Did you know there are just three federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in all of Arizona? To put it in perspective, there are 18 AVAs in Oregon, 19 in Washington, and an eye-popping 139 in California.
However, what we lack in quantity we make up for in quality, especially in Willcox. The Willcox AVA, which is located about three hours from the Valley, leads Arizona wine grape production by growing 74% of the state’s wine grapes and is the source of the most highly rated Arizona wines by Wine Spectator, San Francisco Chronicle, Tastings.com, and the Arizona Republic.
Still skeptical about Arizona wine? Why not make the drive down to Southern Arizona one weekend and sip, swirl, and swoon for yourself? Here are some of our favorite stops in the Willcox area.
Keeling Schaefer Vineyards
For more than 20 years, Keeling Schaefer—Rod Keeling and Jan Schaefer to be exact—has led the surge in quality winemaking in Arizona. Almost all of their wines are single varietal, and all of the grapes are grown on just two vineyards. The team especially excels at Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, and the little-known Picpoul Blanc. More popular in France, this white varietal has a crisp acidity and almost a pineapple essence. The bright and airy tasting room is located in the heart of Willcox in a refurbished building that was the Willcox Bank and Trust more than 100 years ago. An exceptionally cool bonus of visiting: the winery has a “share a glass” program with nearby with Birds and Barrels, Carlson Creek, Coronado, Pillsbury, Golden Rule, Bodega Pierce and Zarpara wineries, meaning you can bring a glass in from tasting at any of their locations for a discounted flight. KeelingSchaeferVineyards.com
Carlson Creek Vineyards
Though it has a tasting room in Scottsdale and winery/tasting room in Cottonwood, Willcox is home to Carlson Creek’s actual vineyard property, which—at 280 acres—is one of the largest in the state, though is still a family business made up of two brothers and their dad. It is also home to the flagship tasting room, which is just across the railroad tracks from Keeling, set behind an adorable white picket fence that—for those of a certain age—will offer a fun “Ozzie and Harriett” photo moment. But, have no fear—it is anything but the 1950s once inside. The Carlson tasting room features chic, comfortable indoor and outdoor seating with an Italian-meets-American vibe, meant to make you feel as if in one of the Carlson brothers’ homes. Their vineyard produces a variety of award-winning wines, including everything from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Grenache Rosé to Syrah, Malbec, Mourvèdre, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The best bet is a flight, as well as a bottle of Rule of Three, if with a group. The Rule of Three’s jammy blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre will tickle the taste buds of even the most discerning wine drinker. CarlsonCreek.com
Aridus Wine Company
Like Carlson, there is a tasting room in Scottsdale for Aridus, which is also similarly family-owned. Given this month marks Valentine’s Day, it is worth noting the owners are a Canadian husband-and-wife team who first met in middle school and worked together in the wine business in Sonoma before making the move to Arizona to start Aridus. In 2009, they purchased land in the Willcox AVA and got to work, naming the vineyard Aridus, a play on the Latin word arid, as a tribute to their desert setting. The stylish cellar formally opened in 2012, and the tasting room nearby (nearly next door to Carlson, in fact) soon after. Both are open for tours and tastings, but the tasting room may be most convenient as it is next door to Carlson Creek so eliminates the need for driving. Plus, the tasting room is super modern; with its cool combination of wood and steel inside, it gives a warm, industrial feeling that really sets the mood for an experience. The wine itself feels a mix between New World and Old World, and the rosé is so tasty it will be tough to leave without a case. AridusWineCo.com
Pillsbury Wine Co.
Now, there is a fabulous Pillsbury tasting room located in northern Arizona––in Cottonwood––but the actual vineyards, and a more intimate tasting room, are down south in Cochise County. Though only open on the weekends, the trip to taste is worth it. It’s a rustic property with a toasty fire burning in a Franklin stove on colder days. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch to pair with their wines, and there are tables and chairs scattered under the lovely pine and pecan trees on-site, all in full view of the actual vineyard, and picturesque mountain views as well. PillsburyWine.com
Additional area wineries in the area include Bodega Pierce, Coronado, Golden Rule, and Zarpara Vineyard.