A trip to Arizona wine country is full of contrasts. You climb out of a valley baking at 117 degrees, where massive dust storms swallow mountains, and you round a bend and see a sign welcoming you to Arizona wine country, rolling green pastures in all directions and nightly monsoons slipping over the mountains to drop curtains of rain on vineyards, delaying the harvest.
Everything in AZ winemaking is exactly the opposite of what you expect. In the Sonoita AVA, the problem isn’t too little water, it’s too much at the wrong time. The problem isn’t the baking heat and desiccating winds, but winter cold and spring frost. Of course, you’ll find a few expected challenges when making wine in the extremes of Arizona: snakes in the barrel room, for one.
And here you’ll also find winemakers working without a net. They’re defining a region, building it from scratch, trying to find what varietals will work the best in some of the country’s highest, driest and southernmost vinifera vineyards. You’ll find folks like Susan and Milton Craig of Charron Vineyards, who purchased a merlot vineyard between Tucson and Sonoita, where vines are tended next to prickly pear cacti. They’re refugees from the world of IT where they faced a constant struggle against “outsourcing” and “offshoring.” Making Arizona merlot is a job that can never be shipped overseas.
And in Sonoita, you’ll find Dos Cabezas Wine Works where Todd Bostock and his wife Kelly run a family operation with big ambitions, not only to create a legacy in wine for future generations of the Bostock clan, but also to prove that world class wines that evoke the unique character of the landscape where they were crafted are possible in Arizona. They want to prove the value of an entire wine region. And if releases like their Pronghorn Vineyard “El Campo” blend are any indication, they’re well on their way.
We’ve captured some great stories in Arizona and discovered that it’s a region with even more stories to tell. I’ll look forward to another opportunity to talk to folks in this region down the road.