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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Verde Valley Vino

By Alison Bailin Batz

While Southern Arizona has boasted two nationally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoita and Willcox for years, it was only in 2021 that Verde Valley was named the first-ever AVA in Northern Arizona. The designation affirms what locals and travelers alike have known for years: Verde Valley is a wine country on the rise. 

Here is a look at where to sniff, swirl, and sip across the vineyard-kissed region this spring. 


Essentially halfway between Prescott and Sedona, Cottonwood is a walkable wonderland for adults and the perfect respite from the daily grind, especially for those who love culinary delights along with their wine. The perfect weekend away in Cottonwood starts with brunch on the patio at Crema Craft Kitchen. Once fueled up, it is time to get to wine tasting. 

There are nearly a dozen tasting rooms (and a few breweries) along and just off of Cottonwood’s cozy Main Street. The first is Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, which  –  while located in northern Arizona  –  uses many grapes sourced from the Southern Arizona AVAs. The folks at Arizona Stronghold are particularly adept at Grenache and Syrah, but the best bet is to try a flight of reds and whites to sample a little of everything. When visiting, take time to enjoy the garden patio, as well as a glass of Stronghold’s sister brand, Provisioner, which is also available at the tasting room. 

Next there is Carlson Creek Vineyards, which is approximately 30 steps from Stronghold. The name may already be familiar, as the family-owned winemaking operation also has a tasting room in Scottsdale. However, the barrel-covered space up north is something out of an adult storybook. The family’s story of success is as delicious as the wines themselves:  the family released just four varietals in 2009 and has since grown to 320 contiguous acres producing 13 different grape varieties. Carlson Creek now produces 20 different types of wine. 

Nearly next door is Tantrum Wines – a slightly lesser-known label for those who aren’t regular visitors to the region. From the outside, Tantrum seems small and unassuming. However, it is the most photogenic of the tasting rooms in the area. If you or your tasting mates love to chronicle your adventures on social media, definitely carve out time for it. Inside, expect a bright, quirky space with flamingos, art installations, a fake fireplace, and plush living room furniture that is intentionally feminine – a characteristic that is front and center in everything winemaker Brighid McLoughlin does. Here, opt to pay the optional fee to pair chocolates with several of the wines. 

Hungry again? Have no fear, as just across the street from Carlson and Tantrum is both a pasta paradise and tasting room in Merkin Vineyards Osteria. Founded by Maynard James Keenan, best known as the frontman of the band Tool but becoming recognized for his skill at winemaking in more recent years, he uses fruit exclusively from his 110 acres of estate vineyards in both the Verde Valley and Wilcox. Joining them along Main Street is Burning Tree Cellars, where you can sample bottles from boutique, small batch vineyards you’d never find in a grocery or liquor store. Then there is also Winery 101, which features wines from the husband-and-wife winemaker owners, and Pillsbury Wine Company, which for years was on Main Street but recently moved to a larger refurbished home about a mile away. The new locale allows the brand to offer food and wine pairings. 

After a day of drinks and games, a luxury stay on Main Street overnight is possible thanks to the Tavern Hotel. Nearly 100 years ago, the building where the Tavern sits was the town’s grocery store and main gathering place. Today it remains the centerpiece of the town, only now as a fully realized European-style boutique hotel with 41 rooms and suites, a fitness center, and pool pavilion. 


Located about six miles from Cottonwood and accessible via a paved road up Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is at an elevation of just over 5,000 feet, offering not only cooler weather but sweeping views of the surrounding Verde Valley and Sedona Red Rocks. Several historic buildings are still standing, many of which have been modernized and refurbished to welcome guests. Among them is The Clinkscale, which was first built as a mercantile in the 1800s and gained notoriety in the 1900s as the first store to sell Levi’s west of the Mississippi. Lovingly restored and reopened in 2020 as a hotel and restaurant of the same name, the property gives a nod to the past with exposed brick, hardwood floors, and brown leather and steel accents, yet it is ultra-modern in its furnishings, technology, and creature comforts. 

History is on proud display throughout the entire city thanks to a bevy of other attractions, notably the Jerome State Historic Park, Audrey Headframe Park, and the Mine Museum. Another way in which history comes to life in Jerome is through its wineries. While not the rough-and-tumble saloons of yesteryear, those who wish to imbibe may do so at one or more of the area’s many tasting rooms, including Cabal Cellars, Passion Cellars, and Caduceus Cellars. 

Like Merkin, Caduceus is also the brainchild of Keenan, and each of the five blocks of vineyards where it sources its fruit are located in Northern Arizona, some directly in Jerome. 

Page Springs/Cornville

Approximately 20 minutes from Cottonwood and Jerome sits a region called Cornville, though as its popularity as a wine drinking destination grows, it is more commonly called Page Springs. This region has a bevy of full-scale vineyard operations that are a short drive from each other. Alcantara Vineyards is a good first stop. This family-owned vineyard focused on sustainable farming  offers nearly 20 varietals for tasting and purchase, along with antipasto, cheese, and sweets. The gorgeous property not only boasts a massive deck overlooking the Verde River and its vines, but also features kayak tours before tasting. About 10 minutes from Alcantara is one of the vineyards that helped put Arizona on the viticulture map – Page Springs Cellars. This winery and vineyard tucked into the volcanic landscape overlooking pristine Oak Creek Canyon produces Rhone-style wines, working primarily with Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Mourvedre grapes. At certain times of the year, they also offer massages in the vineyard, along with yoga programs and more.

Just half a mile from Page Springs is Javelina Leap, which makes about 3,000 cases of estate-grown wine each year and is across the street from both a bird sanctuary (tip: bring your binoculars) and the State Fish Hatchery. They also have a true French-style traditional methode champenoise rosé, the first of its kind in Arizona thanks to second generation winemaker and estate enologist Lucas Reed. Hidden behind the main tasting room space is an insanely good bistro, so getting small bites to pair with your tasting is a must here, along with the chocolate truffles. 

Other spots not to be missed: D.A. Ranch, which has ample land and offers full-day itineraries of idyllic tastings, and Oak Creek Vineyards, a dog-friendly, rustic vineyard with welcoming picnic tables and a big, bold interior tasting room. 


Finally, less than 30 minutes west of Javelina is the Southwest Wine Center, which is home to Yavapai College’s Viticulture and Enology program. A full-scale winery and farm, the Southwest Wine Center features a 13-acre teaching vineyard where students of all ages take part in the ultimate hands-on approach to learning. Nestled into the vineyard is an opulent tasting room and patio, where wine tastings are available Saturday and Sunday by reservation. 

While not within walking distance, there are three primary tasting rooms very close to the Wine Center in Clarkdale as well: Cove Mesa, Bodega Pierce, and Chateau Tumbleweed. 

For more information on the Verde Valley Wine Trail, visit www.vvwinetrail.com. Read about the rest of our beautiful state on our Travel page!


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