Grape Expectations in the Heart of Arizona Wine Country
By GERRY BARKER
North Palm Beach Life
WILLCOX_When you think of Arizona, the first thing that comes to mind is the Grand Canyon, right? That, along with spectacular scenery, national parks, saguaro cactus and the Arizona Cardinals. After having visited, add one more to the list: Primo wines.
Earlier in our trip, we had already sampled the wine produced in the Verde Valley. It was excellent, at least to our non-educated palates. (And if it tastes good to you, isn't that the ultimate criteria?)
The other major area of interest for wine lovers is right here in Southeastern Arizona, about an hour's drive from Tucson. The town is small, but is literally surrounded by wineries. There are two major wine festivals, in May and October, and the region grows 74 percent of all the grapes grown in the state (can't they plant a few more vines and kick that to 75 percent?).
It's also reported "the Willcox area was recently granted prestigious AVA status (American Viticultural Area). The designation of the Willcox AVA means that this area is now recognized as a unique and distinctive wine growing region in the United States." And a number of the wines are rated 88-90 points by Wine Spectator.
And what makes this area so special? According to the website, Willcox Wine Country:
"People often ask, why is this area so good for growing wine grapes and making wine? Three things: Elevation, climate, and soil. Vineyards in this region are typically at 4,200 feet elevation and above. That elevation gets the vineyards out of the low desert heat. Summer days are warm and nights are cool, and that wide shift in daily temperatures imparts flavor to the grapes. Then the Arizona summer/fall monsoons introduce a unique twist to the growing season. And finally, the soils are generally rich alluvial and volcanic mixtures from the surrounding mountains."
Since our time here is limited, we only got to sample two wineries: Coronado Vineyards and Bodega Pierce.
The Tasting Room at Coronado. You can take the glass home with you.
Photos/North Palm Beach Life
Open since 2006, Coronado Vineyards has a beautiful location, and is beautifully appointed. The elegant Tasting Room could easily accomodate a busload of tourists, but at our mid-week visit, it was just us.
The tasting was $12, and included a choice of four varietals. Pam opted for the reds while I, as usual, went for the sweeter selections. You also get to keep the glass. If you want to pair your wine with food, they also have a tapas menu.
Outside they have a gazebo with a perfect view of the vineyards, as well as a gift shop. We were off to a good start!
The vineyards at Coronado. Their wines have won dozens of awards in Arizona competitions
Bodega Pierce Winery
Bodega Pierce Winery is located about 15 miles southeaqst of Willcox
The Bodega Pierce Winery is located some 15 miles southeast of Willcox on an unpaved road. Their wines come from grapes grown at their nearby Rolling View Vineyard -- an 80-acre estate with 27 acres used for production. They note, "the name Rolling View Vineyard pays tribute to the Pierce family’s Rolling View Farm in Nebraska...four generations on, the Pierces have continued the agricultural tradition in Southern Arizona."
So much for history -- let's taste the wine!
Again, I mostly sampled the whites and sweeter reds, while Pam embraced the heartier reds. They were all very good, and again, we got to keep the glass.
Next time, we'll set aside at least two days to get around to more wineries, or maybe come at festival time. So much to taste, so little time!
The vineyard and tasting room are located 15 miles southeast of the town of Willcox. 4511 East Robbs Road, Willcox, AZ 85643
Pam waits to taste the next wine
Then It Was Back to Willcox ...
Back in Willcox, it was time to grab something to eat. While restaurant choices were limited in this small town, it was recommended we try Tortilleria Taqueria La Unica on North Haskell Avenue. We are sure glad we did.
What it lacks in eye appeal it more than makes up for in the great food and superior service.
You can sit indoors or out. With the heat index high, we chose in. The portions are large and flavorful, and about as authentic as it gets on this side of the border. When we checked them out on Yelp and TripAdvisor later, we saw most people agree with us -- there were mostly 4-and-5 star reviews.
Be sure and make a stop here part of your visit.
The decor is a little funky, but go for the food!