Wine-tasting tops Willcox weekend ‘to do’ list

Keeling Schaefer tasting room has art gallery atmosphere

I think Willcox, Arizona is my next favorite Arizona town. And before this past weekend, it had been at least 20 years since I was there. And I can’t really say I was in Willcox. What I really mean is: I probably just exited off the interstate at Willcox long enough to gas up and get a quick bite to eat. There’s actually a lot to do and see in and around Willcox and Cochise County: sightseeing at Chiricahua National Monument, Rex Allen Museum and Fort Bowie plus bird-watching, hiking and fruit picking. Add wineries and wine-tasting to the list.

Tasting room at Coronado Vineyards is just four miles northeast of Willcox

Arizona wine is no big secret anymore. Wineries and vineyards have sprung up around the state with southeastern and central Arizona being the most popular locations. Although Arizona wine has been around since the early 1980s, the last six or seven years have seen a surge of vineyards and wineries. It just makes sense the area around Willcox should be prime vineyard country; it’s already known to have the right conditions for a long grocery list of fruits and vegetables. A combination of warm sunny days, chilly nights, with the right elevation and soils also produce ideal conditions for wine grapes. For a brief but concise outline of Arizona wine history, see this page from wineinquirer.com.

The Willcox Bank and Trust building from 1917 is now the Keeling Schaefer tasting room

When creating an Arizona wine tour, you can’t omit Willcox. Most will agree the Verde Valley and Elgin-Sonoita wineries seem more accessible, but Willcox is just a three-hour drive from the Phoenix area, and only an hour and a half from Tucson. Three significant wineries with their corresponding tasting rooms are already in place in Willcox: Coronado Vineyards, Keeling Schaefer Vineyards and Carlson Creek Winery and Vineyard. More are starting up. If you follow Arizona wine news at arizonavinesandwines.com or the Arizona Wine Growers Association website, you know the list gets longer and the numbered dots on each wine map seem to multiply exponentially.

Winegrower John Carlson, left, explains viticulture to visitors

Each one of the three tasting rooms along our tour had its own unique personality. I liked the warm, fun vibe at Coronado Vineyards; the upscale, art gallery, historic storefront at Keeling Schaefer and the impression of innovation and confidence at Carlson Creek. As for the wines – I guess I don’t feel like my palate is sophisticated enough to review the wines, but I know what I like and I prefer the easy drinking reds and the blends, and at each one I found several worth either taking home, or at least, saving as an excuse to return to Willcox soon.

Cozy cottage is home for the Carlson Creek tasting room

So is this Saturday too soon? Coronado Vineyards is hosting its Holiday Extravaganza this Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will have their choice of craft classes including wine bottle painting, decoupage and grape vine wreath-making. Children can create cork crafts while enjoying a visit from Santa Claus. Christmas music will keep everyone in a festive mood from 1 to 3 p.m. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is no charge for entry to the festival. Visit the winery website for more information.

Learn how to use decoupage to decorate wine bottles at Coronado Vineyards' Holiday Extravaganza Saturday

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