There’s more to Arizona than just desert and refreshing margaritas. The state is booming right now! There are more than seven million residents in Arizona, and its population and economic development is continuing to grow. You know what that means? Wine, lots and lots of wine. There is a large, local market for wine in the Grand Canyon State. Now, people can sip local wines from Arizona as the wine industry here is beginning to thrive like the rest of the state.
It might surprise a lot of you to know that Arizona has an ideal climate for growing grapes. Given the state’s variations in elevation, there are a variety of different climates. In other words, it’s not ALL desert. According to the Arizona Wine Growers Association, “In the lower elevations of Arizona, the climate is primarily desert, with mild winters and extremely hot summers. The northern third of Arizona and other mountainous areas at significantly higher altitudes than the lower desert have an appreciably cooler climate, with cold winters and mild summers. Somewhere in between these two extremes, pioneering wine growers have found a home for Arizona Wine.”
This combined with the Diurnal Effect (the extreme swing in temperature from day to night), dry weather (the monsoon season provides the needed moisture) and high-altitude produces distinctive grapes that are bold and savory. On a side note, as we’ve mentioned in other guides and posts, wine regions thrive between 30-50 degrees of the equator – both north and south. Arizona sits close to the 40 degree mark.
Short History of Arizona Wine
Arizona has a rich wine history that dates back to the 16th century when Spanish Jesuit priests began producing wine for religious sacramental ceremonies. In fact, Arizona is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the U.S. The state’s wine industry was halted in 1915 when a law was passed to prohibit the production of grapes.
According to The Arizona Wine Growers, “The modern Arizona Wine industry was established in the early 1980’s, following the development of experimental vineyards by the University of Arizona. Led by Dr. Gordon Dutt, studies were completed demonstrating the feasibility of various wine growing regions. In 1982, a collection of new laws enabled the Arizona Farm Winery Act. The first licensed wineries in Arizona were formed shortly after the enactment of the new law. Dr. Dutt himself formed Sonoita Vineyards, the first winery of this modern era.”
Today, the wine industry continues to grow and there are more than 100 wineries, vineyards and cellars throughout the region. Some of Arizona’s highest quality white wines include Viognier, Malvasia Bianca and Chenin Blanc. Varietals native to the Rhone Valley have also been widely successful in producing some of Arizona’s most popular reds.
Arizona Wine Trails
Arizona currently has two American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) wine growing regions. The Sonoita AVA is southeast of Tucson and was established in 1985, and east of Tucson is the Willcox AVA, established in 2016. Verde Valley is another major region for vineyards and wineries in the state.
Like most wine regions, Arizona’s are not in the the heavily populated areas, such as Phoenix, which is the largest city in the state. Many wineries have brought their wines to the masses by opening tasting rooms in downtown Scottsdale and Tucson, creating urban wine trails residents and visitors alike can enjoy and sip local wines. There are also a few urban wineries in these areas too.
Additional Arizona Wine Country Maps
WineRoutes App: Headed to the vineyards? Tour wine country like a pro. Download the Wine Routes app and take your routes, wineries, and interactive tastings with you to wine country.
Fun Fact: On several occasions, wines from Sonoita Vineyards have been served at the White House!
Where to Sip in Arizona
A few great wine bars and restaurants in Arizona not to miss include…
Postino Arcadia — Italian cafe serving a wide selection of bruschetta & wine in rustic-chic digs with outdoor seating.
Central Wine —Store offering wines from local & small global producers, as well as meat & cheese plates.
Terroir Wine Pub —T his modern wine specialist features many selections for tasting, along with artisanal snacks.
Kazimierz World Wine Bar – A downtown Scottsdale bar with a 2,000 label wine list!
Sorso Wine Room – Recently named the “Best Wine Hangout” by Phoenix Magazine.
FnBar is a great new wine bar attached to restaurant FnB in Scottsdale.
Where to Stay in Arizona Wine Country
We’re busy bottling more of this information, stay tuned!
Meet the Makers
Coming soon… Interviews with winemakers who are shaping the Arizona wine region.
Festivals and Events in Arizona Wine Country NOT to Miss
7th Annual Spring 2018 Willcox Wine Country Festival
May 19-20, 2018, at Railroad Avenue Park, Willcox, AZ
Rated by Fodro’s Travel as one of the top 10 wine festivals in North America, the Willcox Wine Country Festival is a weekend-long celebration that features Arizona wines from the Willcox region. The 7th Annual Festival will showcase 15 Arizona Farm Wineries from Willcox Wine Country or with ties to the region, plus top music acts from Phoenix and Tucson, a Street Bistro featuring Dante’s Fire from Tucson, over 45 local artists, crafts, and locally grown pistachios and pecans. In addition, there will be a Benefit Wine Dinner with Willcox Wineries and Chef Ken Foy.
Sips & Skies Wine, Beer and Spirits Festival
May 26, 2018, Sierra Vista AZ
Enjoy a weekend discovering Sierra Vista’s extraordinary skies and uncommon ground. Whether you’re sampling wine and spirits, climbing the towering Huachuca Mountains, bicycling along the foothills, or exploring the San Pedro riparian areas, Sierra Vista, Arizona is a great Memorial Day destination! The Sips & Skies event is roaring into its second year with a new name (formerly Savor Sierra Vista) and a fresh focus. The Wine, Beer & Spirits Festival will feature some of Arizona’s best wines, micro brews, and distilled spirits, rounded out with entertainment from the state’s top performers.
Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Festival
March 10-11, 2018
Featuring 20 Arizona Wineries in one location, the day will be filled with new wine releases, fabulous winemakers, great wine, food vendors, a professional two-day chili cook-off and live music.