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Sipping Down in Sonoita

By Heidi Jaenicke

Embarking on a weekend getaway can easily be accomplished in the town of Sonoita, Arizona, thanks to their down-to-earth locals and quality wine.

What originally sparked my interest in visiting this little town was my curiosity to find out what distinguishes Sonoita wine from other wine brands sold at local grocery stores. I was also fascinated in learning why there’s such a price margin in comparison to local Arizona wine versus the mass outsourced wine brands such as those sold in Napa Valley. In order to satisfy my curiosity, I drove to Sonoita and prepared myself for what I hoped to be a relaxing and informative afternoon.

Traveling from Tucson to Sonoita via car I noticed a refreshing change in landscape as the dry desert was transformed into lush rolling hills still green from recent summer storms. Located only 60 minutes southeast of Tucson, it wasn’t long before I passed the “Welcome to Sonoita” sign alerting me of my upcoming destination.

 Unsure of the exact winery I was going to try out first, I continued driving until I found the Kief Joshua Winery. Once I stepped through the front doors of the main entrance I was greeted by the owner of the winery himself, Kief Joshua. Informative, warm, and welcoming all described Kief. His tranquil demeanor paired well with the cozy atmosphere of his vineyard and I feel incredibly fortunate that my first wine tasting experience was at this location. What especially pleased me about Kief’s personality was how explanatory and helpful he was in assisting me with wine tasting.

What about his wine? After sampling six different varieties, I was generally impressed by his range of wines. The Tempranillo is absolutely spectacular; I enjoyed the complexity in depth of flavor without it being overly dry and it left me craving for more. A few, though, were too dry for my palate to enjoy.  

But it wasn’t just the delectable Tempranillo that impacted my positive impression of this winery. Besides selling wine, Kief also has an omelet bar on Sunday afternoons, a selection of southwestern inspired dips, and quirky souvenirs available inside his wine tasting room. All of these elements created a cozy environment and left me a feeling very satisfied.

The next winery I went to was The Village of Elgin Winery which was the least aesthetically pleasing vineyard I visited on my trip. If it wasn’t for the large sign positioned on the corner of the road in front of the vineyard, I probably would’ve just passed this location thinking it was an abandoned barn. While the appearance of this winery was anything but breathtaking, I found what this family run business lacked in beauty, they made up for in the superiority of their wine.

Of all the wineries I went to, Elgin had the largest variety of wine selections and the most versatility in their tastings as they let the customer run the show. This style of wine tasting made me realize that a vineyard doesn’t have to have top notch architecture to produce quality wine.

Tasting their wine was exceptionally pleasurable as they had a vast selection of options for me to choose from. Their Andrew White Port was definitely my favorite pick. This wine enticed my sweet tooth without overwhelming my taste buds with too much sugar. I would suspect this wine would go well with seafood or as a dessert wine after a light meal.

Along with having such a sincere and delightful staff, The Village of Elgin Winery offers a respectable discount for all current and former military service men and women. Similar to Kief’s, I noticed there were numerous eccentric goodies available for purchase ranging from magnets, wine holders, and cutting boards to t-shirts.

The staff working at Elgin particularly won me over as they were quick witted and animated in their conversations with all of the customers who visited. I especially loved the remark from one of the employees on the difference between Sonoita and Napa Valley grapes saying, “Napa makes auto parts, Sonoita makes wine.”

With such a delightful first experience at both Kief and Elgin winery, I decided I truly adored the town of Sonoita and had enough time left in the day to squeeze in one more pit-stop.

For my final destination I visited Sonoita Vineyards; the oldest and first winery in the state of Arizona. The rich history, extremely knowledgeable staff, spacious indoors, and incredible outdoor views all made me fall in love with this location. The homey feeling this winery was incomparable to any of the other vineyards I visited and made all the guests overly outgoing. It was either that or we were all beginning to feel the alcohol kick in!  Another feature I enjoyed about this location was their simplistic tasting menus which offer guests a selection of two delectable wine tastings, one being white and the other being red.

Their Arizona Sangiovese wine was my favorite, leaving an impressionable mark on my palate. The zesty tang of this wine made me wanting to have multiple glasses of this delicious and refreshing beverage.  While a bit off the beaten path, this winery is the location I recommend the most.

Out of all the wineries in the Sonoita area I find it ironic that the three I randomly chose to visit happened to be the only three wineries that are open daily. This gives you even more of an incentive to visit Kief Joshua, The Village of Elgin and/or Sonoita Vineyards on your next trip.

Initially I never thought that a quaint town in Arizona could ever compare to the infamous grapes grown in California, but after traveling there I’m happy to say I was wrong. Even if you’re not a wine enthusiast, the laid back environment of Sonoita has enough charm to win over anyone who happens to be visiting the area.

The personality of each individual winemaker shines through every sip you’ll taste when sampling Sonoita wine, making it a beverage worth trying, though you should be prepared to pay more for wine that’s been produced in smaller and more sustainable quantities. All in all, I’ve decided that Arizona wine has something that those inexpensive mass produced wines in the grocery store don’t have; Arizona wine has character and that’s something worth toasting about.


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Reference Information

Kief-Joshua Vineyards are located at 370 Elgin Road, Elgin, Arizona 85611for more information contact (520) 455-5582 or visit their website at http://kiefjoshuavineyards.com/default.asp

The Village of Elgin Winery is located at HC1 Box 47, 471 Elgin Road, Elgin, AZ 85611 for more information contact 520-455-9309 or visit their website at http://www.elginwines.com/

Sonoita Vineyards are located at 290 Elgin-Canelo Road, Elgin, AZ 85611 for more information contact at (520) 455-5893 or visit their website at http://www.sonoitavineyards.com/

To know even more about Sonoita Wines visit: http://www.arizonawine.org/sonoitaWineTrail.html

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