Arizona Wineries to Celebrate Thirty-year Anniversary As Designated Wine Growing Region

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This year, Arizona wineries will celebrate the 30th year of the prestigious designation as Arizona’s original and only America Viticulture Area on April 12th and 13th at the Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Festival at Kief-Joshua Vineyards.

Kief Manning of Kief-Joshua Vineyards Pours Wine For AZ Festival

The region’s grapes are complex and many have produced exceptional wines here.”

Just a short distance south of Tucson lies the unexpected. As the Arizona desert fades, beautiful lush grasslands, six stunning mountain ranges, pronghorn antelope and pure blue skies come into view. Not only is Sonoita the setting of the “Ponderosa” from the television series Bonanza and a slew of other movies including Tin Cup, 3:10 to Yuma, and Red River, it is also home to twelve Arizona Wineries that USA Today once named in the top ten wine trails in the country.

This year, these wineries are celebrating the 30th year of the prestigious designation as Arizona’s original and only America Viticulture Area (AVA). An AVA is a designated winegrowing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau and the US Treasury.

“Once an AVA is established, at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in that geographical area to be referenced on its label” states Kief Manning, winemaker and owner of Kief-Joshua Vineyards.” In other words, we cannot place Sonoita on the wine label unless we grow a very high percentage of the fruit.”

Although most people think of Napa, the first recognized winegrowing region in the United States was named in 1980 near the town of Augusta in Missouri. It was just four short years later that Arizona was granted this prestigious designation.

The man responsible for filing all the paperwork necessary to establish the grape growing area was Gordon Dutt, of Sonoita Vineyards. “It took a lot of balls way back when,” States Kent Callaghan of Callaghan Vineyards. “California was just getting started and was in no way a powerhouse. It was just ludicrous that Gordon actually saw the future of the Arizona Wine Industry. His stubbornness and drive paid off.”

The winemakers in Sonoita take their winemaking and grape growing seriously. Several wines have been served at the White House and the famous wine critic Robert Parker gave at least one winemaker, Kent Callaghan, 90 plus rating.

“While attending Viticulture studies in Australia,” said Manning, whose winery was recently voted in the top ten by Ranking Arizona. “I never considered any other location to start my vineyard. Arizona has always been home and Sonoita is one of the most peaceful places on earth. The region’s grapes are complex and many have produced exceptional wines here.”

To celebrate the occasion, Kief-Joshua Vineyards will be hosting the Third Annual Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Festival, featuring 21 Arizona Wineries in one location, on April 12th and 13th, from 11 am to 5 pm.

The day will be filled with new wine releases, fabulous winemakers, great wine, food vendors, as well as a professional two-day chili cook-off and live music by Domingo De Grazie and AmoSphere.

The cost of $20.00 per person includes 12 wine tastings and a souvenir glass. Guests who return on Sunday with their ticket stubs and festival glasses will receive discounts. Gates will open at 10 am. For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit or call 520-455-5582.

From Phoenix or Tucson: From Highway 10, take exit #281-- Rte 83 to Sonoita. Stay on 83 until you come to Elgin Road (mile marker 28) and turn left. Kief-Joshua Vineyards will be 3.7 miles on your left.

From Sierra Vista: I 90 to Rte 82 West, turn left on Upper Elgin Rd., the winery is 1 mile past the bridge on the right.

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Charlene Manning

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