In November 2021, the Verde Valley Wine Consortium announced the region was federally declared an American Viticulture Area (AVA). The monumental declaration made the wine region just the third AVA in the state of Arizona, with the other two in the Southern Arizona regions of Willcox and Sonoita.
What better way to celebrate than to visit Northern Arizona this winter or spring than to taste your way around the best the area has to pour?
Let’s get started in Cottonwood. Essentially halfway between Prescott and Sedona, Cottonwood is a walkable wonderland for adults and the perfect respite from the daily grind, especially for those who love culinary delights, beer and wine tastings, and outdoor adventures. Currently, there are four working Arizona vineyards with wine tasting rooms along Main Street. The first is Arizona Stronghold Vineyards (AZStronghold.com), which is located in Northern Arizona but uses many grapes sourced from the Southern Arizona AVAs, as well. They are particularly adept at Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but the best bet is to try a flight of reds and whites to see what you like best. Though the brand is available widely in the Valley, there are sips exclusive to the tasting room, as well as a full kitchen serving tapas, cheese plates, skewers—including duck, elk, and bison options—so the visit is well worth it.
Similarly worth it is Carlson Creek Vineyards (CarlsonCreek.com), which is all of 30 steps from Arizona Stronghold. The name will likely be familiar as there is a tasting room in Scottsdale of the same name with many of the wines, but the barrel-covered space up north is something out of a storybook (and adult one, of course). The Rule of Three should not be missed here, nor should the Sangiovese or Mourvedre. And, if a white fan, the Chardonnay is a palate-pleaser.
Next door to Carlson Creek is Pillsbury Wine Company (PillsburyWine.com). Helmed by New Zealand-turned-Arizona-resident Sam Pillsbury, the winery excels at sustainable, estate-grown varietals. Tasting flights, wines by the glass, and full bottles are available during a visit, with the Guns and Kisses Shiraz, Wild Child Red Blend, and One Night Stand Rosé being of particular note.
Both a pasta paradise and tasting room, Merkin Vineyards Osteria (MerkinVineyards.com) is adjacent to Pillsbury. Founded by Maynard James Keenan, best known as the front man of Tool but becoming known for his skill at winemaking in more recent years, he uses fruit exclusively from his 110 acres of estate vineyards in both the Verde Valley and Willcox.
Joining them along Main Street is also Burning Tree Cellars (BurningTreeCellars.com), whose focus is offering several brands, but all are boutique, small-batch vineyards one would never find in a grocery or liquor store. They also always have games such as Card Against Humanity on hand for visitors, and one of the best patios in the region. Then there is also Winery 101 (Winery101.com), which features wines from the husband and wife winemaker owners; State Bar (Facebook.com/TheWineryBarCottonwood), an indoor-outdoor bar with yard games and both local wines and beers; Provisioner Wines (ProvisionerWine.com), which is a side brand of Arizona Stronghold and has exceptional canned wines and one of the best rosès in the state; and Small Batch Wine & Spirits(AZSmallBatch.com), a family-owned tasting room and bottle shop with both boutique wines and craft beers.
Beyond Cottonwood’s ultra-convenient Main Street offerings, be sure to also set aside time for the other similarly spectacular wineries in the AVA, as well.
Alcantara Vineyards (AlcantaraVineyard.com) is a long-time favorite. This family-owned vineyard, which is focused on sustainable farming and offers nearly 20 varietals for taste and purchase, along with antipasto, cheese, and sweets plates, not only boasts a massive deck overlooking the Verde River and its vines, but kayak tours before a tasting.
About 10 minutes from Alcantara is one of the vineyards that helped put Arizona on the map—Page Springs Cellars (PageSpringCellars.com). This winery and vineyard are tucked into the volcanic landscape overlooking pristine Oak Creek Canyon. It produces Rhone-style wines, working primarily with Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Just half a mile from Page Springs is Javelina Leap Vineyard, Winery & Bistro (JavelinaLeapWinery.com), which makes about 3,000 cases of estate-grown wine each year and is across the street from both a bird sanctuary (tip: bring your binoculars) and the State Fish Hatchery.
And then, less than 30 minutes west of Javelina is the Southwest Wine Center (SouthwestWineCenter.com), which is home to Yavapai College’s Viticulture and Enology program. The full-scale winery and farm features a 13-acre teaching vineyard, where students of all ages take part in the ultimate hands-on approach to learning. But don’t worry—we aren’t suggesting you sign up for classes. Nestled into the vineyard is an opulent tasting room and patio, where wine tastings are available Saturday and Sunday by reservation.
Finally, do not miss a taste or two in Jerome. Once a ghost town, the Jerome of today is a mecca for oenophiles, thanks in great part to the previously noted Keenan, who actually lives in the town. Beyond Merkin in Cottonwood, he also has a tasting room, Caduceus Cellars (Caduceus.org), up the hill in Jerome, and people come from all over the world to taste up there.
For more, visit VerdeValleyAVA.org.