Raise Your Glass! Cheers! Prosit! Skol!

By: Arizona Office of Tourism

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July 1, 2011

Begin your Southern Arizona wine country tour in Sierra Vista - the heart of the region.

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Arizona Office of Tourism

These articles are brought to you by staff of the Arizona Office of Tourism, as well as local tourism organizations around the state.

The word is out – Southeastern Arizona produces some of the best wines in the nation! And Sierra Vista is in the center of the wine country, now dubbed Napa-zona.

As close as a half-hour drive from Sierra Vista, to the furthest at a two-hour drive, are sixteen established wineries, with more than a dozen more projected to open in the next few years. These wineries are family-owned and -operated and offer award-winning wines in their tasting rooms.

Each winery has its own specialty, such as Fort Bowie Vineyards’ Pecan Delight, a distinctive sparkling wine with the essence of pecans.

Sierra Vista, world-renowned for its birdwatching opportunities and military history, is proud to embrace its role as the heart of the wine country, which extends from Portal in the east to Sonoita and Elgin in the west.

You’ll want a leisurely tour through the wine region, so stay overnight in one of Sierra Vista’s 1,600 hotel, motel and bed and breakfast rooms. You’ll find many diverse choices, certain to please.

For wine with dinner, you should check out some of the 70 restaurants, many of which offer some of the best food in Southern Arizona.

For additional information about our activities, events and attractions, please call (800) 288-3861 or visit us on our website at www.visitsierravista.com.

Southern Arizona Wine History

When University of Arizona’s soil scientist Dr. Gordon Dutt set out to establish the state’s first experimental vineyard in Southern Arizona nearly 40 years ago, local ranchers and cowboys were no doubt skeptical about successful grape-growing. After all, Arizona is known for its intense sunshine.

And even Dr. Dutt was uncertain, expecting the red wine grapes to bleach in the intensity of the sun, producing poor, undrinkable wine.

But the results of the experiments were a pleasant surprise. Remarkably, the red grapes had a brilliant color and perfect acidity, crucial to producing great wine.

Dr. Dutt attributes the success to the region’s soil, climate and 5,000-foot elevation. The soil, according to Dr. Dutt, is likened to that of Burgundy, France.

His experimental success led to his establishing Sonoita Vineyards in 1979 – Arizona’s first commercial vineyard – and its winery four years later.

Although Dr. Dutt is now retired, you’ll see him frequently at Sonoita Vineyards, sharing his passion about grapes and his winemaking knowledge with visitors in the tasting room.

Several Area Wineries and Specialty Wines

Callaghan Vineyards, designated an Arizona Treasure by former Governor Janet Napolitano, is best known for their Buena Suerte blend of Bordeaux varieties, usually made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot.

It certainly seems this Buena Suerte wine has been “good luck” for Callaghan Vineyards, as it’s been served twice at the White House.

Another excellent Callaghan wine – Claire’s – was served at the White House in honor of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at O’Connor’s retirement dinner.

Named after the Callaghan’s youngest daughter, Claire’s is loosely patterned after wines from the south of France. The current release is the 2007, which is a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Callaghan Vineyards is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Kief-Joshua Vineyards is a small family business whose success includes serving wine to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in their tasting room.

From the first plantings in 2005 to the first harvest in 2008, the family operation’s sole purpose was to produce excellent wines by practicing traditional winemaking methods, including barrel aging.

Kief-Joshua Vineyards specializes in dry, fuller-bodied wines. While they primarily produce reds, they also create some whites, such as the Malvasia Bianca, a very crisp and citrusy white wine with lots of tropical fruit and floral notes.

The most popular wine is the Tempranillo, a traditional Spanish-style red that is aged in 20 percent new American oak for one and one-half years. This wine is very similar to the Rioja-style of Northern Spain.

The Kief-Joshua tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Keeling Schaefer Vineyards produces estate-grown and bottled Rhone-style wine on their 21 acres: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and Piepoul Blanc.

The Keeling Schaefer Vineyards’ 2007 Three Sisters Syrah and 2009 Best Friends Viognier both received an 89 rating by Wine Spectator Magazine – the highest ranking ever awarded by the magazine for Arizona wine.

The tasting room is located inside a turn-of-the-20th-century bank and is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Coronado Vineyards opened in 2006, and produces both red and white wines – all from grapes grown in Arizona.

Chardonnays, Syrahs, Reislings, White Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are some of the wines produced at the vineyard.

Coronado Vineyards was honored with a silver medal for their Conquistador red wine, presented by the Arizona Wine Growers Association at the Festival at the Farm.

Their tasting bar and restaurant are open daily.


Many of the wineries host festivals and events throughout the year.

Events include Sonoita Vineyards’ Blessing of the Sonoita Vineyards and HarvestFest; Coronado Vineyards’ Wine and Chocolates, Summer Luau and annual August Grape Stomp; and the Village of Elgin’s Harvesting of the Vines Festival – check individual websites for details.

(Brought to you by Sierra Vista Visitor Center. Photos courtesy of Sonoita Vineyards.)

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