Wildcat Weekenders: Taste local wines and destress in serene Sonoita

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Courtesy of Febien Cheah | The Daily Wildcat

View of wine cellar at Flying Leap Vineyards in Sonoita, Arizona. Sonoita boasts several vineyards that offer fun wine tasting experiences.

The drive to Sonoita itself feels like a vacation. About an hour and a half south of Tucson, you’ll meander through rolling hills, feeling wholly convinced that you’re in another world — save the ocotillos and soaptree yucca resounding with a prickly sense of home. The green desert, shape-shifting around every corner, eloquently forms an argument for Arizona’s rich and varied beauty.

The ground will level out and you’ll pass by a sign that reads "Welcome to Wine Country." Scattered across the yellow-green valley are vineyards marked bypatches of twisting vines. Leave early in the morning so that you can get a breakfast burrito from the Route 82 Diner. It’s located in a refurbished gas station convenience store with a huge red and white-lettered sign that reads "DINER."

If it feels like you’re in the wrong place, you’ve found it.

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The burritos are massive with eggs, cheese, beans and other ambrosial toppings packed inside a warm, fresh tortilla. Owner Laura Bryant says she uses the ingredients to “showcase and highlight the area with fresh, local flavors.” To top it off, deliciously developed traditional red and green salsas are on standby in glorious self-serve abundance.

Sit at the white plastic table soaked in crisp morning sun and maybe talk to the chef about her favorite vineyards, or the contractor/brewmaster about the bar he’s building next door.

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In about a month, Bryant is hoping to roll out a whole series of regionally inspired beers, including a Patagonia pale ale and an Elgin Belgium.

After chatting, sit slouched down in your chair in utter satisfaction and let the mariachi music from the kitchen wash over you like a cool breeze. You may experience a strong desire to never get up for the rest of your life.

This is normal. Have some coffee, wait it out and proceed when you’re ready.

Like any Arizonan small town worth its salt, Sonoita offers local arts and crafts, rodeo shows and antique shops. What makes Sonoita stand out is its deep-rooted and intimate connection with the surrounding land. Farmer’s markets and wineries reveal the fruitful bounty of a land well-tended, the lush beauty of the place somehow distilled into a flavor that's packed into every bite and sip.

If nothing else, the trip to Sonoita is a delectable one.

Once you’ve digested your burrito enough to stand up, embark on a famous wine-tasting tour. If you’re pressed for time or cash, just go to one vineyard. Bring your own wine glass and the tasting should only put you out about $10 ($5 for the glass, should you forget).

Begin with Dos Cabezas, a Sonoitan staple and leader in Arizonan winemaking. Move on to Arizona Hops and Vines (the chef’s favorite) for a hip, laid-back vibe. Finish your tour at the sleek, sophisticated Flying Leap, where CEO Mark Beres said they try to create fun, local concoctions like their habañero-chili grenache.

If no one wants to be the designated driver, live lavishly and order a limousine service to take care of all those pesky transportation problems.

Sip different wines that awaken your tongue in a way your typical boxed variety could never dream of doing. Listen to the lengthy spiels on aromas and hinted flavors. Swirl the wine around in your glass, sniff and sip, feeling calm and sophisticated, far away from that 12-page paper due next week.

Now, when you make your trip to Sonoita, you won’t come fanny pack-clad, pointing bulky cameras at old buildings while muttering under your breath, “How quaint," will you? Of course not! You’ll look around and smile, taste local flavors, smell fresh open air and talk to friendly people who live there.

Make a trip to Sonoita. It is the perfect stress-free staycation.


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