As the oldest continually operating winery in Arizona, Sonoita Vineyards has had plenty of time to hone its craft. Its enduring success is partly due to its hillside location, which, although lovely for humans, is even better for grapes. Nestled on a south-facing slope, the 30 acres of vineyards are protected from much of the area's harsh weather and supplied with plenty of water by root-guarding berms. This setting has proven ideal for 10 varieties of grape vines, whose fruit becomes Sonoita Vineyards' 12 wines and whose stems and leaves go back into the soil to fertilize more grapes. These vintages include crisp, sparkling whites and an earthy blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah grapes. Perhaps the popular vintage is the cabernet sauvignon, which is so celebrated that it's been served at a presidential inauguration gala and used to christen every new vice president.
The flavor profiles of these wines come to life during staff-guided group tastings and wine flights in the tasting room. These tastings aren't the bar's only attractions: the wine-production facilities are visible from the bar, and visits during the late-summer harvest season provide a glimpse into the winemaking process as it happens. Meanwhile, an outdoor portico offers a space for picnics and views framed by mountain ranges.
Spread out on 20 acres of fertile land?with traits comparable to Rioja in Spain, France's Rhone region, and Saturn's seventh ring?Wilhelm Family Vineyards yields an assortment of grapes. Perched on the Sonoita plain at nearly 5,000 feet elevation, the vineyard resides in a cool, grassland climate above the desert. Winemaker Karyl Wilhelm, who has completed U.C. Davis's renowned Winemaker's Certificate Program, produces wines such as the tempranillo-based Kevin's Choice, an award-winning blend named after her pilot husband. Each bottle of wine leaves the grounds with a stamp of approval in the form of Karyl's signature, which is written directly on the bottle in eye-catching metallic ink.
Guests who enter the tasting room enjoy a warm welcome from a 95-pound weimaraner named Chancellor, who muses over the earthy notes of his rawhide bone while patrons sample the winery's selection of red, white, semisweet, dessert, and seasonal wines. As veterans of the first Gulf War, Karyl and Kevin celebrate each Veterans Day by offering a Patriot Salute Zinfandel-based wine with a label designed by renowned artist and pilot, Jim Laurier. The winery, which also hosts weddings, graduation parties, and other catered events, uses vegan-friendly practices, makes its wines with low sulfite additions, and recaptures water to use in the vineyard.
Upon planting their first vineyard in 1990, the Callaghan family found their efforts tested by a harsh heat wave that killed thousands of their young vines. But instead of sowing sour grapes for the winemaking business, the Callaghans took it as a learning experience, planting and replanting until they found tempranillo, riesling, and bordeaux varieties perfectly suited to the arid Arizona climate. The hard work in the field also pays off later, as the high-quality grapes require lots of barrels and little else to mature into wines that have been served at three White House dinners and led former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to dub the winery a state treasure. Since 2008, Callaghan Vineyards has also earned more than 10 medals in the Jefferson Cup Awards, which honors the best US wineries, and—like the party-hosting leg of a triathlon—includes competitors on an invitation-only basis.
Spiraling from the soil of 60 acres of vineyards across two locations, Kief-Joshua Vineyards’ grapes go through a kind of natural internship before transforming into complex, aromatic wines via traditional winemaking methods. Having eliminated herbicides and pesticides in the vineyards, Kief-Joshua’s winemakers embrace old school practices start to finish, right down to the barrel aging of many of their wines and the Gregorian chants that ferment the grapes. Specializing in dry, full-bodied varietals, the vineyard’s rustic tasting gives visitors the chance to sample glasses of petit verdot or chardonnay. A variety of tastings are available, from public sips to private tours; more advanced tastings involve up to a dozen samples.
After being told multiple times that opening a winery is a dream "that will never work," sisters Megan and Shannon did the impossible. While living together under one roof with six kids, six dogs, five turtles, and 10 chickens, the sisters decided to prove the naysayers wrong and pursue their dream of opening a winery. And today, they own and operate Arizona Hops and Vines, which yields six varietals ranging from a sparkling brut wine crafted from muscat grapes to a bold 100% California petit verdot. Arizona Hops and Vines hosts weekend tastings for of-age adults, and invites kids, nondrinking guests, and pets to check out the Sober Shack or practice animal-whispering skills with the farm's resident pets.
Winemaking and viticulture shaped much of the young lives of Flying Leap Vineyards' founding partners: Mark Beres grew up and worked his first vineyard jobs in the wine-growing region of southeastern Washington, and Marc Moeller is the product of generations of Swiss winemakers. Their experiences make for a potent combination of artistry and science when it comes to crafting their own wine. They use only grapes that are lab certified, well adjusted for planting in the Arizona loam, and able to sit patiently for still lifes. This sophisticated fusion is evident at the winery's two tasting rooms, where guests can purchase their favorite vintages and excite their palates with sampler flights.