Arizona Wineries: A Grape Escape

"Arizona wine country" may sound odd, but the soil and climate in the Santa Cruz Valley, southeast of Tucson, are ideal for growing grapes. Wine grapes first took root in the region 400 years ago, when the Spanish missionaries planted the first vines of "mission" grapes for the production of sacramental wine. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the first commercial Vitis vinifera grapes were planted here as part of an agricultural experiment. The hardier vines, such as Syrah, Grenache, and Malvasia, seem to tolerate the summer heat and retain good acidity.

Connoisseurs have debated the merits of the wines produced in this area since 1974, but tour some of the region’s wineries and decide for yourself. AZ Hops & Vines, Callaghan Vineyards, Dos Cabezas Wineworks, Flying Leap Vineyards, Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Lightning Ridge Cellars, Rune Wines, Sonoita Vineyards, and Hannah's Hill Vineyard all have something to tantalize the taste buds. Some vintners proudly feature estate wines, which means they grow the grapes, process them, and bottle the wine at the vineyard. You can purchase a wine glass with tastings ($10–$15) at the first tasting room you choose, then take it with you to any of the other wineries for a reduced tasting fee.

Farther east, notable vineyards have sprung up around Willcox, which now has several tasting rooms as well as the region's only grape-crushing facility. Actually, most of the grapes grown for Arizona wines are grown just south of Willcox. Elsewhere in the state, a few vineyards near Sedona, along lower Oak Creek and in the neighboring town of Cottonwood, are garnering attention as well. Maps of the tasting rooms are available from azwinegrowersassociation.com.

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