When most people think of wine and spirits, they might imagine regions like Napa Valley or Bordeaux, not the arid desert of Arizona. However, the state’s wine and spirits industry has been quietly growing in recent years, producing unique and delicious products that are earning national recognition. While the Arizona wine and spirits industry may still be under the radar compared to other regions, it is certainly gaining attention. In 2021, the state’s wines won a total of 30 medals at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the country.
Tucson is the major metropolitan city closest to Arizona’s wine country, so it naturally gets associated with wine; however, the fruit is actually grown in a little known part of the state referred to as the Kansas Settlement, a small rural agricultural area in the Sulfur Springs Valley located about 20 miles south southeast of the town of Willcox. This is really where Arizona wine is sourced from, and it’s where (according to recent USDA surveying) about 75 percent of Arizona’s entire vintage is grown. The region boasts a growing number of wineries that are gaining recognition for their unique blends and beautiful settings. From the lush vineyards of Sonoita to the scenic mountainside tasting rooms of Willcox, there are plenty of wineries and spirits that are worth exploring.
Flying Leap is one of the larger winegrowers in the Willcox area, with nearly 40 acres under vine in the Kansas Settlement. Flying Leap is unique, based on the diversity, quality, and composition of wines and spirits they produce. Because they operate a distillery, many of their wines are finished in spirit casks (and many of their spirits are finished in wine barrels), which gives their products unique flavors and finishes.
By producing spirits, Ugni Blanc (a traditionally distilled grape varietal from Bordeaux) and Amantillado-styled sherry wines that are made as closely as possible to the techniques used in Jerez, Spain. They are also Arizona’s only producer of fine grappa. Flying Leap also produces whiskies from unique and locally sourced grains and malts, including blue corn sourced from New Mexico to make an aromatic bourbon that they finish in maple syrup casks and a smooth wheat whiskey made from Sonoran white wheat, an indigenous heritage summer wheat grown north of Tucson. They also produce a pure, clean, and wonderfully smooth vodka distilled from fresh wine. Flying Leap provides their guests with a more distinctive, cosmopolitan wine country experience.
Hops and Vines
Then there’s Hops and Vines, owned and operated by dynamic sister duo Shannon Austin and Megan Stranik, who are shaking things up. Located in the idyllic Sonoita region of Arizona, the vineyard and winery feature unique flavors that showcase the character of the local terrain, mountainous and green from monsoonal storms.
Known for their unconventional approach to winemaking and tasting, Stranik has been pushing boundaries since they started the vineyard in 2012. With signature wines such as the Drag Queen, a sparkling white wine hopped, as in a wine dressed up like a beer. Bloom, a beautiful rosé, is the perfect wine for Arizona. Interesting pairings like Cheetos® and their Cabernet Sauvignon or a dessert wine with Cocoa Puffs make them unforgettable. Arizona’s Hops and Vines is a must-visit destination for wine lovers looking for something unique. With their passion for experimentation and commitment to sustainable practices, Austin and Stranik are leading the charge for a new era of winery and wine-making in Arizona. azhopsandvines.com
Old Pueblo Cellars
Located in Tucson, Old Pueblo Cellars is a winery that has been producing award-winning wines since its establishment in 2003. The winery focuses on crafting high quality, completely organic wines using grapes sourced from the best vineyards across Arizona. Their portfolio includes a wide range of red, white, and rosé varietals as well as blends that showcase the unique terroir of the region. The winery’s tasting room offers visitors the opportunity to sample and purchase their wines while taking in the beautiful desert scenery.
Old Pueblo Cellars’ commitment to quality and passion for winemaking have earned them a loyal following among wine enthusiasts, both locally and nationally, especially since their wines are not sold on-line and can be only purchased onsite. www.oldpueblocellars.com
If you’re a wine or spirits enthusiast looking for something new and exciting, Arizona is definitely worth exploring. With its unique climate, diverse terrain, and passionate producers, it’s a hidden gem in the world of wine and spirits.
Photos by Sam AZ Photography