Where is Willcox and why did you go there, you might wonder. We love wine and we love visiting Arizona. Turns out, those two things are not mutually exclusive. Though when we are in Scottsdale, which is where we usually visit because we have family and friends there, we drink mostly margaritas. The hot, dry desert climate and abundance of great Mexican food seem to naturally lead to the consumption of margaritas. Scottsdale, has a vibrant food scene and it is through one of our favorite restaurants there, FnB, that we were first introduced to Arizona wines.
There are three wine regions in Arizona and most are located at elevations between about 4200 and 5200 feet. Verde Valley is located in northern Arizona; Sonoita/Elgin and Willcox are located in southern Arizona.
Willcox is tucked into the southeastern corner of Arizona, in Cochise County, about an hour east of Tucson. The Sulphur Springs Valley area was home to the Apache Indians before the encroachment of Mexican and American settlers. The Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise died on the Chiricahua Reservation in 1874 and was buried in what is now known as Cochise’s Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. The Apache chief Geronimo surrendered for the final time in September 1886 near Fort Bowie.
This little town of Willcox (previously called Sour Dough Camp, Maley and Wilcox) was founded in 1880 and grew up along the Southern Pacific rail line. The location was originally established as a supply station by Southern Pacific Railroad. The Willcox City offices are now located in the original Southern Pacific depot. The history of Willcox is tied to the US military, the railroad, mining, cattle ranching and most recently to wine production.
Many old buildings remain in Willcox today, located along N. Railraod Avenue. You will find antique stores, museums and restaurants (you can eat BBQ in a red train car). Willcox is the birthplace of “Arizona Cowboy” Rex Allen. The Rex Allen Museum is directly across the street from Historic Railroad Park where you will find a bronze statue of Rex. Right next door to the Rex Allen Museum is the Friends of Marty Robbins Museum and just around the corner on Maley Street is the Chiricahua Regional Museum.
At the corner of Railroad Avenue and Stewart Street you will also find the Willcox Commercial. It is the oldest store in Arizona still in its original location (though it was not open when we visited). It is said that Apache chief Geronimo bought sugar in 1 pound sacks here to satisfy his sweet tooth.
Also along this block are two wine tasting rooms. Located in the refurbished 1917 Willcox Bank and Trust building is Keeling Schaefer Vineyards. In addition to their wines, the tasting room is filled with the artwork of Cochise County artists. The artwork is part of a summer art show entitled “Currents” presented by TRUST Art & Design which is floating among a number of tasting rooms in the area including Coronado Vineyards, Flying Leap Vineyards and Zarpara Vineyard.
Flying Leap Vineyards is located on the corner of N Railroad and Maley Street in the original location of the Headquarters Saloon. The plaque outside the tasting room notes that Warren Earp, youngest brother of Wyatt, was killed in the saloon on July 6, 1900.
Just a short walk across the railroad tracks to Railview Avenue you will find the Rustic Rooster (stacked to the rafters with gifts for everyone) and Carlson Creek Vineyard Tasting Room. We hear another tasting room is soon to open just a couple of doors down.
This historic area of Willcox has so much to offer. The amount of history contained in this several block area is surprising. The Chiricahua Regional Museum is particularly interesting. In addition to local history there is hiking everywhere in the area. Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Chiricahua National Monument and Cochise Stronghold are all within an hour or so driving time. The hiking and birding are off the charts. Some of these areas area accessible via gravel roads only. Plan ahead and come prepared. Many areas still feel like the Wild West!
We wandered around the area and eventually into several tasting rooms. We were pleasantly surprised by what we tasted…more about that in our next post.
In the meantime, please enjoy the slideshow of historic Willcox and the surrounding area. It is absolutely beautiful!
Reference: Willcox by Kathy Klump, Peta-Anne Tenney and Sulphur Springs Valley Historical Society