This Southwestern Destination Is A Great Spot For A Winter Wine Vacation

Smack dab in the middle of Arizona, the Verde Valley is a 220-square-mile fertile oasis in the high desert. The valley's greenness comes from its many trees and shrubs, which thrive in the valley's microclimate and are watered by the Verde River — "Arizona's only wild and scenic river," as noted by Visit Sedona. When entering the valley from the surrounding desert, the sight of majestic cottonwoods and sycamores sprouting out of the barren landscape is a welcome surprise. But what may come as even more of a surprise is that the valley has thriving vineyards, too. 

Viticulture in central Arizona dates back to the 1800s when European settlers began making wine to quench the thirst of the area's local miners. The fledgling industry withered during prohibition but enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s. Today, the Verde Valley is a designated American Viticulture Area, or AVA, boasting 136 acres of wine grapes and more than 40 grape varieties. Given its stunning scenery, fascinating history, and exquisite wines, the valley is a superb destination any time of year. But with ample sunshine and daytime temperatures in the 60s from December through March, it's truly a prime spot for a winter wine getaway. 

Verde Valley wine scene

With 19 wineries and over 25 tasting rooms, the Verde Valley boasts a plethora of wine-tasting experiences. At local establishments, visitors can sample popular wines such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and Syrah along with lesser-known ones such as Malvasia Bianca, Seyval blanc, picpoul blanc, and Tannat (and the list goes on). Downloadable maps are available to help visitors locate the Verde Valley Wine Trail venues, which are dispersed throughout the towns of Cottonwood, Cornville, Clarkdale, Jerome, and Sedona. 

Each Verde Valley winery has its own personality and unique twist on Arizona wine. The funky and relaxed Chateau Tumbleweed offers up to a dozen wines on its daily sampling menu. Visitors can enjoy wine and charcuterie on the outdoor patio, with panoramic views of the valley. Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery, named after the small but bold desert javelina, offers wines that are "not only pure varietal wines, but also a pure expression of the Arizona terroir," according to its website. Its tasting room, which resembles an Old Western saloon, is "the largest wine tasting bar in northern Arizona."

When touring the wineries on your own, call beforehand to confirm operating hours and make sure to arrange for a designated driver. Better yet, sign up for a tour where somebody else does the driving, like the Sedona Driver. Another unique aspect of the Verde Valley is that its wine pairs quite nicely with outdoor adventure. In tours like Water to Wine, you can spend the morning kayaking the Verde River and slide seamlessly into wine tasting and delicious food in the afternoon.

Pair your wine with other activities in Verde Valley

If you prefer your adventure separate from your wine, that can be arranged, too. There are countless opportunities for outdoor adventures in gorgeous central Arizona. It does snow in these parts sometimes, but many hikes and walks are accessible in all but the most extreme winter weather conditions. Dead Horse Ranch State Park is only a 10-minute drive from Cottonwood and offers a variety of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails with amazing views of the Verde Valley.

Nearby Sedona is a hiker's paradise, with a mind-boggling array of walks — many of which bring stunning views of its ethereal red rock formations. For more leisurely activities in Sedona, check out its vibrant art and culture scene or visit one of its world-class spas. From rattlesnakes to pure decadence, the Verde Valley has it all. 

While visiting the valley, it's also highly recommended to learn about the Native American people who lived here for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers. To do so, visit the awe-inducing Montezuma Castle, a 20-room high-rise apartment built into the side of a limestone cliff, where indigenous people lived until around 1400 C.E. when they abandoned the castle for unknown reasons. While Verde Valley's wine may tingle your palate, Montezuma Castle is a place that will stir your imagination. If you can have both, why not?