Tucson, Arizona is home to a lot of things: cacti, snowbirds, a robust rock-climbing scene, dazzling sunsets… yes. Of course. I expected at least most of that when I moved to the desert. What I didn’t expect was to find a thriving network of wine and wine culture.
There are actually three distinct winemaking regions in Arizona, characterized by the relative amounts of rainfall and mineral content of the soil (among other factors). Verde Valley, for instance, has “a mineralized, slightly alkaline soil just challenging enough to produce distinctive flavors in grapes.” Most of the wineries in this region are clustered near Cottonwood (which on its own is just about one of the cutest towns) and Jerome, an old mining down clinging precariously to the side of Cleopatra Hill outside of Sedona, another popular tourist destination.
The second region, Willcox, is just north of Sulfur Springs Valley and is known for producing the Syrah and Sangiovese varietals. The soil and climate in this region are said to resemble “the viticultural areas of both the Rhone Valley in France and Mondoza, Argentina,” which is amazing to me because I can’t imagine two more different areas. Clearly, the responsible thing to would be to check out one of Willcox’s twice yearly wine tasting festivals to see for myself. You know, for science!
The third region of Arizona wine production is the Sonoita-Elgin area, nearby Tucson. Sonoita is home to the oldest winery in Arizona, Sonoita Vineyards, and is the only official American Viticultural Area in Arizona. Now, while I haven’t gotten the chance to intensively explore the Willcox and Verde Valley wine regions (though it’s definitely in my planner), I have gotten the chance to experience one winery in the Sonoita-Elgin region: Charron Vineyards.
Only about thirty minutes from the heart of Tucson, Charron Vineyards is nestled in the hills at 4,200 feet of elevation and boasts a patio overlooking the vineyards with absolutely incredible view of the Santa Rita mountains. We weren’t lucky to be there as the sun was setting, but the golden hours just prior to sunset are a reward all on their own. The wind was cutting the afternoon we were there, but the view more than made up for any slight discomfort.
For only $10, Charron Vineyards will let you sample up to six wines as well as take home a souvenir glass. While all six of the wines that I tried were phenomenal, the one that really blew me away was the 2017 Dulce Rojo. A semi-sweet red made from late-harvest Tempranillo grapes, it was an off-dry, medium-bodied wine with a smoky, earthy quality to the sweetness. The server explained that the area was perfect for growing Tempranillo, and that when they’re left on the vine it causes them to become stressed, which actually makes the grapes sweeter.
Though the same can’t be said about my temperament, perhaps I can use the model of behavior presented by these Tempranillo grapes as something to aspire to, especially as I approach midterms. If not, maybe heading back out to Charron Vineyards for another taste of that 2017 Dulce Rojo will be just what the doctor ordered… but I should probably find out, either way. You know, for science.