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Grape Expectations: Scottsdale's Wine Scene

Arizona's growing wine scene takes root in Downtown Scottsdale.

According to the Arizona Wine Growers Association, it’s the Diurnal Effect that makes Arizona wines something special—the huge swing in temperature between day and night in the Sonoran Desert. The Arizona wine industry is taking off as locals and visitors alike discover great wines. You can taste some of the best in the heart of Downtown Scottsdale.

Aridus wine bottles
Aridus is located in Southeastern Arizona in Willcox, and features a tasting room in Scottsdale. Courtesy Aridus Wine Co.

Aridus Wine Company

Scott and Joan Dahmer founded Aridus Wine Company in 2012 in a refurbished apple warehouse. They originally purchased 40 acres along Turkey Creek in Pearce, Arizona—in the southeast part of the state about 45 minutes south of Willcox—back in 2009, planting grapes at an elevation of 5,200 feet. 

Dahmer understands he has the benefit of learning from those who came before him in Arizona’s burgeoning industry. “The pioneers who planted vineyards in Arizona just decided to plant whatever they wanted…and we learned what not to do. We are still learning what works and what doesn’t.” 

Southeastern Arizona’s climate has been compared to that of Argentina. Dahmer explains the similarities. “Semi-arid desert-like climates, less than 13 inches of rain annually, an average temperature of 90- to 100-degree days with cool nights in the mid-40s and 50s. Malbec grows extremely well here, as do all Spanish varieties.” 

What does this mean for the Arizona wine industry? “I believe Arizona is the next up-and-coming grape-growing region that will produce unique, world-class, delicious wines.”

While the winery in Willcox is beautiful and worth a day trip for a visit—it has won the Design Excellence award from the International Interior Design Association’s Southwest Chapter—you can sample Aridus wines right in Scottsdale. The Aridus Scottsdale Tasting Room opens at noon daily at 7173 E. Main Street. Sit at the bar and opt for a five-wine tasting or buy a single glass for $10. 

Men working on a vineyard
Working at the Carlson Creek Vineyard. ©Janelle Bonefield

Carlson Creek Vineyard

Carlson Creek Vineyard is another family-owned operation in Willcox. What began with 40 acres owned by Bob and Elizabeth Carlson and their three adult children is now a 280-acre vineyard with two tasting rooms and plans for a new winery in Willcox. 

The Carlson family takes wine seriously. A generations-old farming history from the plains of Nebraska was the backbone that inspired Robert Carlson III in 2008 (at age 28) when he left his stockbroker career for a simpler life. He sought out mentors in the winemaking industry, went after a viticulture education, and then took the idea to his family. They embraced it. Brother John Carlson took classes at UC Davis and also began seeking out industry mentors. Their sister became involved in the legal side of the business, and parents Bob and Elizabeth oversaw everything from planting to the retail business. 

The hard work began to pay off for the Carlson family. The vineyard, set at 4,200 feet above sea level, lets this multi-generational business offer all Arizona-grown and almost exclusively estate-grown wines. The tasting room in Willcox is in a converted old Chevrolet dealership built in the 1940s, and the family has just announced another expansion with a new winery at the Willcox vineyard. In addition to new visitor space and an exposition kitchen opening summer 2018, it will also be the single location for producing all Carlson Creek wines. 

“Being able to produce all of our wines, from planting to bottle, on-site is going to make a huge difference in our capabilities and overall production,” says co-owner and winemaker Robert Carlson III. “Having space for our own events and private parties will also be a great way for guests to experience not only our family’s story, but that of the Arizona wine industry, right in the heart of Willcox Wine Country.”

If you’re looking to check out Carlson Creek wines while visiting Scottsdale, you’re in luck. Opened in 2016, the tasting room is located at 4142 N. Marshall Way in downtown. It opens at noon daily, and for $10 you can taste five wines and take home an insignia glass. 

Other Downtown Scottsdale Tasting Rooms

Su Vino Winery
7330 E. Main St.
The second location of a winery first located in Grapevine, Texas, offering its own wines and creating custom wines for customers.

LDV Winery
7134 E. Stetson Drive 
Located at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains south of Willcox, the tasting room also provides a venue for local artists and craftspeople. 

Salvatore Vineyards Tasting Room
7064 E. 5th Ave.
Passion Cellars at Salvatore Vineyards is another Willcox winery. Winemaker Jason Domanico carries on the tradition of his winemaking grandfather, Salvatore Ligammari.