Author: Karen Martin
When one thinks of Arizona, one might envision saguaro cacti, sprawling ranches, or the Grand Canyon. Perhaps bustling cities, small towns or Native American villages come to mind. While these are certainly iconic mental images, readers of our magazine know there is so much more to this amazing state.
The rolling hills and grasslands near Sonoita and Elgin provide a stunning backdrop for Santa Cruz County’s wineries.
Southeastern Arizona has long been revered for its rolling grasslands, prosperous ranching, and silver mining. Some of the best moderate climate in Arizona can also be found there year round. The area has become a haven for birdwatching and wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, camping and a host of other outdoor activities. Scenic drives and photography are popular pastimes in this quiet expansive prairie. The region is, without question, a backroad traveler’s dream.
But wait…there’s more!
A working windmill provides essential ground water for this vineyard. Much of the rainfall in this region occurs during summer monsoons and winter months.
Arizona is quickly becoming a rising star in the American “viticultural” (the study of grape cultivation) industry. Most all of the vineyards can now boast award-winning varietals (wines made with one or more varieties, or cultivars, of grapes), with the list of accolades growing daily. Southeast Arizona, along with its north central state counterparts, is gaining more and more recognition in viticulture in the U.S. and around the globe. This is not simply some trend you may have read about elsewhere, but rather a well-established agricultural venture with a promising future.
Dark wine grapes are all that remain to be harvested by early October 2016 in the Sonoita area. Harvesting schedules vary each year depending on sugar content of the fruit as well as weather and other factors.
Grape growing and wine making were first introduced by the early Jesuit priests in the 16th Century, and more recently in the late 1800s and early 1900s by ranchers in the Sedona and Douglas sections of the state. In the more modern era, it was discovered that the local soils were quite similar to certain lucrative grape-growing regions in Europe. In the early 1980s, Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil scientist from the University of Arizona, began experimenting with grape farming. After achieving some initial success, he opened Sonoita Vineyards in 1983, the very first winery in the area. Today, more than a dozen wineries and tasting rooms exist in the communities of Elgin and Sonoita.
Majestic mountains, wide open skies and fertile earth make a charming setting for Elgin’s vineyards
Most of the grapes used in these local wines are grown in nearby vineyards in Santa Cruz and Cochise Counties. Many of the area growers utilize organic farming methods. A wide range of red, white and blush grape varieties are cultivated here. When you visit these establishments, you will no doubt get an education in horticulture, agriculture and just plain old local culture. Feel free to ask any variety of questions of your sommelier — they are the experts in all things local.
Callaghan Vineyards is one of Southeastern Arizona’s multi-award-winning wineries.
The Sonoita/Elgin winery community is supported by a handful of nearby cafe-style diners and quaint B&B-type lodges. Vintners and other local business owners happily recommend and support each other in this close-knit community. There are more tasting rooms, restaurants and lodging businesses in nearby towns such as Willcox, Benson, Tombstone, Bowie and Sierra Vista. A handful of owners also host tasting rooms in other parts of the state, including the Tucson, Phoenix and Cottonwood/Sedona areas.
You won’t find a friendlier group of folks anywhere than in Southeastern Arizona’s Wine Country. Plan a trip there in the near future. Go ahead…wine a little. You deserve it.
Arizona Hops and Vines shows off the lighter side of their wine-making business mantra