Early in the new year, The Scientist suggested we go to Arizona for spring recess. We’ve got good friends in Phoenix (we traveled to New Mexico with them in October 2010, en route Taos for me to attend Michele Cassou’s Point Zero Master Class in process painting) and I have family there, too. A “kinda sorta” seat sale appeared and we got two tickets and planned an easy itinerary, a few days in the ranchlands and vineyards of southeastern Arizona, then rendezvous-ing with our friends to head north to the vineyards of Jerome and Sedona’s red rocks.
For the past two days we’ve ambled in the Sonoita-Elgin region, traipsing across the miles of its mesquite and cactus covered valley surrounded by nine mountain ranges. While nothing like the rugged Dolomites, Apennines, and Rockies that I’ve traveled through this past year, there were some snow-capped domes off in the distance, despite the shimmering waves of heat. I first visited this area two years ago in May to attend a family wedding. Then, the cactus bloomed all the way south from Phoenix, shots of saffron, orange, fuchsia, and white striking against the terracotta mountain ranges and sand coloured desert. The equivalent of timing a Banff or Jasper hike to catch the colour explosion of mountain meadow wildflowers. Then, too, I knew the Scientist would love these wide open vistas, dotted with grazing cattle and quarter horses, adobe homes and, yes, vineyards!
Sonoita-Elgin is one of Arizona’s three wine regions, with Sonoita Vineyards, the beautifully situated hillside site of that lovely May family wedding, being Arizona’s oldest existing winery, established in 1983. Dr. Gordon Dutt, the vineyard’s owner and founder, was a retired soil scientist from University of Arizona who, in 1973, experimented with vines planted in the region’s red, acidic soils and produced quality wines. Right now as I’m writing, I’m sipping a chilled white Riesling-like Conchise County Columbard that we purchased during yesterday’s wine tasting.
As the original turn-of-the-century (20th) cowboy ranch house B&B that I’d stayed in with my extended family during the wedding weekend (the perfect setting for our reunion) was no longer open for guests, we’re bedding down in Sierra Vista, a small city close to the Mexican border and within easy driving distance to our daily jaunts.
Today, to the quaint town of Patagonia, few miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border town of Nogales, and its nearby lake where we ate our picnic lunch, sipped a favourite Ravenswood zin (first tasted at their vineyard in Sonoma many years back, again al fresco with our picnic lunch) and spent a soft and lazy afternoon under the shade listening to dove songs, and watching the blue heron in the rushes, every now and then cooled by a sudden breeze blowing across the lake.
Tomorrow we’ll head east to Bisbee (est. 1880), an old copper mining town turned artists’ enclave and Tombstone, the quintessential western cowboy “too tough to die” town, where everyday they re-enact the shoot out of the O.K. Corral.
Curiously, given this is the recommended time for visiting, most of the noted cafes, galleries and vineyards are only open on weekends. I realized I’d eaten at Sonoita’s highly recommended Canela Bistro my first time through. And we’re crossing our fingers that Bisbee’s Café Roca, noted, too, for its fresh, locally sourced cuisine will be open tomorrow. In the meantime, I chose well last night at Sierra Vista’s La Casita Mexican cantina… Nana’s chicken mole, a sublime harmony of chili, cinnamon, and chocolate over chicken with seasoned rice and salad.