This post is by Heather Lauer of Villageous.
Tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona is one of our state’s greatest and most under appreciated gems. Cooler temperatures, stunning high desert scenery, abundant wildlife, borderland culture, and, of course, award winning wines are just a few of the many reasons why Arizonans should put Sonoita wine country on their short list of places to visit for a weekend.
Here are five special facts about the Sonoita-Patagonia region that were revealed to adventure seekers during a recent visit as part of an Explore Arizona weekend with Local First Arizona.
The Sonoita AVA is Arizona’s first (and only) officially designated American Viticultural Area. Designated in 1985, the Sonoita AVA sits at 4,900 feet making these vineyards some of the highest in North America. Warm days and cool nights are just as attractive to visitors as the grapes growing in the region which are producing wines that are increasingly recognized by some of the industry’s most respected critics. Most recently, Dos Cabezas co-owners Kelly and Todd Bostock were named among the Winemakers to Watch for 2015 by the San Francisco Chronicle. And Callaghan Vineyards wines have been served at the White House on multiple occasions and Robert Parker describes it as “one of the most interesting wineries in America.” The region features more than a dozen wineries to keep your tastebuds fulfilled.
Santa Cruz County is an internationally renowned wildlife viewing area. It’s kind of amazing that more Arizonans aren’t familiar with this region because people from all over the world flock here for what is considered to be some of the best bird watching in the world. Patagonia Lake State Park, Audobon Society’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve are just a few of the places in the area frequented by bird enthusiasts. While driving between Sonoita and Patagonia, we saw a hawk flying above us carrying a snake. That was pretty awesome. If birds aren’t your thing, be on the lookout for deer, javelina (I’ve seen them in the center of Patagonia before!), mountain lions, bobcats, coatimundi, and many other native species.
It may be Cowboy Country, but the culinary scene has more to offer than just steaks and potatoes. Although if steaks and potatoes are your thing, there are great options to choose from! But during our weekend, we were treated to Southwestern cuisine at The Cafe in Sonoita, a hearty breakfast on the lovely patio at the Vineyard Cafe, the delicious and unique pizzas at Velvet Elvis in Patagonia, and a dinner catered by Bisbee’s Cafe Roka in the newly remodeled Dos Cabezas guest house (which is available to rent on Airbnb). There wasn’t a single point during the trip when we were hungry!
When you need a break from wine tastings and culinary adventures, enjoy the great outdoors. The surrounding Coronado National Forest has many opportunities for biking, hiking and fishing. And it’s a short drive to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area where there are more opportunities for bird watching along with hiking, fishing, biking, and visiting historic sites. If native foods are of interest to you, sign up for a workshop at Native Seeds/SEARCH in Patagonia where they are dedicated to conserving agro-biodiversity in the Southwest. Also, did you know Sonoita has also been the setting for Hollywood hits? Take a tour of the historic Empire Ranch where A Star is Born, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, the original 3:10 to Yuma and several other famous movies were filmed during the 20th Century.
It’s a respite from the desert heat. Because of Sonoita's elevation, the average high in June and July hovers around 90 degrees, and at night temperatures dip to the 60s. THAT alone is reason enough to hop in the car for a mid-summer weekend escape. For accommodations, stay at the Sonoita Inn. Its central location within walking distance to restaurants - as well as a short drive to several wineries and many other regional activities - makes it a great jumping off point for a weekend of adventures.