Visitors to the Circle Z know what a delight it is to ascend from the arid desert surrounding Tuscon and into the refreshing mountains around Patagonia. In addition to the magnificent scenery and prime land for grazing livestock, this terrain is also proving ideal for vineyards.
Credit for this discovery goes to Gordon Dutt, a PhD with expertise in soil science from the University of Arizona. Dr. Dutt discovered that the red clay soil of the area (think Red Mountain) was very similar to that of Burgundy, France. In 1973 he purchased land near the tiny town of Elgin, just southeast of Sonoita and planted the region’s first vineyard.
The success of Sonoita Vineyards started a trend, and soon other would-be winemakers began arriving in the area. Today the grasslands nestled between the Huachuca, Santa Rita and Whetstone mountains are a designated AVA (American Viticultural Area), a federally recognized wine-growing region.
Over forty years later, the Sonoita AVA is thriving. Today there are thirteen wineries in the region, many producing award-winning wines. Several have even been served at the White House. Varieties differ somewhat from one winery to the next, however most focus on grapes that like hot, dry days and cool nights, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Sauvignon Blanc.
Visitors are welcome. The Arizona Wine Growers Association has created a Sonoita Wine Growers Trail, with a map highlighting the wineries’ locations in and around Sonoita and Elgin. A tour of the wineries makes a nice half day trip from the Ranch; most are open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In addition to wine tastings, many wineries also offer light meals and snacks. Be sure to appoint a designated driver, or ask the ranch for help in arranging transportation—there are several local companies that specialize in wine country tours.
Upon returning from a day of Sonoita wine tasting, take a look at Red Mountain and see if there’s any resemblance to Burgundy, France.
Click for a printable map of the Sonoita Wine Trail, with wineries and opening hours.