We visit Scottsdale for the desert. We find the desert beautiful, even during the summer when it is at its hottest and driest. A short 20 to 30-minute drive will take you to a surprising number of desert trails where you will be away from the traffic of a large city, though it is often visible off in the distance, and be surrounded by the sound of the wind and the birds. We always hike in the cool of early morning when we are most likely to spot desert animals.
In addition to the desert around Scottsdale and Phoenix, we have discovered Downtown Scottsdale – an eclectic neighborhood that expands out from Old Town Scottsdale. Old Town is home to Western-themed storefronts and shops filled with Western wear, silver and turquoise jewelry, post cards and t-shirts. Don’t be surprised if you see a cowboy riding down the street on his horse. He may be strumming a guitar. Jeans tucked into beautiful cowboy boots – it works in Old Town Scottsdale.
Adjacent areas have countless art galleries, the beautiful Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, salons, spas and more jewelry stores. Art isn’t confined to galleries, you will see lots of outdoor art as well. There are several excellent restaurants and bars in the neighborhood that have become our favorites.
What has been lacking, until recently, is wine tasting. Happily that is no longer the case and Downtown Scottsdale is now home to five tasting rooms along the Scottsdale Wine Trail.
LDV Wine Gallery
The Lawrence Dunham Vineyards Wine Gallery, which opened in late 2014, is located on E. First Street. Art and wine mix beautifully in the charming and well-lit space. In addition to LDV wines, the rooms are filled with the work of local artists, so it is possible to sip and browse art at the same time. The wooden tasting bar, which is supported by a rock and iron pedestal, is as warm and inviting as the owners Peggy Fiandaca and Curt Dunham. The couple have a true passion for wine and tend Rhône varieties on their 40-acre estate in Pearce at the foot of the Chiricahua Mountains in the Willcox AVA east of Tucson. We first tasted LDV wines in 2013 when we visited the winery in this beautiful and remote corner of Arizona.
Curt and Peggy know a thing or two about cooking as well, which we discovered recently when we attended their October Supper Club event at the LDV Wine Gallery. The evening was mild and we enjoyed dinner at a large table set in the front courtyard. The LDV 2014 Viognier paired beautifully with cheese and charcuterie, as well as the first course of Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. 2013 LDV Syrah was on display alongside Mesquite Grilled Filet Mignon with Dijon Mustard and Syrah Sauce, Grilled Asparagus and Yukon Gold Potato Hash. Dessert brought the 2013 LDV “The Signature” Petite Sirah paired with Espresso Chocolate Mousse with Whipped Orange Mascarpone Whipped Cream.
The dinner was very enjoyable, as was the company at the table. We met interesting people from as far away as Newfoundland. Several were visiting from California, like us, some were local folks (including two native Arizonans – almost everyone we meet in Scottsdale is from somewhere else!) Some in the group were new to LDV wines and others are LDV wine club members. What a fabulous evening. You will find LDV Wine Gallery information on the Lawrence Dunham Vineyards website.
Aridus Wine Company
The prize for the most beautifully designed wine tasting room in Scottsdale goes to Aridus Wine Company. Every time we visit the tasting room on E. Main Street I notice another interesting detail. In addition to the tasting bar, which has barrel staves along its front, cozy leather chairs with an aeronautical theme are set around tables to make lingering over your wine tasting very inviting. Track lighting contrasts perfectly with the gorgeous chandeliers.
Behind the tasting bar is a recently redecorated room for group tastings that incorporates wine storage and a communal table and more comfy leather chairs. It is as beautifully appointed as the front of the tasting room.
Aridus Wine Company’s custom-crush winery sits in a renovated an apple warehouse in Willcox where wine production began in 2012. In addition to their own vineyard on Turkey Creek in Pearce, Aridus sources grapes from elsewhere in Arizona as well as New Mexico and California. When we visited Willcox in August 2013 the Aridus tasting room on N. Railview Avenue was not quite open, so we missed tasting their wines on that trip.
In 2016 we visited the Scottsdale Tasting Room and liked the wines enough to stop in again on this trip. In the interim we reviewed the 2014 Aridus Malbec in April. Highlights of our tasting on this trip were the Aridus Malvasia Bianca, Tempranillo and Malbec. Tasting room details are available on the Aridus Wine Company website.
