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Hot (Literally) Wine Destination: Arizona!

Arizona Vineyards, Flying Leap

Article by Annie Edgerton. 

Wineaux, were you aware that lil’ ol’ ARIZONA is manufacturing some really phenomenal juice?!

Yes, land of the saguaro cacti and desert sun, Arizona has three main wine regions and is home to around eighty-three licensed and bonded wineries. I recently visited the Sonoita AVA (located about an hour south of Tucson) to meet some winemakers and sample their wares. [Sonoita is currently the only AZ region granted an American Viticultural Area designation.]

I’ve tasted wines from less-familiar winemaking states in the past, noting varying degrees of success. Many states, like CT and IN, are often forced to use hybrid grapes to combat the challenges in climate and terroir they face. Others, like MI and NM, find pockets of land where decent vitis vinifera wine can be made. In Arizona, the potential is huge… but there’s a reason you may not yet be on the AZ wine bandwagon: availability. Each winery I visited had an incredibly small production, yet most spoke of exponential growth in the near future.

Historically, 16th-century Spanish Jesuit missionaries planted vines in Arizona to make sacramental wine. But strict laws from Prohibition and other legislation put a stop to AZ winemaking until the 1970s when the soil scientist Dr. Gordon Dutt noticed that the red clay Arizona soil was similar to that of Burgundy. He was involved in other agricultural projects around the Southwest, but when he got the AZ wine ball rolling, it quickly gathered momentum.
Now there are around fourteen wineries in the Sonoita area, and on a recent overcast Sunday, I stopped by four of them to see what this little “secret” AVA was about. I was joined by my friend Aaron—a Tucson resident, editor, photographer, and budding Wineau.

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