five years after he made his first wine, he founded Rune Wines in 2013 in Willcox. An off-grid winery, Callahan said, “Rune is about doing things differently. Experimenting, honing, focusing, crafting, and producing something that is truly unique and enticing…” The tasting room is in a Quonset hut located between mile markers 39 and 40 on the south side of Highway 82. Look for the burgundy-color flags.
The grapes are grown in Willcox by winemaker, Rob Hammelman, but the vineyard and winery are not open to the public. The tasting room is in the downtown arts district at 510 N 7th Ave. #170, Tucson, AZ 85705. Jon Bonné, of the San Francisco Chronicle, Top 100 Wines, said, “….the simple fact that a wine like Sand-Reckoner’s Malvasia Bianca – a grape with a bright future, from the improbable locale of Cochise County – exists at all is tribute to the current moment of ingenuity in American wine.” And Arizona wine connoisseurs are very happy about it. Sand-Reckoner produces AVA-certified wines.
290 Elgin-Canelo Road, Elgin, AZ 85611 is Arizona’s oldest commercial vineyard and winery, established in 1974 and opened in 1983. Located in the Sonoita Appellation (AVA – American Viticultural Area), the thirty-acre winery creates award-winning Arizona wine, including a Cabernet Sauvignon served at President George W. Bush’s Inauguration Gala. (520) 455-5893 Directions and Maps
Central Arizona: It’s Wine O’clock in the Phoenix Area
If you find it difficult to leave the Valley of the Sun for an overnight jaunt into Arizona wine country—you’re not alone. But the good news is, it’s easy to find urban tasting rooms for a wine-down from the hustle and bustle of city slicker life, if only for a couple of hours. Map of a plethora of Phoenix-area tasting rooms that serve Arizona wines.
Wine Shopping Online: We Will Ship No Wine Before It’s Time
It’s not always possible to order Arizona wine online and have it shipped. Wine is perishable, so most Arizona wineries will only ship wines from about November 1st through March 31st. Tasting and buying directly from wineries makes sense. And it’s also fun! During Arizona’s warm/hot months, wine purchases are pick-up only at tasting rooms/wineries, or at fine wine stores and fine restaurants. So, take advantage of your online wine shopping from Arizona wineries during the winter season.
Whether it’s wine shipping season or not, Arizona vineyards await new wine fans and welcome regulars. With a road trip companion, the AirBNB app (to book a room for overnight stays), and a map of Northern Arizona wineries or Southern Arizona wineries, you can make the trek to Arizona Wine Country a rich regional experience in wine tasting and winery touring.
Whether you go north, south or stay in the middle of the state, you’re sure to find a plethora of skillfully crafted Arizona wines to satisfy your wine taster”s palate.