Wine Touring in the Grand Canyon State

Vast, magnificent and inarguably beautiful, the Grand Canyon is easily Arizona’s most distinguishable landmark. It’s a natural wonder that you simply have to see to believe.

And in recent years, that natural beauty has been complemented by another sight for sore eyes: vineyards.

More about the surprising wines of Arizona in a moment. First, allow us to reintroduce you to the Grand Canyon…

Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest.

You can reach Grand Canyon National Park from main entrances on the South Rim (including the South Rim’s eastern entrance) and the North Rim. The Canyon’s western edge, home to beautiful Havasupai Falls and the town of Supai, also is accessible via roads on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.

At 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep, the Grand Canyon can be an overwhelming sight. To help visitors navigate the canyon, it is divided into two primary areas that each offers a distinct and unique experience and vantage point—the aforementioned South and North Rims.

Due to its proximity to Flagstaff and Williams, the South Rim is the Grand Canyon’s most popular destination—even if Flagstaff was under a winter storm warning overnight (March 18-19, 2012). Home to park headquarters, Grand Canyon Village features the park’s largest collection of services, including hotels and lodges, restaurants, a general store, laundry and shower facilities, a bank with an ATM and a gas/service station.

Grand Canyon Village has a number of parking areas surrounding its various viewpoints, but summer days and weekends are crowded. It’s wise to skip the parking-space race and instead take the park’s free shuttle buses, which operate in multiple loops.

While high elevation and heavy snow keep the North Rim closed during the winter months, this less-traveled area—far away from the crowds of Grand Canyon Village—is a remote, relaxing place to enjoy the beauty of the canyon in relative solitude.

Usually accessible from mid-May to mid-October, the North Rim offers visitors a campground, general store and camper facilities. It’s also home to the historic and rustic Grand Canyon Lodge. Additional campgrounds, lodging options and stores are available in Jacob Lake, around 45 miles north, outside the entrance to the park.

For many years, some considered the Grand Canyon to be the only real reason to visit Arizona. That never has been true, and now, with the addition of dozens of quality-focused wineries, it’s more false than ever.

Although wine has been produced in Arizona since the 1700s by the Spanish missionaries, Arizona’s modern wine era began in 1973 in Sonoita at the southern end of the state. There now are 45 licensed and bonded wineries throughout Arizona.

Arizona’s high desert produces a climate similar to Mendoza, Argentina—hot daytime temperatures cooling off at night, the perfect recipe for a happy grape. Most of Arizona’s vineyards can be found between 4,200 and 5,200 feet above sea level in northern Arizona’s Verde Valley, in Sonoita and Elgin in southern Arizona, and in the greater Willcox region of Cochise County in southeastern Arizona.

The Arizona Wine website provides detailed maps of all three “wine trails,” making it easy to plan a day trip or even a more extensive journey.

But what if you have time to visit only one winery on your way from the airport to the Grand Canyon (or vice versa)? Built on the side of Cleopatra Hill between Prescott and Sedona, Jerome Winery features more than 30 uniquely-handcrafted, individually-distinct wines. There’s bound to be something you’ll like.

Like many vintners, John Michael apprenticed with numerous winemakers in the United States and Europe, picking up bits and pieces from each as he developed his own philosophy and style. And by tending the vines of Jerome Winery himself, he’s able to express that style in each and every bottling, from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, from Pinot Grigio to Zinfandel, and from Muscat to Port-style dessert wines.

You can learn more about the winery—which houses a well-stocked gift shop—at

Jerome has been called “America’s most vertical city,” as well as “the largest ghost town in America.” It formerly was a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents to a roaring community. Four disastrous fires destroyed large sections of the town during its early history, resulting in the incorporation of the City of Jerome in 1899.

Founded in 1876, Jerome was once the fourth largest city in the Arizona Territory. The population peaked at 15,000 in the 1920s. The Depression of the 1930s slowed the mining operation, and the claim went to Phelps Dodge.

World War II brought increased demand for copper, but after the war, demand slowed. Dependent on the copper market, Phelps Dodge Mine closed in 1953.

The remaining 50 to 100 hardy souls then began to promote the town as a historic ghost town. In 1967, Jerome was designated a National Historic District by the federal government.

Today, it’s thriving again—not as a mining town, but as a tourist and artist community with a population of about 450…the perfect place for a winery.

Not to mention another great reason to visit Arizona, which this year is celebrating its centennial. For information on the array of special events and projects that have been planned to mark the occasion, go to

Posted in Our Wine Travel Log
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