Arizona may be known for its diverse scenery dotted with a wide variety of cacti and plunging canyon deserts, plus emerald green forests and alpine vistas, but a lesser known fact about the Arizona landscape is that it also produces wine.
The history of Arizona winemaking is older than you might think. While it’s been popularized over the past 50 or so years, its origins go at least as far back as the 17th century when Spanish Jesuit priests began planting grapevines for the use of wine in religious ceremonies. Fast forward decades after the Wild West period, Prohibition, and Great Depression—it was only then that winemaking really began to gain traction.
Today, Arizona boasts more than 100 wineries and vineyards, and three distinct wine regions – Sonoita, Wilcox and Verde Valley. The best part about Arizona’s wine country, is that since it’s still relatively unknown compared to its Napa Valley and Sonoma counterparts, a vacation here feels like you’ve got the place to yourself. So if sipping locally made wine while taking in breathtaking scenery, delectable food and warm hospitality is your kinda thing (it’s definitely ours)—you’re covered.
Here are a few of Arizona’s vineyards to unwine at on your vacation.
Pillsbury Wine Company & Vineyard (Cottonwood)
This sustainable, high-elevation vineyard is a must for anyone looking for a meaningful and memorable experience of Arizona wine. In addition to being named ‘Best Local Winemaker’ by Phoenix Magazine, and ‘Best Arizona Winery’ by Arizona Foothills Magazine, Pillsbury Wine also holds a whopping 16 honors under the American Wine Awards from the San Francisco Chronicle, and is regularly featured as one of the state’s most beloved vineyards.
And if that weren’t impressive enough, the folks at Pillsbury are also tirelessly committed to doing as much with their hands as possible and are proud that Pillsbury’s wine is produced “by people, not machines.” Our favorite is the Roan Red with hints of rose petals, tangy plum and subtle raspberry that’ll have ya swooning.
Callaghan Vineyards (Elgin)
Since 1990, Callaghan Vineyards has been committed to producing award-winning wines in an ethical and sustainable manner and still remains one of the best wineries in the state. From their innovations toward sustainable winemaking to their dedication to creating complex, deep, flavors, it’s no surprise that Callaghan Vineyards has been served at the White House on multiple occasions.
While they have a wonderful lineup of red, rosé, and white wines, reds are their specialty and the naming system for them makes them even more special. Be sure to try the Kiva, a blend one Grenache and Graciano amend after their wheaten terrier of the same name, and the Claire’s named after the owner’s youngest daughter with notes of hazelnut. If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, try Lisa, a fruity, citrus-y white in homage to the owner’s wife.
Charron Vineyards (Vail)
With the first vines planted in 1994, Charron Vineyards is one of the oldest vineyards in southern Arizona, boasts incredible mountain views and has managed to maintain it’s small, family-owned charm over the years. Plus, located just 30 minutes from Tucson, it’s easy to carve out time for a day spent in the rustic frills sipping on your choice of smooth, full-bodied, or fruity wines. They offer a wide array of merlot varieties including French-Oak aged and dry white, but be sure to also try their Santa Rita Rosé.
Lightning Ridge Cellars (Elgin)
Italian reds are the name of the game at this Southern Arizona gem. We’re talkin’ Aglianico, Sangiovese and Montepulciano galore. It’s how the husband-and-wife duo who run the place, Ann and Ron Roncone, pay homage to their Italian heritage. The small family winery atmosphere is impossible to miss and makes it obvious that Lightning Ridge Cellars, and all the delicious wine that comes out of it, truly is an act of love. Opt for their $12 tasting which includes an etched glass as a souvenir.
Unique ways to experience Arizona’s wine country
Opt for a Wine Trail
It’s no secret that Arizona is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States. Cough, cough, Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. So why not add some adventure into your winery experience? Fortunately, there are plenty of options to take hikes, and even kayak to your wine destination. Start by searching for a trail via The Verde Valley Wine Trail or check out the excursions offered by Alcantara Vineyards.
Attend a Wine Festival and Stomp Your Own Grapes
Each year the state’s best wine makers and wine lovers come together to create some of Arizona’s most anticipated events. Whether you’ll be visiting in July when the Sonoita Vineyards puts on its HarvestFest, Phoenix’s Uncorked Wine Festival in the fall, or The Arizona Wine Festival in winter, there are ample opportunities to make a party out of wine.
Treat Yourself to a Tasting in the City
Wanting to indulge in Arizona’s wine scene but not exactly plan a whole trip around it? Consider going for a tasting where you’re based. Plenty of restaurants have wine pairing menus that have been carefully curated between the chef and Arizona winemakers to give you an incredible meal that highlights some of the state’s most beloved wines. If you’re in Phoenix, be sure to make a reservation at The Wigwam, a historic, garden surrounded resort dating to 1918 with all the romance and charm you’d expect.
Other faves include the Scottsdale Wine Trail in Old Town Scottsdale that features tasting rooms for wineries throughout the state. And GenuWine Arizona, a self-serve wine bar in downtown Phoenix that features Arizona-grown wines.