An Arizona Grape GetawayBy Jessica Dunham
Sip, sample and swirl along the Verde Valley Wine Trail
They say that great wine conjures a sense of place. The French call it “terroir.” Even though the term is derived from the word terra, or land, it means so much more. When a wine expresses terroir, it tells a story: about the earth that sprouted the vines, the sun-facing hillside on which they grew, the rain that fell, the frost that came, and the people who plucked the grapes with weathered hands and hopeful hearts.
With its generous collection of tasting rooms, vineyards, and wineries, the Verde Valley Wine Trail invites you on a journey to experience the terroir unique to Arizona. More than 20 stops—many award winners—dot the trail, which charts a meandering course throughout north-central Arizona. We’ve highlighted a few worthy places, as well as including the full trail list. As of press time, several of the tasting rooms require reservations to limit crowd sizes. Phone ahead or check websites to plan your visit.
Hidden among a stand of leafy trees, you’ll find D.A. Ranch Lodge & Estate Vineyards, a log cabin with a wraparound porch. Here, you’ll taste estate-grown varietals of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Tannat, and Seyval Blanc. The limited production of D.A. Ranch’s boutique wines means that you’ll enjoy tastes from small-batch bottles, but it also means the ranch opens only on select days. Check the online schedule before you visit.
The rushing waters of Oak Creek snake along the property of Page Springs Cellars, one of the most well-known and well-established wineries in Arizona. You can spend an entire day at their Cornville tasting room. Start with a private yoga class or a massage, then sign up for a tour (the winery tour explores the vineyards, winery, and barrel room, while the vineyard tour focuses on grape cultivation) before indulging in a picnic lunch prepared by the culinary team at the on-site bistro. Spend the afternoon tasting the winery’s acclaimed reds and whites while playing rounds of bocce ball, cornhole, or horseshoes.
Old Town Cottonwood
Tasting rooms, cafés, shops, and art galleries line Old Town Cottonwood’s Main Street. Find a parking spot, then set out on foot to explore.
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards offers a tasting flight of five wines, usually reds, although don’t miss the ripe-fruit-forward Dala Chardonnay. Enjoy a glass while you kick back on the cozy couches for an unruly game of Uno.
Carlson Creek’s wines grow in Southern Arizona on a 280-acre vineyard. The warm days and cool nights produce red varietals such as Grenache, Malbec, and Mourvèdre and whites like Malvasia Bianca. The casual tasting room lets you choose from a flight, glass, or bottle.
The awards and medals keep piling up for the wines at Pillsbury Wine Company. Belly up to the bar in their tasting room to try the WildChild White (Double Gold at San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition), the Malvasia Bianca (Best of Class), and the Guns and Kisses Shiraz (Gold).
The former mining town turned artists’ enclave of Jerome perches on Cleopatra Hill, an outcropping of homes, hotels, bars, tasting rooms, and restaurants that overlook the valley.
If you only have time for one-stop, head to Four Eight Wineworks. It’s a cooperative of several winemakers who’ve pooled their resources to showcase their small-batch wines in a single tasting room. The wines range from elegant and traditional to bold and daring, from simple and classic to creative and unconventional.
Caduceus Cellars sources grapes from its six vineyard blocks growing in northern Arizona’s rich, volcanic soil. The chalky, granite ground imbues the wines with an earthy palate—a taste distinct to the region. The lineup leans red and features interesting grape varietals, such as Aglianico, as well as Sangiovese, Garnacha, and Petite Syrah. In addition to sampling wine, the tasting room offers an espresso bar and a robust gift shop.
The tiny town of Clarkdale charms with strollable streets, lovingly restored historic homes, and a picturesque park. You’ll find three tasting rooms here, plus the renowned Southwest Wine Center, a vineyard-to-bottle education center and teaching winery. The center also operates a tasting room. Call ahead to make a reservation to try some of the student-made wines or to arrange for a curbside pickup of a few bottles.
A staple in Southern Arizona wine country, Bodega Pierce’s recently added tasting room in the Verde Valley lets you sample well-crafted wines indicative of the high-desert landscape of the Willcox American Viticultural Area (AVA). The 80-acre estate produces such varietals as Syrah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Grenache, Viognier, and Chardonnay.
The geniuses behind Chateau Tumbleweed comprise two husband-and-wife couples who put as much care into their delightful, hand-drawn bottle labels as they do their wines. They source grapes from the Verde Valley, Willcox AVA, and Sonoita AVA to make reds such as Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc and whites like Vermentino and Malvasia Bianca.
Alcantara Vineyards sits halfway between Camp Verde and Cottonwood on a sprawling plot of land that shoulders the Verde River. If you want to feel as though you’ve been whisked away to a Tuscan estate, visit Alcantara. Enjoy tastings of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and dessert wines, or order a bottle to savor on the grassy picnic area.
At the pastoral Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery, you’ll get a chance to enjoy great wines, yes, but you’ll also get to see the inventive workings of sustainable winemaking up close. Geese weed the grounds, chickens gobble up bugs and pests, and an on-site fish pond irrigates the vines. Stop by Friday through Sunday for a glass of one of the “green” wines in red, white, or rosé.
Verde Valley Wine Trail
Explore the wineries and tasting rooms of the Verde Valley Wine Trail. For more information about the wine trail, including maps, discounts, and a trail passport, visit Verde Valley Wine Trails.
Alcantara Vineyards Cottonwood
Arizona Stronghold Vineyards Cottonwood
Bodega Pierce Clarkdale
Burning Tree Cellars Cottonwood
Cabal Cellars Jerome
Caduceus Cellars Jerome
Carlson Creek Cottonwood
Chateau Tumbleweed Clarkdale
Clear Creek Vineyard & Winery Camp Verde
D.A. Ranch Lodge & Estate Vineyards Cornville
Four Eight Wineworks Jerome
Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery Cornville
Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria Cottonwood
Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery Cornville
The Original Jerome Winery Jerome
Page Springs Cellars Cornville
Passion Cellars & Salvatore Vineyards Jerome
Pillsbury Wine Company Cottonwood
Salt Mine Wine Camp Verde
Southwest Wine Center Clarkdale
Tantrum Wines Cottonwood
Winery 101 Cottonwood
Winery 1912 Sedona
Adventure beyond the vines
From tours of ancient American Indian dwellings (Montezuma Castle National Monument) to a safari through an exotic-animal park (Out of Africa Wildlife Park), the Verde Valley offers plenty of fun besides wine tasting. Browse metaphysical shops, visit vortexes, or hike the red rocks in Sedona; traverse canyon ravines by rail on the Verde Canyon Railroad; tempt Lady Luck at Cliff Castle Casino Hotel; or discover the region’s mining history at Jerome State Historic Park.
About the writer:
Writer and editor Jessica Dunham has never met an Arizona-made Malvasia Bianca that she didn’t love. Her work has appeared in PHOENIX Magazine, Runner’s World, Moon Travel Guides, Modern Luxury, Phoenix Travel Guide, and more.