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Monday, December 4, 2023

A Transformative Water To Wine Experience In The Verde Valley

A few months ago, a very persistent Facebook ad for a Water to Wine Experience caught my eye. Take a kayak trip down the Verde River and enjoy a visit to the Alcantara Vineyards in Cottonwood, the ad beckoned. River floating and wine? Sounded like the perfect ingredients for a girls’ trip to me. And when my friend offered to host our tribe of five at her Flagstaff home, all we had to do was pick a date and book our trip. Lucky for us, the mid-May date that worked best coincided with Zinfest, a wine festival taking place at Alcantara. Fate had a great weekend in store.

The morning of our adventure, we put on our swimsuits and river attire, grabbed our sun hats, and threw our duffels in the car to head up north. Our outing was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but we got to Alcantara early and the guides offered to take the five of us before the rest of the scheduled group arrived. We parked in the Alcantara lot, used the facilities at the winery, and enjoyed a brief chat with the winemaker, then took a short, bumpy shuttle van ride over to the launch point. There, we strapped on life jackets, chose our inflatable kayaks, and shoved off into the murky waters of the Verde River. Alcantara is located at the confluence of the Verde River and Oak Creek. The Verde is a  refreshing oasis in a brown and dry setting. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Verde River is one of Arizona’s only two Wild and Scenic Rivers, a special designation bestowed upon it for the river’s scenery and abundant fish and wildlife. The Verde habitat supports more than 50 threatened or endangered fish and wildlife species.

As we paddled into the oasis, we felt immediately embraced by the cool green tree-lined banks of the river, teeming with bird life—happy to be escaping the heat of the Valley and feeling the cool breeze along with the droplets that splashed off our paddles as we made our way down the river. More than once we spotted leaping fish who seemed just as happy to be there as we were. For those who are afraid of crazy rapids or falling in the river, I assure you, this is a relaxing but fun river float.

It took us about an hour and a half to complete the trip back to the vineyard—a much-needed Zen experience where I quickly learned to let go and let the river do its thing, literally going with the flow. Mini rapids called “riffles” livened things up every now and then, with most of the kayak trip providing plenty of float time to relax, chat, and laugh. We didn’t see a single other person on the river, which was just fine with us.

Back at Alcantara, guides met us at the beach to collect our life jackets and direct us to the wine. We walked up the hill to our cars, and did a little parking lot switcheroo, stripping off pants and shirts, and throwing on sundresses over our swimsuits.

Zinfest was just getting started, and since we had pre-paid for our festival tickets, we collected our wine glasses, T-shirts, posters, and food and drink tickets. If you’re going on a regular non-festival day, your Water to Wine experience will include a credit to use toward food or wine at Alcantara.

The family-owned winery was started in 2004, and while the dusty dry setting made us scratch our heads at how someone would think to plant a vineyard here, Alcantara wine maker Ron Brumley says the rocky limestone soil and sunny climate in the Verde Valley is quite similar to the wine-making regions of France and Italy.

Alcantara has over 20,000 vines and offers 17 different varietals, which can be enjoyed at the Tuscan-style winery on the grounds of their grassy picnic area. There was talk of a hotel being built on the property in the future, but no timeline has been set.

We soaked up the vibes on the beautiful grounds of the vineyard as we lunched, sipped Zin, and listen to live music from “Scott from Prescott.”

Wind in the aspen, flowing wine, and laughing with friends made the hours zip by. We then headed up to Flagstaff for the evening, ordered Thai takeout for dinner, and crashed for the night.

On Sunday, we did a little forest bathing on a morning hike, then grabbed lunch in charming Flagstaff on the patio of Tourist Home before making our way back to the Valley. You could easily do the Water to Wine as a day trip. Or if you want to make it a weekend, Flagstaff or Sedona are both easy drives from Cottonwood. Just plan ahead, because if this summer is anything like summer 2021, places get booked in advance.


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