Blazing hot summers in Arizona might not conjure up the idea of wineries, but our great state actually has three unique wine-growing regions. They are Sonoita, Verde Valley and the Willcox area.
Most of theses areas sit in 3,500 to 5,500-foot elevation range. There, vintners can find the perfect temperature to grow grapes. Not too hot, not too cold.
People have been growing wine in Arizona for thousands of years, according to the Arizona Wine Growers Association, but it wasn't until the 1980s when the wine industry in this state really got going.
The modern Arizona Wine industry was established back then following the development of experimental vineyards by the University of Arizona. In 2005 there were 9 wineries in the state. Today there are 103.
Weather plays a major roll in growing grapes around the world and here in Arizona.
Heat is not the major concern, though, when it comes to growing grapes, according to Lori Reynolds with Sonoita Vineyards.
She said an early-spring frost can mean big problems for her crops. But that's not the only weather threat out there.
A big hail storm during the monsoon can shred vines and grapes that are almost ready for harvest.
Deer also love snacking on shoots and leaves, which can also damage the vines, Reynolds said.
About an hour west of Bisbee, the desert grassland near Sonoita gives way to an unexpected sight -- acres and acres of grape vineyards. These are not just any old grapes. These vines are turning out award-winning wines. This is the first region in Arizona to earn the American Viticultural Area designation.
Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Winery was one of the pioneers of Arizona wine making. "My parents and I planted our place here in 1990. And our first vintage was in '91." said Callaghan.
He was more of a beer drinker until his parents caught the wine bug, and he is now an internationally recognized winemaker. "We basically tend to age all of our wines in barrels for at least six months," he says showing us around the winery.
It is a mix of art and science that brings wines from the area to life. University of Arizona soil scientist Dr. Gordon Dutt opened the first winery in the area.
Verde Valley Region
There are nearly two dozens wineries that make up this region and are located in and around the towns of Cornville, Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome. Page Springs Cellars has a great area in the back where you can sip some wine while overlooking Oak Creek.
Located an hour east of Tucson, this region produces 74% of the wine grapes grown in Arizona. More than a dozen wineries operate in this region.
According to Rod Keeling of the Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, The Willcox Basin has been designated an American Viticultural Area by the United States. The primary area is called the Willcox Bench, a rising alluvial fan slightly above the valley floor at elevations of 4,300 to 4,550 feet above sea level.
The first vineyard on the Bench was planted by RW Webb in 1984 and now provides wines for Caduceus, Merkin Vineyards, Arizona Stronghold and others. Bodega Pierce, Zarpara, Carlson Creek and Pillsbury are also located on the Bench.
Some of the Willcox production is in the Chiricahua Mountains foothills, like the area where Keeling Schaefer Vineyards, Aridus, Colibri Vineyards, which supplies fruit for Page Springs Cellars and others are located.