Kayaking on the Verde River

Unique Wine Experiences

By: Teresa Bitler

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Pour some extra fun into your next Arizona winery visit.

About the author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of two guidebooks, as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps. She can be reached at teresabitler.com.

Arizona's three major wine-growing regions—Sonoita, Willcox and the Verde Valley—produce some pretty incredible wines, most of which you can sample in tasting rooms at the state's 30-plus wineries. But no matter how much you enjoy the pours, all that swirling, sniffing and sipping may get a little repetitive.

Make your next wine tasting stand out with one of these enjoyable experiences.

Stomp grapes for fun and glory


Ever wanted to recreate the grape-stomping scene from "I Love Lucy?" You can—minus the ensuing grape slinging—at two annual festivals.

 

In July, Sonoita Vineyards in southern Arizona holds its annual HarvestFest, complete with wine tastings, food and wine pairings, tours of the vineyard and winery, live music and—of course—grape stomping. Sign up to compete in grape-stomping competitions with prizes for the winner of each heat.

In the fall, The Great Crush Festival, held every September at Arizona Hops and Vines (also in Sonoita) offers tours, wine tastings and live music, as well as a petting zoo and homemade sodas for kids. Parents can check their kids in at the teen-supervised Sober Shack while they wait in line for the opportunity to stomp grapes in a barrel.

Paddle a kayak to a winery


For a change of pace, go from the water to a wine tasting with Sedona Adventure Tours. Their "Water to Wine" tours begin with a one-hour kayak trip down the Verde River lined with cottonwood trees to Oak Creek. (No kayaking experience necessary.)

Along the way, watch for bald eagles and great blue herons soaring overhead, mule deer along the shore and beavers building dams. You'll put in near a gravel path that leads to Alcantara Vineyards where you are given a $20 credit to sample wines or purchase a cheese and antipasto platter.

Hike through burgs and birds


Not much of a water person? Go for a hike!

In the hills surrounding Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards in Willcox, you'll find birders from across the globe who travel to the southeastern region for a chance to glimpse the rare species that frequent the area. In the winter, Sandhill Cranes arrive by the thousands. And in the summer Willcox is one of the two areas in the U.S. to see the Elegant Trogon.

Even if you don't know your Long-billed Dowitchers from your American avocets, the horizon-spanning views of the grasslands and mountains make for an invigorating (but not too challenging) hike—and a  perfect excuse to enjoy a glass of wine when you're finished.

Massages and merlot or vino and vinyasas


You don't have to exert yourself to add some fun to the tasting experience. Page Springs Cellars, on the Verde Valley Wine Trail, encourages you to relax with a massage in the vineyard before sampling its wines.

Several massages are offered in the vineyard year-round, depending on the weather, but for the ultimate winery outing, opt for the couple's premium package that begins with a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery completed with tastings—before a relaxing 60-minute massage session. Afterward, you'll be treated to an artisanal stone-fired pizza, a seasonal salad and your choice of one of four wines. End the day with another glass of wine sipped on the deck or creekside.

Page Springs Cellars also offers yoga and hoop-dancing classes seasonally in the vineyard.

Craft your own blended wine


Ready to create your own wine? Blendz, located in historic downtown Flagstaff, lets you do just that. For $15, you can choose five varietals from the 20 on tap, and using a wine pipette (basically, a big dropper) and a cylinder, play "mad scientist." If you're not sure where to start, the staff is on hand to make suggestions, or you can attend regularly scheduled blending seminars to learn how to do it yourself.

Once you've created your new favorite wine, take some home. Blendz will bottle your wine and—assuming you took notes on what you added even design a personalized label with a photo uploaded from your phone's camera. The full experience costs $32.

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