Two hours north of Phoenix, Arizona’s Verde Valley is a growing wine destination. Discover why you must explore the Verde Valley wine region.
Twenty years ago, Arizona’s Verde Valley was home to several fledgling wineries, but it wasn’t yet on the map for most oenophiles. Now, it’s an ideal destination for a wine-tasting afternoon or weekend, with more than 25 places—wineries, tasting rooms, and restaurants—to get a taste of terroir from the region and around Arizona.
The Evolving Verde Valley Wine Region
When I visited in the mid-2000s, Page Springs Cellars, founded in 2003 by Eric Glomski, was the only major player. Twisty, scenic North Page Springs Road was home to just a few other small wineries.
The area is much more popular now, boasting beautiful tasting rooms with idyllic picnic areas that have popped up throughout the Verde Valley, and Cottonwood’s walkable main street is a tourist mecca, packed with cute shops, sophisticated restaurants, and a delightful hotel along with a smattering of fun tasting rooms.
It was a joy to see how the area has matured. I hadn’t been back since the late 2000s because I lived in San Francisco for most of the 2010s, and I had just as good or better of a time than at many of the fancy wineries in northern California.
Getting To/From/Around the Verde Valley
The Verde Valley comprises about 10 cities and communities, but I explored in and around Cottonwood with my husband, who was the designated driver for this article. A private car is the best way to go.
It’s roughly two hours from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Old Town Cottonwood, driving up Interstate 17 and SR 260. If you want a quick day trip out of the city, it’s certainly doable, but an overnight stay is recommended.
If you don’t have a DD, companies offer bus tours locally and from Phoenix and Scottsdale.
Where to Stay in the Verde Valley
I was told Cottonwood has some charming roadside motels and B&Bs, but a friend highly recommended the Tavern Hotel, and it couldn’t have been more perfect for us. The modern yet cozy decor, professional and friendly service, and convenient location won my heart.
The hotel is in the heart of Old Town and has ample parking. It’s also across the road from the new Caduceus Cellars/Merkin Vineyards complex—more on that later.
The hotel proprietors also own several local eateries, including the wonderful Crema Craft Kitchen & Bar across the street, and include a coffee and pastry or $5 off breakfast there with your stay.
About the Verde Valley
While the Verde Valley isn’t the biggest wine region in Arizona, with perhaps less than 200 acres of vines, it’s undoubtedly the most popular. Locals swing by en route to Sedona or Flagstaff, and out-of-towners detour to it on the way to see the Grand Canyon.
Stunning vistas and a quaint Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood make the region photo-friendly, and it’s always a little cooler due to the elevation of 3,300 feet or more.
The Verde Valley is also the state’s third and newest American Viticultural Area (AVA) or official grape-growing region; it was designated in November 2021. The other two are Sonoita-Elgin, south of Tucson, and Willcox, east of Tucson.
However, most of the wines are made with grapes from Willcox, which grows nearly 80 percent of the wine grapes in the state. Land costs exponentially more in the Verde Valley, so there’s not enough fruit grown there to supply the greater tourism demand.
Are the Wines Any Good?
Yes. I found wines I’d drink again at every stop and bought a few bottles to take home. Many of the wineries have won medals in various competitions.
That said, Arizona wines have a unique terroir and aren’t going to taste like wines you’ve had from California, Italy, or elsewhere, even when they’re made with the same grapes. Also, the state isn’t known for growing a specific type of grape, like other regions—it grows dozens and does many of them well. Keep an open mind.
Tastings range in price but generally are about $12 to $25 for four or five pours.
Where to Taste Verde Valley Wine
Here are some of Cottonwood’s best places to taste Verde Valley wine.
Alcantara Vineyards and Winery
Over a two-day trip, my first stop was Alcantara Vineyards and Winery, just off SR 260. I was smitten with the bucolic setting in the vineyards and the expansive patio where you’ll see any number of 15 rescue cats roaming around. It’s dog-friendly, too, as long as they’re on a leash.
This is one of the few places where all the wines are from the Verde Valley: Owner Ron Brumley grows 17 varieties of grapes on 15 acres of the 87 he owns. All the wines are natural, made with native yeast collected from the property. And they’re solid; I particularly liked the cabernet franc.
Alcantara also hosts hay rides, horseback, e-bike, and Jeep tours of the vineyard, and kayaking and tubing—the confluence of the Verde River and Oak Creek is on the property. I’ll be back when I can spend a few hours or even a day here.
Southwest Wine Center
From Alcantara, we drove north of Cottonwood to the Yavapai College’s Southwest Wine Center in nearby Clarkdale. Students make about 3,000 cases yearly from the 13-acre plot of vines nearby.
Opened in 2014, the center was transformed from a racquetball court to a winemaking facility and tasting room with a generous donation from winemaker and rockstar Maynard James Keenan, a significant player in the Verde Valley.
Note: Reservations are required if you want to try a flight and hours are limited, so plan ahead. Walk-ins are welcome to buy a glass or bottle and sit on the patio.
Some of the wines here were too acidic for me, but I enjoyed the 2019 Illumination, a blend of grenache, carignan, and tannat.
Pillsbury Wine Company
Heading back into Cottonwood, we stopped at Pillsbury Wine Company, which uses grapes only from its estate vineyards in Willcox fermented with wild yeast.
In the early 2000s, Sam Pillsbury was an early champion of Rhône blends—grenache, syrah, and mouvedre—and to this day produces a “Roan Red” that’s been a favorite of mine from the start. I love the delicate cherry, cranberry, and raspberry notes. His aromatic, floral, fruit-forward whites are also delightful, as is the flagship Diva, a sumptuous blend of syrah and Mourvedre.
