Wine grapes thrive in the high country southeast of Tucson
One melancholy cow peers over the fence as a knot of wine connoisseurs gaze at the oak-dotted hills and luxuriously swirl their Zinfandels on the porch of Callaghan Vineyards. Inside, vintners Kent and Lisa Callaghan uncork bottles, while their two young daughters race on their scooters and the family dog snoozes next to a case of Back Lot Cuvée.
Welcome to wine country, Arizona style. Only an hour’s drive southeast of Tucson, this land of corrals, sweeping valleys, and emerald vineyards ― the Old West’s answer to Napa Valley ― is centered on the tiny towns of Sonoita and Elgin. On a leisurely drive through the area, you’ll find that ranching still sets the tone here: Bucolic windmills are de rigueur, horses roam in huge fenced pastures, and the old railroad tracks still course through town.
But the area’s cattle now graze alongside ripening grapes, a pastoral mélange dating to 1973, when University of Arizona soil scientist Gordon Dutt (now owner of Sonoita Vineyards) discovered that growing conditions here are nearly identical to those in Burgundy, France.”Cooler temperatures and high elevation make this good wine country,” says Kent Callaghan. “It’s taken some time, but we’re starting to grow true quality wines here.” Callaghan’s label has garnered several international awards, and his Buena Suerte Cuvée was served at the White House.