Swirl, Sip…Saddle Up

By: Edie Jarolim

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November 24, 2017

Tour Arizona's wine regions by horse, kayak, limo or van.

About the author

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim is the author of three travel guides, including "Arizona for Dummies," and one dog guide, "Am I Boring My Dog?" Her book, "Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All," is a memoir about her career as a guidebook editor for Frommer’s, Rough Guides, and Fodor’s and as a Tucson-based freelance travel writer. Her articles about Arizona have appeared in numerous national publications, including "National Geographic Traveler," "Sunset," and "The Wall Street Journal."

Arizona's wineries may surprise you—not only for their scope, variety, and sophistication but also for the fun ways you can experience them. Kayak, jeep or trot your way to tastings in the state's three largest grape-growing regions.

Verde Valley

Water to wine

Paddle an inflatable kayak down the gentle waters of the Verde River with Sedona Adventure Tours' experienced guides. Then reward yourself for your athletic prowess with samplings at Alcantara Vineyards in Cottonwood.

The winery, designed to look like a Tuscan villa, overlooks 87 acres of limestone slopes where the Verde River meets Oak Creek. You'll be educated and entertained by wine experts who know how to appeal to every level of wine knowledge.

Wine and history in Jerome

You'll drink in the views with your wine when you embark on this Wine Tours of Sedona trip. Comfort is key, as guests travel in a custom van with reclining captain's seats driven by owner and lead guide, Jim Reich. Sample wines from Echo Canyon Winery and Vineyard and Caduceus Cellars' limited blends. And savor the views of Cellar 433 while sipping from their selection of both red and white wines, ports, and sparkling wines.

For an added splash of local history, the "Taste of Jerome" wine tour may be a perfect fit. This tour starts in Old Town Cottonwood for a stop at Pillsbury Wine Company, operated by former film director turned award-winning wine producer, Sam Pillsbury. Other stops include Cellar 433 and Passion Cellars, one of the newest tasting rooms in Jerome.


The first established region in Arizona with its own appellation (federal designation of a unique wine-producing area), Sonoita and Elgin are particularly easy to tour. Elgin Road is dotted with wineries and tasting rooms.

Many notable wines have come out of this region, including a few from Callaghan Vineyards and Dos Cabezas WineWorks that have been served at White House dinners.

Wine tasting ride

You won't sip Cabernets or Chardonnays while cantering through the Mustang Mountains with Arizona Horseback Experience: The rule is, don't drink and ride.

But you will enjoy the natural high of steering a steed through some of Arizona's most striking scenery. (The mile-high grasslands of the Sonoita-Elgin area are so atypical of the state that scenes from the 1955 musical Oklahoma! were filmed here.)

The ride culminates at Sonoita Vineyards, which jump-started Arizona's wine industry in the early 1980s. After a wine tasting and lunch on a deck overlooking the vineyards, you'll return to the stables via van.


Adventures in wine country

Many of the grapes used for Arizona’s wines have long been grown in the high-elevation (3,800 – 6,000 feet) region in the foothills of the rugged Chiricahua, Dragoon and Dos Cabezas mountains in the southeast part of the state. It is only recently that places to sample their wares have begun to crop up here, however.

No official tours exist to Willcox, which makes it ideal for those who prefer to explore on their own. Wines of Willcox's website offers a trip planner that includes a map of tasting rooms in addition to nearby attractions such as the Rex Allen Museum, Chiricahua National Monument, and the Amerind Museum.

Carlson Creek Vineyard's tasting room in historic downtown Willcox offers an untraditional view of the Railroad Park, while nearby Flying Leap includes an art gallery to peruse while sampling their selection.

One final tip

If you have a designated driver and prefer exploring on your own, check out the Arizona Wine Growers site for information from the state's three wine regions.

AOT staff contributed to this article, which was last updated in fall 2018.

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