Arizona Wine Overview

A bottle of Padres 2009 produced by Callaghan Vineyards in Eligin, Ariz. Credit: Callaghan Vineyards

A bottle of Padres 2009 produced by Callaghan Vineyards in Eligin, Ariz. Credit: Callaghan Vineyards

Wine production is certainly nothing new to Arizona. It’s been going on for more than 300 years when missionary settlers first made this area their homes. For the last 40 years, Arizona has seen steady growth both in the number of vineyards and commercial wineries.

In particular, numerous varieties of grapes thrive in the southern portion of Arizona, namely within a ninety minute drive southeast of Tucson. Due to higher elevations, this part of the state is markedly cooler than Phoenix, which is typically sweltering several months per year. Elevations in parts of southern Arizona top out at 5,500 feet, bringing warm sunny days and cool nights — conditions ideal for grape cultivation.

Arizona wines are quite popular within the state, even with the close proximity of wine heavyweight California. You can pick up a bottle of Arizona wine at most large grocery stores and Arizona wines are often featured on restaurant wine menus. Arizona Wine Country, as the area of Arizona near the towns of Elgin and Sonoita is often called, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state.

Today there are nearly 50 wineries in Arizona, with the number growing. Vineyards thrive not only in the aforementioned southern part of the state, but also in northern Arizona’s Verde Valley. No matter your wine palate, you’re sure to find an Arizona wine to suit your tastes. For example, a tour of the Sonoita Wine Trail will introduce you to a surprisingly diverse and complex menu of Arizona wine, from deep, rich reds to crisp, citrusy whites.

Arizona is one of many states with a wine industry on the rise. Grapes are a value-added crop because they are low users of water and provide jobs to communities. With the United States poised to become the number one consumer of wine in the world, Arizona’s wine industry is on the cusp of greater success and a higher profile.

Tuscon’s elevation level is about 2,400 feet and is nestled between several mountain ranges.

Arizona Wine Trails

Arizona has three official wine trails, two in the southern part of the state and one in the north central area near Sedona.

Arizona also has one American Viticulture Area, or AVA, which is defined as an area having a unique climate, soil conditions, and topography which clearly differentiate it from any other area. Arizona’s AVA is the southern Sonoita region.

Sonoita/Elgin Wine Trail: Sonoita/Elgin Wine Trail This is Arizona’s original wine trail, and probably its most well known. Visitors have been coming to this area of the state to visit wineries for well over thirty years. The trail is compact in terms of driving distance, but it encompasses 10 wineries as of this writing, so it’s too much to do in one day. It’s such an enjoyable area to visit, though, and we’ve found it ideal to combine with a visit to the arts and mining town of Bisbee, a bit farther southeast. Some of the more prominent wineries on the Sonoita/Elgin Wine Trail include the Village of Elgin Winery, Sonoita Vineyards, and Canelo Hills Winery. (Under new ownership as of 2013, Canelo is now part of Flying Leap Vineyards.)

Willcox Wine Trail: Willcox Wine Trail is located in the extreme southeastern portion of Arizona, just off Interstate 10, near the New Mexico border. In fact, it’s an ideal stopping point if you’re planning to visit New Mexico, which has one of the most vibrant wine industries in this part of the United States.

The Willcox Wine Trail spotlights six wineries, three of which are just a few short minutes from historic downtown Willcox.

Northern Arizona Wine Trail: The area of Arizona around Sedona, Jerome, and Cottonwood has long been popular with tourists for its stunning natural beauty and temperate climate, particularly compared with summers in Phoenix. This area is becoming well known for grape growing, due to rich valleys and higher elevations.

Nine wineries are located in this immediate area (with more on the way), and together they comprise the Northern Arizona Wine Trail. The area is about two hours north of Phoenix via Interstate 17.

For the specifics of each of these wine trails, visit our friends at the Arizona Wine Growers Association, and be sure to enjoy our Arizona travelogue.

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