Carlson Creek
Carlson Creek

In the early 1900s, Willcox, which is located less than three hours from the Valley, was the largest beef-producing town in America. In fact, it was widely known as the “Cattle Capital of the West.”

Fast-forward more than 100 years, and Willcox is still known for its agriculture – albeit in a VERY different way!

Less than two years ago, Willcox Wine Country, a consortium of Arizona Farm Wineries located in southeastern Arizona, was federally recognized as a unique and distinctive wine growing region in the United States. The Willcox area leads the industry’s grape production by growing nearly three-fourths of the state’s wine grapes, and is the source of the most highly rated Arizona wines by Wine Spectator, with 45 wines rated 88-90 over the past five years.

Many of the wineries have been opening their doors as of late, launching funky and fun tasting rooms near each other, both in town and in the vineyards themselves. It’s worth the trip to check them all out. Here are some highlights:

Keeling Schaefer Vineyards

Open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the owners and winemakers are usually always on hand pouring their wines, including their limited releases. They actually share a glass program with Carlson Creek, Coronado, Pillsbury, Passion Cellars, Flying Leap, Aridus, Golden Rule, Bodega Pierce and Zarpara wineries, where a tasting is just $5 if you bring in one of their wine glasses. The area around the tasting room features abundant wildlife and rare birds. Wine recommendation: Syrah Cochise County Three Sisters 2007.

www.keelingschaefervineyards.com

Carlson Creek

Now celebrating its 10th year, Carlson Creek Vineyard is one of the largest vineyards in the state with 280 acres located in Willcox, just down the road from their original tasting room along the Willcox Wine Trail in the historic town center. Set behind a white picket fence, the Carlson family’s tasting room features comfortable, inviting indoor and outdoor seating. Their vineyard produces a variety of award-winning wines, including everything from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Grenache Rosé to Syrah, Malbec, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also have a tasting room in Scottsdale. Wine recommendation: Rule of Three.

www.carlsoncreek.com

Pillsbury Wine Co.

Now, there is a fabulous Pillsbury tasting room located in northern Arizona – in Cottonwood – but the actual vineyards, and a more intimate tasting room, are down south in Cochise County. Though only open on the weekends, the trip to taste is worth it. It is a rustic property with a toasty fire burning in a Franklin stove on colder days. They encourage guests to bring a picnic lunch to pair with their wines, and have tables and chairs scattered under the lovely pine and pecan trees on-site, all in full view of the actual vineyard with picturesque mountain views as well. Wine recommendation: Guns & Kisses. www.pillsburywine.com

Additional area wineries include Aridus, Bodega Pierce, Coronado, Golden Rule and Zarpara Vineyard.

The 9th Willcox Wine Country Spring Festival and Benefit Dinner is returning on Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20, 2018 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located at the historic Railroad Park, just steps from the Willcox Wine Trail and local vineyards, the festival will feature over 15 Willcox-based wineries pouring their award-winning wines, a pop-up street bistro featuring Tucson-based Dante’s Fire, top music acts hailing from Phoenix and Tucson and over 45 local artists, farmers and other purveyors, including locally grown pistachios, pecans and other specialty foods. Pre-sale tickets for the two-day festival are available at willcoxwinecountry.org for $15, which includes a wine glass and six tasting tickets, or $20 which includes a wine glass and 10 tasting tickets. Tickets may also be purchased at entry.

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