Few people are aware that Arizona has a "wine country" or vineyards. Actually,
there are about a dozen wineries in the state, most of them tiny, and a drop in the
bucket compared to neighboring California. However there are excellent wines to be found,
and in gorgeous rustic settings featuring tiny villages and lonely range country.
Above, Sonoita Vineyards lies dormant during the winter with a scenic mountain backdrop.
(The cultivated area is in the dark soil.)
You can create a superb day trip or weekend outing starting out in Tucson and heading
south on I-19 to the border town of Nogales. This "trail of the Spanish
missionaries" has several stops of historical interest:
Mission San Xavier del Bac. The mission was originally founded in the 17th century by the Jesuit missionary, Father Kino. The beautiful building (left) known as the "White Dove of the Desert",
built from 1783-97, stands out like a beacon with its bright color. The murals and decorations inside the sanctuary have been refurbished in recent years and restored to their original beauty.
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. The original native village here
was first visited by Father Kino in 1691. Originally a fort, the Tubac Presidio
became Arizona's first European settlement in 1752. The site is also Arizona's
first state park.
Tumacácori National Historical Park. Tumacácori NHP protects three Spanish colonial mission ruins in southern Arizona: Tumacácori, Guevavi, and Calabazas. The adobe structures are on three sites, with a visitor center at Tumacácori. Franciscan missionaries began construction of the massive adobe church here around 1800. Though never completed, the site was in use until 1848 when it was abandoned.
From Nogales, head northeast on the scenic Sonoita Highway (AZ-82) towards
"wine country". Make a stop at Arizona Vineyards just outside of Nogales.
The wines here are inexpensive but the tasting room is crammed with all manner
of interesting "old west" decorations and knick-knacks.
(Editor's Note: Arizona Vineyards was destroyed by fire in June, 2009.)
After you pass through the mountains and by beautiful Patagonia Lake, the country
opens into vast rangeland occasionally broken by small mountain ranges. The land
here is traditionally used for ranching but it is also excellent for growing
wine grapes. The 5,000 foot elevation creates summer growing seasons with hot days
and cool nights. A good environment for growing grapes, especially those which
produce very bold red wines.
When you reach the village of Sonoita, follow the signs to the even tinier
village of Elgin. On the way, your first stop is tiny Callaghan Vineyards.
Their modest tasting room (left), open Friday through Sunday, is not indicative
of their superb wines. In fact, Callaghan wines are considered among the finest
in the United States by such authorities as Le Monde (the French national
newspaper) and the Wine Advocate. Their wines have been presented at White House
state dinners on two occasions.
The Callaghan family maintains a vineyard of roughly 17 acres with resulting
vintages in the hundreds of barrels. Their trademark offering each year is their
superb Buena Suerte Cuvee, a blend of bold red wines. The tasting room (right) is run by Lisa
Callaghan. Her husband, winemaker Kent Callaghan, is usually on hand to discuss
their latest issues.
Typical of Arizona, the experience here is low on formality and plenty high
on hospitality. It is as memorable as the wine. Actually, you never know what's
going to happen. (Left), my aunt (from New York City) gets a riding lesson
from a friend of the Callaghans.
Kent Callaghan is one of the up and coming winemakers in the United States.
You can read more about his views on wine at http://www.callaghanvineyards.com.
Continue on through the quaint village of Elgin, and head a short distance
south to the Sonoita Vineyards. This is Arizona's first "modern" vineyard.
(The Spanish missionaries produced wine in Arizona hundreds of years ago.)
Following successful experiments, Dr. Gordon Dutt planted the state's
first commercial vineyard in 1979, and eventually had one of his wines
served in the White House as well.
The winery offers a variety of inexpensive and premium wines for tasting.
Again, the best premium wines are bold reds, typical of this area. They often make
some of their library wines (very old vintages) available at reasonable prices.
Their latest variety is the Mission, the grape of choice of the early
Spanish missionaries, and dating to the 16th century.
You may return to Tucson by returning to the Sonoita Highway and continuing
north through a very scenic stretch up to I-10, then west on the freeway.
There are a number of very fine inns and BB's available in and around
Sonoita and Elgin.
We generally return to a motel in Tucson so that we may dine at the fabulous
Cafe Poca Cosa, in the basement of the downtown Clarion Hotel
(Editor's Note: The restaurant has since moved to its new location at 110 E. Pennington in downtown Tucson).
The best word to describe the restaurant (above) and the food is "Festive!". It features the
unique creations of owner and chef, Susana Davila. Mexican food, but no tacos
or fajitas. The menu changes every day so there are different dishes to try
whenever we come here. Ms. Davila has received numerous honors and has appeared on
several of the "greatest chefs" shows on the various food channels. She also always comes
to your table to make sure you're satisfied.
Check out this professional review from the Tucson Weekly.