In 2022, the tasting room moved from Old Town into a house built in 1918 just off of 89A so they could have more room and offer food. Like the winemaker himself, the space is quirky and laid-back; it’s full of art and has a main bar and four separate eclectically decorated rooms.
After Pillsbury, we parked at the hotel and walked to Arizona Stronghold. However, the employees seemed rushed and recited information by rote, so I feigned illness and left.
We decamped to another Old Town tasting room, Tantrum Wines, where the sapphire-blue velour tufted loveseats, gold easy chairs, pink flamingos, and other glam touches would make it a must-see even if the wine and service weren’t lovely, which they are.
Winemaker Brighid McLoughlin creates approachable, feminine wines not unlike the surroundings. If you like soft, fruity wines, you’ll find them here. Our favorite was a pinotage (commonly grown in South Africa) with notes of blackberry, violet, and earth.
Page Springs Cellars
Page Springs Cellars should be on every Verde Valley tasting itinerary because the wines are delicious, and the facility overlooking Oak Creek and the vineyards is spectacular.
Pro tip: Get there when it opens, like we did, because it gets zany on weekends.
They offer several flights—reds, combo, reserve, etc. I chose the red flight that included their full-bodied, fruity flagship El Serrano blend and a few syrahs that showed rich, dark fruit and slight astringency.
This is another location where I want to come back, buy a bottle and a picnic, and stay the day to do bird watching and nature walks; I might even splurge on a creekside massage.
Four 8 Wineworks
Keenan of Caduceus and Merkin fame (as well as being the singer for Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer) initially founded Four 8 Wineworks as an incubator for up-and-coming winemakers.
Its tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood has a small but delectable selection of well-made, mid-priced wines and small bites, including truffle salt popcorn that pairs remarkably well with the wines. The 100% malvasia bianca stood out, with gooseberry on the nose and a ripe fruit finish.
On our way home from Flagstaff a few days later, we detoured to Clarkdale for a tasting at Chateau Tumbleweed, which got its start at Four 8.
This was one of my favorite stops of the trip, thanks to the friendly hospitality and the quality of the wines. We bought the Willy with bright cherry notes, and I also liked Dr. Ron Bot, a Rhône-style blend with earth and elegant fruit.
If you make one stop in Old Town Cottonwood, make it Merkin Vineyards. When I was there, Merkin Osteria on Main Street was still in operation. Now, as of October 2023, a larger hilltop facility is open with a moniker that’s a mouthful: Caduceus Cellars Hilltop Facility & VSC Ventura Room and Merkin Vineyards Hilltop Winery & Trattoria.
The new place includes a winery and cellar, tasting room, restaurant, retail space, food production greenhouse, gelateria, and a vineyard smack dab in historic Old Town Cottonwood across the street from the Tavern Hotel. The views are going to be amazing, too.
Keenan and his wife, Jen, own over 40 acres of estate vineyards in the Verde Valley and about 67 in Willcox. I have no doubt this new venture of theirs will make the area an even bigger draw.
All of the Merkin samples I tried were delicious, but the Chupacabra stood out for its luscious dark berry and violet notes, along with a candy-like finish. In addition, Merkin is a must because, hands-down, it has the best food in town.
Where to Eat in the Verde Valley
I highly recommend having a big breakfast before tasting, and Crema Craft Kitchen & Bar filled us up with delectable pork chilaquiles, a hearty breakfast burrito, and an addictive cinnamon roll. But if you get peckish during the day, most of the tasting rooms at least sell snacks or charcuterie and cheese boards—a big advantage over the wineries in California, which generally aren’t allowed to serve food.
For lunch or dinner, do not miss dining at Keenan’s new restaurant on the hilltop, which will be called Merkin Trattoria. Our lunch at Merkin Osteria, a scratch kitchen that uses fresh produce grown by Keenan’s father and other local farmers, was the best meal of the trip. A plate of peach bruschetta with basil and mascarpone was exquisite, and Chef Chris Smith’s homemade pasta was out of this world.
I can’t wait to see what Smith does at the new facility. He says he’ll have a similar lineup with wood-fired pizzas and fried appetizers such as arancini and calamari. But honestly, if he just served me their bread with butter whipped with red wine and thyme and nothing else, I’d be happy.
Another favorite, surprisingly, was Badass Hot Dogs, behind the Main Stage live music venue on 89A. The gourmet all-beef dogs with freshly baked buns come with an extensive lineup of toppings, from the classic Chicago dog to a Bandito with chili, cheese, onion, and mustard.
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- Downtown Prescott, AZ: Dining, Sipping, and Wandering
Final Words on Verde Valley Wine Tasting
Anytime is a good time to visit as long as you take a coat in the winter and don’t plan to picnic in the summer when it can be over 100°F. Also, take a cooler to store any bottles you buy if the temperature is above 70F.
Verde Valley tasting rooms warmly welcome children, so it’s okay to take the family. Dogs are also widely accepted but only on the patio at some places, so call or email ahead to make sure.
And don’t be afraid to stop on a whim if someplace looks intriguing. Many of my favorite wine discoveries have been made this way.
Finally, the Verde Valley Wine Trail map is outdated, and things are constantly in flux, so visit winery and tasting room websites for the most up-to-date information. The area has seen explosive growth over the past two decades, and thanks to visionary winemakers and businesspeople, it should continue to develop as an attraction for Arizona residents and visitors. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more of our favorite winery visits and other things to do when you visit Arizona.