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It’s just a two-hour drive from the bustle of metro Phoenix and Scottsdale to the lush green Verde Valley north of the cities. This is one of three Arizona viticulture regions. With the Verde Valley Wine Trails map in hand, there are 25 Arizona wineries with tasting rooms ready to quench a wine thirst. It’s not Napa, but it is surprisingly scenic and sippable.
Arizona Wine and Its 600-Year History
Those picturing Arizona as a desert will be stunned by the state’s ecological diversity when visiting Arizona wineries in the state’s three wine regions. Officially recognized viticulture regions, Verde Valley, Willcox, and Sonoita, Arizona wine has been capturing international medals of excellence for years now.
The wine industry in the Grand Canyon State dates back to the 1600s when grapes were grown, and wine fermented at the various missions along El Camino Real. Today’s wines are descendants of the many varietals from Europe and California that have taken root in lush regions of the Sonoran Desert and below the edge of the Mogollon Rim.
The Three Viticulture Region Options
If you are not up for a drive, there are tasting rooms in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and other cities with a choice of wine bars. It’s not the same when you’re so close to at least one of the wine regions.
Some wineries, such as Verde Valley’s Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Willcox region’s Aridus Wine Company, have their own Scottsdale tasting room. Wine bars offer selections from many of the best wineries in the state. Old Town Scottsdale tasting rooms and wine bars are scattered on N. Marshall Way, Main St., and the numbered streets in the old town.
Another tasting room option is the local Phoenix area craft breweries, of which there are many, mostly in Phoenix and Tempe.
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Day Tripping Verde Valley Wineries
There are several ways to get to the Verde Valley wine country: driving or the AZ Wine Wagon. The wine wagon offers rides from Scottsdale to the local Sedona Sip N’ See (premiering January 2024) shuttle or to specific wineries and tasting rooms in the Verde Valley. Take a ride-share to and from the bus departure in Scottsdale and have a worry-free wine-tasting experience.
Driving means hopping on Interstate 17 and heading north. If you’re making the trip between late 2023 and mid-2025, plan extra time as major construction is taking place in the median as Arizona widens its only north-south freeway between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Exit either at Exit 287, Arizona Route 260 west (left) to Cottonwood or Exit 293 west (left) to Cornville. Both routes connect, making the looping wine trail. Most wineries open by 11 in the morning, making an 8:30 – 9:00 a.m. departure time from Phoenix the best time to start a full day of wine tasting and meeting the winemaker and staff.
Picking the Best of Verde Valley
With 25 in the Verde Valley, picking just the best wineries is difficult. Most wineries have great wine for tasting or taking a bottle of wine back home.
“This one is blended from our mistakes,” said Valerie, tasting room manager at Pillsbury Wine Company, Cottonwood. “If we blended a cabernet sauvignon with grenache and it didn’t taste perfect, we set aside the blend and try again. Later, we’ll take those barrels and blend them. That makes our red wine Wild Child.”
The wild blending gives a different bouquet and blend to each year’s Child. We were sitting on a comfortable soft in the parlor at Pillsbury’s tasting room, sipping the 2019 blend. It was so good that a bottle of wine was added to the day’s collection.
Arriving in Cornville to start the day of wine tasting, we hit Page Springs Road, rolling north from the village, stopping at its namesake winery, Page Springs Cellars. However, just minutes after 11:00, a long line of thirsty visitors awaited seating at the door. It was a 20- to 30-minute wait when our request for a table for two reached the podium. While shooting photos inside, an amiable server surreptitiously slipped us a sample of the 2019 Colibri Syrah Clone, and we were delighted by the rich, fruity flavor.
“All our Chardonnay wine is unoaked,” said Tom, our server at Oak Creek Vineyards and Winery, just up the road from Page Springs Cellars. We sat under the ramada, enjoying the gourmet charcuterie board of meats and cheeses.
“I’ll try it,” I said. “I am a big fan of the unoaked Chardonnay.”
We made it part of a flight ranging from the Chardonnay and Muscat from the whites to Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, and Malbec from the Reds. That Chardonnay and Malbec made it into the bag as another pair of bottles to take home.
Starting in Cornville was a good choice because the tasting rooms are at the vineyards and wineries. In Cottonwood and up the mountainside in Jerome, there are vineyards and several tasting rooms on and near Arizona Route 89A.
Heading to mile-high Jerome and working back down to Clarkdale and Cottonwood makes for a well-planned tasting trip along the southern loop back to I-17. Caduceus and Merkin Vineyards share a tasting room, with Passion Cellars and Four-Eight Wineworks among the tasting rooms in Jerome within easy walking distance of each other.
We chose to go to the source and sample at vineyards rather than tasting rooms and wine bars.
Pillsbury was the first stop in Cottonwood. Valerie served us a mini-flight of three. We tasted the Pinot Gris, Merlot, and the Wild Child Red.
From there, the trip took us to Alcantara Vineyards. The beautiful setting on the Verde River has a luscious outdoor tasting room and river overlooks, and it’s even possible to rent a kayak for the Verde and paddle the stream for a shoreline tasting.
Skip the Trip and Taste in Town
If a day trip to wine country is not on the agenda, but a hankering for wine tasting is, Old Town Scottsdale has tasting rooms and wine bars with offerings from the Verde Valley, and also Sonoita and Willcox viticulture regions. There’s a wine trail in Phoenix as well.
LDV Winery and Salvatore Vineyards have tasting rooms almost within sight of each other. Carlson Creek Vineyard, a Willcox area winery, is walking distance down the street from Salvatore. Desert Rock Winery and Distillery, by the Scottsdale Airpark and Winery 101 with Southpaw Cellars in Peoria, are a little further off the beaten path. Genuwine is in the center of the Roosevelt Road Arts District, known locally as RoRo.