The Aridus tasting room is located on the Scottsdale Art Walk which takes place every Thursday evening (except Thanksgiving). The event is a stroll-at-your-own-pace walk along Main Street and Marshall Way in Downtown Scottsdale to visit the many art galleries.
Carlson Creek Vineyard
Located just across Indian School Road on N. Marshall Way, the Carlson Creek tasting room is also located on the Scottsdale Art Walk. Not surprisingly the large, open space features the work of local artists. This is the second tasting room for Carlson Creek, the first is located on Railview Avenue in Willcox. We first tasted the Carlson Creek wines there in August 2013.
Carlson Creek is a multi-generational family operation in the Willcox AVA where the family farms nearly 300 acres of vineyards to produce their own wines and provide grapes to other wineries.
Unfortunately, we only had time for a quick sip at the Scottsdale tasting room on this trip but we found the Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Rule of Three (a GSM blend) most interesting. Seated at the tasting bar were a local couple who are wine club members at Carlson Creek Vineyards and 14 other Arizona wineries. Needless to say, they are big fans of Arizona wines! Tasting room hours and information are on the Carlson Creek website.
The Salvatore Vineyards tasting room is located on 5th Street just a couple of blocks beyond Carlson Creek. The beautiful Bob Parks horse fountain occupies the center of the intersection of Stetson and 5th Street and is just outside the front door of Salvatore’s. The space is compact, but offers comfortable seating at the tasting bar, at tables and sofas in the front window of the tasting room.
Salvatore Vineyards is a new winery to us and was established in 2013. The winery is located on Fort Grant Road in Willcox where wines are made under both the Salvatore Vineyards label (reserve wines intended for aging) and Passion Cellars, their drink-now wines.
The Salvatore Vineyards tasting choices included Viognier, Fumé Blanc (oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc), Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Cerca (a red blend of Aglianico, Syrah and Merlot). The Viognier was interesting and I would come back for a glass of the Cerca. The tasting choices under the Passion Cellars label included Viognier, Malvasia Bianca, Nebbiolo, Malbec and Aglianico in addition to several blends. Tasting room information and hours are on the Salvatore Vineyards website.
Circling back to Old Town will bring you to Su Vino Winery along the Civic Center Park Path near Brown Avenue and E. Main Street. Su Vino operates as a négociant — that is purchasing juice and must from California, Washington, Argentina and Arizona. As owner Cory Whalin put it to us, “I have a purple thumb, not a green one,” meaning he knows how to make wine, not grow winegrapes. Winemaking takes place at the Scottsdale Airpark with bottling parties and custom bottling at the tasting room. A significant part of their business involves custom bottling for businesses and groups in addition to their own.
Cory’s business model is unique among the tasting rooms in Downtown Scottsdale and his business is growing. He told us his wines cost from $12.50 to $27.99 per bottle. We first came across Su Vino in their previous location along Main Street many years ago. Cory told us he has been in business about 10 years.
Why Take the Scottsdale Wine Trail?
Interesting wines and well-informed, enthusiastic tasting room staff. Take advantage of the opportunity to visit multiple producers within walking distance of one another without the nearly 4 hour drive to Willcox from Scottsdale.
Support family-owned wineries and an evolving wine culture in Arizona.
A feature unique to Arizona wine tasting rooms, at least to this Californian, is the ability to purchase wine by the glass. For first-time tasters it offers an opportunity to linger and have a glass of something you just tasted and really liked. For those familiar with the wines of a particular winery you can skip the tasting and go directly to your favorites. This explains why so many of the tasting room have chairs at the tasting bar as well as cozy seating around tables. There was never any rush to taste through the wines and we noticed several groups conversing over glasses of wine.
The trail is easily walkable, thus providing an opportunity for retail therapy as well as wine therapy. If art is your thing, in addition to wine, then you are in the right place for both.
There is a Downtown Trolley (it’s free and runs frequently) that you can ride to take you from the Main Street area wineries to those across Indian School Road. It’s fun to ride the trolley if for no other reason than to get to know the Downtown Scottsdale neighborhoods. The trolly drivers often provide a talking tour as they drive the route. Downtown Trolley information is available on the City of Scottsdale website.