Arizona Wine Tour
A day trip to wineries on the Sonoita/Elgin wine trail in southeastern Arizona
Wineries are not the first thing I think of when I think of Arizona, but Arizona has a thriving and growing wine industry. Wine making in Arizona dates back to the 1700s and the Spanish missionaries. The modern wine era began in the 1970s. In 1983, the Arizona Wine Growers Association was formed. Grapes are grown at elevations ranging from 3800 feet to almost 6000 feet.
Arizona has three wine trails. The Sonoita/Elgin trail is located approximately one hour southeast of Tucson. It is the location where the modern Arizona wine era began. There are 10 wineries on the trail. Even with a designated driver, I knew I would not visit all 10 on my one-day excursion. I selected four to visit.
Our first stop was Charron Vineyards, one of southern Arizona’s oldest wineries. The woman in the tasting room here told us a bit about the countryside. The area is known as desert grasslands. The grass fields were straw coloured when we visited in mid-March, but she told us they would be green in a month’s time.
The cost of tastings at many of the wineries includes a souvenir glass. Some of the wineries on the trail offer a discounted tasting fee if you show up with a souvenir glass from any of the wineries in the area. I got my souvenir glass at Charron Vineyards, which gave me a discount on my tasting fee at two of the other three wineries I visited. Some wineries have a standard list of wines in the tasting selection. Others have a larger list to choose from and you select five or six to include in your tasting.
My favourite tasting at Charron Vineyards was a Syrah made from 100% Arizona grapes.
Many wines at all the wineries were listed as 100% Arizona, meaning only grapes grown in Arizona were used. But the only 100% estate winery in the area, meaning all of its wines are made from grapes grown at their own winery, is Rancho Rossa Vineyards. Rancho Rossa Vineyards does not offer a discounted tasting fee if you bring a souvenir glass, because they use a larger glass to give a better tasting effect.
I liked Rancho Rossa’s Merlot and Cabarnet and was surprised by how much I enjoyed their award-winning dessert wine, Shadow. I like dry wines as a rule and don’t generally care for dessert wines. This one was rich and not overly sweet, much like a port but with a subtler flavour.
Kief-Joshua Vineyards is a family business. Winemaker Kief Joshua Manning grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona and studied viticulture (the science, production and study of grapes) in Australia. Kief-Joshua Vineyards practices sustainable farming techniques and uses no herbicides or pesticides. They specialize in dry, full-bodied wines. I thought all 3 reds I tasted here were excellent.
The wineries in Sonoita and Elgin don’t generally offer food, although several have patio areas where you are welcome to bring a picnic lunch. Some had cheese for sale. There are a few restaurants in the area.
The drive to Sonoita and Elgin is scenic, even if you are not interested in the wineries.
Sonoita is Arizona’ s only official American Viticultural Area (AVA), a designated wine-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features.
Arizona Wine Growers Association has information on all Arizona’s wine trails.
Have you been on one of Arizona’s wine trails? What did you think?
Are you able to easily find Arizona wines in stores that sell wine?
Terry, that’s a good question. I haven’t looked a lot yet. I don’t recall seeing much Arizona wine in the grocery stores, but I don’t know about places like Total Wines, etc.
I never thought about Arizona having any wineries, but it makes sense that they would be able to grow some decent grapes in the region. There are several wineries here in Texas as well. I am planning on spending a couple of months in Tucson later this year so I will definitely check out the Sonoita/Elgin trail.
Susan, I just came back from an extended weekend in San Antonio and had the opportunity to taste a couple of the Texan wines. I’d like to tour some of the Texan wineries next time I visit.
Arizona and wine?? Wow! I’m beginning to think almost every state has wine of some kind! LOL I might get to Arizona in October and I’ll be sure and check this out!
Jacquie, I too am beginning to think every state has wine of some kind!
Great post! I didn’t know much about Arizona wines but now I want to try Charron Vineyards,
Michele, I actually didn’t know a whole lot about Arizona wines either. Charron Vineyards is the one closest to Tucson – about 30 or 40 minutes depending where in Tucson you start.
Yep. “Arizona” and “winery” are definitely two words I never expected to see in the same sentence.The only real wine tour we’ve done was in Australia and we went to more than four wineries before i realized that I wasn’t pacing myself correctly. We actually visited a winery in Israel last month. Wine making is a nascent industry in that country. They are growing their own grapes. (They must have made wine there in Biblical times).
Suzanne, pacing is important. Serious wine tasters taste and then spit out. I only do that if I’m not crazy about the wine. It’s interesting that wine making is just a budding industry in Israel when they must be a history dating back to Biblical times.
Not surprised is was the Spanish that brought the grapes to Arizona. Those guys really know their growing and processing of wine down through the ages!
I like all the detail you sprinkled in this post and appreciate the photography, especially the one of the scrubby landscape and just-about-to-rain clouds.
Thanks Josie. The entire day threatened to rain, but never did.
I must confess I like the thought of going to a winery that really does just have wines made from their own grown grapes – And isn’t it great when you try one you wouldn’t normally go for and are pleasantly surprised 🙂
Yes, Linda it is a pleasant surprise to discover something you like wouldn’t normally go for. There is a lesson there about giving things a chance.
You know, I’ve been hearing mention of Arizona wine recently, but I had no idea the rich history of wine production there. And there are actually three wine trails?? The shame of it is that I was just in Arizona in March and never tasted a single Arizona wine. I’ll make up for it next time.
Cathy, there are 3 wine trails, but the other two are smaller than Sonoita/Elgin with just a few wineries.
I had no idea that Arizona was a wine-producing region. We’ll have to do a wine tour next time we’re in the area.
Shelley, I was surprised when I first heard of wine-making in Arizona.
You’re right that wine and Arizona don’t necessarily come to mind at the same time! However, it’s interesting to learn about Arizona’s wines – I’d love to take a tour!
Anita and Richard, I haven’t done extensive wine touring, but I have toured wineries in a couple of other locations as well and I think the experience is slightly different in each location. It was interesting to learn about Arizona wines.
Having recently visited Napa, I’m struck by how much more earthy and rustic the tasting rooms are here!
Earthy and rustic are good descriptions. I haven’t visited the Napa Valley, but I’ve toured wineries in Canada’s Okanagan Valley and they did have a different feel than the ones in southern Arizona.
Thanks for sharing this part of the country. Looks like a great excuse to head down to Arizona!
I would have enjoyed the drive even without the wineries.
Well, I am surprised to learn that Arizona has so many wineries. Next time I’m in the state, I will make a point of checking some of them out.
Carole, I was surprised when I first heard about the wineries too.
We have been based in Arizona for a total of 16 months in 24 now, and Bill loves wine, but we didn’t know the state had 3 wine trails! What’s cool is that you found good tasting ones! Is there one near Phoenix?
Carol, this wine trail is about an hour southeast of Tucson, so that puts it several hours out of Phoenix.