Arizona Wine Country: Get to Know It!

The Dirt: Wilcox, Arizona
The Wine: Pillsbury Wine
The Man: Sam Pillsbury
The Place to Get: Throughout Arizona (click here to find the wine)
The Location: 1012 N Main St, Cottonwood, AZ 86326

We had the pleasure to sit with Sam Pillsbury of multiple award winning(see below) Pillsbury Winery at The Chocolate & Wine event at the MIM and discuss all of the wonderful viticulture that’s taking place in Arizona.  We asked Sam to share some of his thought with our readers…

Why Arizona Wine?

The year I planted my first vineyard, 2000, at the end of a lonely, dusty road in Cochise County 12 miles south of Willcox, one of the 10 Best ‘How to Lose Money’ jokes on Saturday Night Live was: Plant a Vineyard In Arizona.

Arizona is all Sonora Desert, obviously suicidal…

Well, half of Arizona is mountain, the Grand Canyon is closed in the winter because of snow. And wine grapes love the desert.

UC Davis DNA research has established that most of our classical grape varieties originated in the desert of SE Anatolia, in Turkey.

Plant grape vines in fertile soil and they produce canopy and little fruit. We like to fool them that they are about to expire, so they send forth seed.

I remember being feted at lunch at the luxurious Montecito residence of a composer I worked with, Peter Rogers Melnick, grandson of the famous Rogers, of Rogers and Hammerstein, son of legendary film producer Dan Melnick. This was Hollywood Royalty. An expensively coiffed guest sleekly dressed in white satin swept up the stairs from her white Volvo convertible, all lashes and silicone, to sit and be introduced to a glass of my Pinot Gris by our host. ‘Oh’ she exclaimed brightly, ‘From Santa Barbara?’

‘No’ I replied, ‘Arizona.’

Her peals of laughter echoed down the Live Oak-canopied streets, and all I could think to myself was ‘Laugh on. That’s how I managed to buy a shit load of the best winegrowing land in the United States for 400 bucks an acre.’

Now it’s $5000 and climbing.

Grapes like this dry, sandy soil. And to get the optimum temperature profile in Arizona, you’ve got to go up high: Our three winegrowing regions: Verde Valley, Sonoita, Cochise County…at our vineyard we’re at 4300 feet. So guess what? We all get heaps more UV than almost any vineyards in the world…concentrates fragrance and flavor, way more of Resveratrol and other anti-oxidants. And High Desert nights are cool…we have an average 40 degree diurnal temperature swing. 100 during the day, it’s 60 at night. We have no problem ripening the grapes like they often do in France…In Arizona we have endless sunshine. But with the cool nights the average temperature is not high…cool nights slow down the ripening of the grapes and help keep the acids up, great for food wines. Ultra low humidity helps concentrate the juice.

We all have to irrigate…each or our vines has 2×1 gallon/hour emitters, fed from our own wells, the purest water from the Chiracahua Mountains filtered through thousands of feet of limestone. So we can control the concentration of the juice and stress the vines when we want to.

And the labor is plentiful, willing and able.

Downside? None of these places is near a major city. Camp Verde is 100 miles from Phoenix. Willcox where we are is 200 miles. Sonoita is a little closer. I clock 35,000 miles each year.

And one thing…the Monsoon…the one time you don’t want rain is at harvest, monsoon season.

We kind of have this one licked. Around ripening we use organic sprays for rot and mold. The soil is sandy loam and drains almost instantly. We trellis with wide rows and prune the clusters with space around them so we get good air-flow around the fruit. And the monsoon rains aren’t ubiquitous…you can be picking in the sun while across the road there’s a tempest under a battleship-shaped thundercloud.

And here’s the other bonus: once that massive cloud cover sweeps over us, up from the Gulf of Mexico, the temperature drops. Cooler days. Slower ripening. More elegance and complexity in the juice. We welcome the Monsoon.

Sure, there’s devastation…a bad frost can wipe out a whole vineyard of young buds. Just happened to some neighbors this Spring. We light fires. Some of our neighbors have huge fans, like windmills, but they don’t always work, and they are expensive. A hail-storm can wipe out your vines, and has done so. We lost 1700 baby vines 3 years ago during a super-cold snap in January. But that’s farming.

Here’s the best part…these conditions make brilliant wines. Our whites are viscous, with bright fruit, aromatic, crisp. Our reds grippingly clean, fragrant, layered, and complex.

And as Chris Bianco says, ‘You can taste the struggle.’

Arizona Wine Country. Our Secret Weapon.


San Francisco Chronicle 2016

Double Gold

Shiraz Guns & Kisses 2013


Petite Sirah 2012

Roan Red 2012

WildChild White 2013

Symphony Sweet Lies 2013


Diva 2012

Malvasia ‘Bonnie Lee’ 2014

Symphony 2013

Shiraz Private Reserve 2013

Jefferson Cup 2015

Gold Medals

Petite Sirah 2013

Chardonnay Reserve 2014

Silver Medals

Shiraz Guns and Kisses 2013

WildChild White 2013

Symphony Sweet Lies 2013

AZ Republic Wine Competition 2015

 Top Ten Wines and Gold Medals

Pillsbury Wine Co, Diva, 2013.

Best Petite Sirah

Gold Medal : Pillsbury Wine Co. Petite Sirah, 2013.

Best non-traditional red blend

Gold Medal: Pillsbury Wine Co, Diva, 2013.

Best Chardonnay

Bronze, Pillsbury Wine Co. Chardonnay Reserve, 2014.

Best Viogner

Gold, Pillsbury Wine Co. Viognier, 2014.

Judges’ Favorites

Noelle Waite, division manager, Southern Wine & Spirits of Arizona: Pillsbury Wine Co, Diva, 2013.

Bill Dunphy, owner, Trocadero Wine School: Pillsbury Wine Co., Diva, 2013

Gold Medals

Pillsbury Wine Co. Diva, 2013

Pillsbury Petite Sirah 2013.

Viognier 2014

Silver Medals

WildChild White 2013

Bronze Medals:

Pillsbury Wine Co., Symphony, 2013.

Pillsbury Wine Co., Chardonnay Reserve, 2014.

Pillsbury Wine Co., Symphony Sweet Lies Reserve, 2014.

Pillsbury Wine Co., Shiraz Guns and Kisses, 2013.

There are no comments

Add yours