Explore The Best Of Arizona's Wine Country On This Scenic Road Trip

Arizona is known for a lot of things. From its spectacular National Parks — including, of course, the iconic Grand Canyon National Park — to its beautiful hidden gem beaches and an abundance of scenic trails, the state is brimming with natural beauty and outdoor adventures that make it well worth a visit. However, there's one additional detail that some travelers tend to inadvertently overlook: the Grand Canyon State's wine scene is pretty impressive.

With a wine-making history that dates back to the 1600s, the truth is that Arizona has nothing to envy from globally-acclaimed wine destinations like Spain and Chile when it comes to locally-produced, high-quality wines. With over 120 wineries and tasting rooms, the state offers a diverse wine experience that you can enjoy on a multi-day road trip.

To make matters even better, you can easily experience all the charm of Arizona's wine country in one scenic road trip that'll take you through the state's American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs — the official term for federally-recognized wine regions. Starting from north to south, Arizona has three specific wine destinations worth visiting: The Verde Valley, Willcox, and Sonoita-Elgin. Rich in history and full of character, each one of these stops offers unique experiences — and unique wines — that make them a must-visit spot for any oenophile.

First stop: The Verde Valley

A region that boasts the perfect conditions for growing varietals like Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon thanks to its volcanic soil and mild winters, the Verde Valley has become a prime wine-producing destination in Arizona. Sometimes nicknamed "Little Napa," it's discoverable on a 19-mile point-to-point road trip that'll take you to three of its main wine hubs: Cottonwood, Cornville, and Jerome. The route itself is pretty easy to follow. Using Cottonwood as a starting point, simply drive along Highway 89A east toward Cornville, make your wine-tasting stops, and then head back west through Cottonwood and toward Jerome for even more local sips.

As for where to stop at each town, there are several notable spots. For starters, in Cottonwood, Alcantara Vineyards is a can't-miss destination that produces wines from 17 different varietals. Then visit Cornville's Page Springs Cellars for a taste of Rhône varietals, including Traminette and Syrah. Lastly, in Jerome, Caduceus Cellars typically steal the spotlight. Specializing in Spanish and Italian varietals — like Graciano and Tempranillo — the award-winning vineyard grows grapes at elevations that range from 3,300 to 4,900 feet. Salud to that!

Travelers who don't have a designated driver will be happy to hear that local tour operators — like the team over at Wine Tours of Sedona — offer private and personalized visits to the Verde Valley's vineyards that include tastings, experiences, and more.

Traveling south to Willcox

Roughly four hours south of Jerome, there's Willcox. Initially considered barren and unpromising, Willcox rose to prominence in the late 1980s and '90s when wine merchants discovered that the area's sandy soil wasn't so useless after all — especially combined with the arid desert climate and high elevation. This discovery eventually led to Willcox's wine renaissance, thanks to conditions that can be easily compared to the ones in Argentina and Southern France. Nowadays, most of Arizona's grapes — 74% of them, to be exact — actually come from Willcox. On top of this, it's also home to some of the state's most highly-rated wines with a whopping 45 snagging between an 88 and 90 score on WineSpectator over the past five years.

Just 86 miles east of Tucson, Willcox is brimming with vineyards, tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops that highlight the town's penchant for some truly spectacular wine. A few notable wineries to visit during your road trip include Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards, established in 2000 and known for its estate-grown and bottled Rhône-style wines; Pillsbury Wine Company, which aims to focus on "food wines" — not cocktail wines; and Bodega Pierce, a family-owned and operated winery that produces bottles made from 18 varietals grown on their estate.

Want to make your visit to Willcox all the more special? Stop by during the third weekend in May or the third weekend in October to partake in the town's bi-annual Wine Festival for some local food, wine, and fiesta.

Wrapping up the trip in Sonoita-Elgin

Continue heading southwest from Willcox and you'll soon arrive — 77 miles later to be exact — in Sonoita. The first officially-recognized AVA in the state, there's no debating that this little region is a top-contender for all things wine and viticulture. With elevations of roughly 4,500 to 5,000 feet, Sonoita is also home to some of the highest vineyards in the country — and, boy, does that pay off. With a handful of vineyards tucked away between the small town and its neighbor, Elgin, the 9-mile wine trail is filled with opportunities to enjoy a glass (or more) at some remarkable joints.

So, where should you visit first? Per locals and experts, there's no better place to sample some of Sonoita's finest work than at Dos Cabezas Wineworks. Operating since 2006 — although originally founded in 1995, in Kansas — the winery's rustic and homey approach make it a favorite — throw in some wood-fired pizzas on the patio and things really can't get much better. Other vineyards worth the pitstop (and potential morning-after hangover) include Callaghan Vineyards, Rune Wines, and Los Milics Vineyards

At the end of the day, however, one thing's for sure: Arizona's wine country is alive and thriving no matter where you choose to start or end your trip. So go ahead and hit the road — and get ready to swirl and sip to your heart's content.