In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the birth of the modern Arizona wine industry in Elgin in the 1980s. In Part 2, we examined the false starts, rough times and occasional successes of the 1990s. In this month’s chapter, we look at the robust expansion of winemaking in this region that began around 2002, as new wineries opened their doors and new vineyards started to pop up across Sonoita-Elgin.
Following in the footsteps of Sonoita Vineyards, Village of Elgin, and Callaghan Vineyards, Rancho Rossa was established in 1999 when airline pilot Chris Hamilton purchased the lease on the Terra Rossa Vineyard, which had been abandoned in the ‘90s.
Hamilton, who had been taking remote winemaking classes from the University of California at Davis and dabbling in home winemaking and brewing for some time, planted about 12 of 293 acres on the south side of Elgin Road before moving to Sonoita in 2002 and purchasing property on Cattle Ranch Road. The loss of his wife to cancer delayed further development until 2003 when Hamilton planted 4.5 acres on the new winery property. The first harvest happened in 2004.
Hamilton’s syrah won the ‘Best Red Wine’ award in the state even before their tasting room was opened in July 2006. That year, Hamilton planted more vines for a total of 23 acres.
After 24 years in the business, Hamilton and his wife Breanna are retiring. Rancho Rossa closed its doors this spring. “Too much work and not enough time,” said Hamilton. “I’ll still be flying for the airlines for a little while longer, but will spend more time with Breanna going to concerts, trips to the lake and wherever the airplane takes us.”
In 2003, Tim and Joan Mueller and their daughter Kathryn established Canelo Hills on about ten acres adjacent to Callaghan’s vineyard on Elgin Road. In 2007, they opened their tasting room, realizing a long-term dream to own and operate their own winery. In 2009 they won ‘Best White Wine’ at the First Annual Arizona Wine Grower’s Cup Wine Competition. After nine years in business, the Muellers sold Canelo Hills to Flying Leap in 2012.
In 2006, Dos Cabezas WineWorks (DCWW) came under new local ownership that survives to this day.
Arizona wine industry visionary Al Buhl had founded the original Dos Cabezas vineyard near Willcox in 1990, naming it after the local mountain range. With an abundant harvest, and help from local wineries, Buhl entered his wine into the Arizona State Fair where it won the Blue Ribbon.
With help from Kent Callaghan, Al Buhl founded DCWW in 1995 along with several partners. Four years later, the wine caught the attention of New Zealand filmmaker Sam Pillsbury who partnered with Buhl in 2000/2001 and established Dos Cabezas Norte Vineyard on the adjacent property to Buhl’s vineyard. (Pillsbury later started his own vineyard and winery nearby in Willcox.) Todd Bostock, a native Arizonian, his wife Kelly, and his parents became the proud owners of Dos Cabezas WineWorks in 2006.
Bostock graduated from high school in 1994 and had pursued higher education. “I dropped out of most universities in the state, and ASU twice,” he said. While growing up, Bostock’s parents had the same bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel in the refrigerator for about 15 years, but wine never caught on in the family until Todd started working in restaurants.
He bought a wine kit which sparked his interest and sent him in search of grapes. He flew to Oregon and bought pinot noir fruit, packed them up in two huge coolers and flew them back to his Phoenix garage to ferment. Like Rancho Rossa’s Chris Hamilton, he took remote learning courses in winemaking from UC Davis.
“We got to a section in the curriculum on American regional wineries, so I went to AJ’s in Phoenix and asked if there was any Arizona wine they could recommend,” said Bostock. “Guy said they had two: Dos Cabezas and Callaghan’s. The Dos Cabezas was $2 cheaper, so it was an easy decision.”
Excited by the taste and the discovery that wine could be made in Arizona, Bostock sought out the Dos Cabezas partners. He began apprenticing as assistant winemaker under Frank DiChristafano, the Dos Cabezas winemaker, in October 2002. DiChristafano retired before the 2003 harvest, moving Todd up to winemaker.
Todd’s passion for winemaking grew, and, following a trip to Napa, his parents also became interested. They soon purchased land near Callaghan’s on Elgin Road and in 2004, planted Pronghorn Vineyard, which today has 15 acres dedicated to growing vines.
The original Dos Cabezas partners were looking to split up, so the Bostocks were able to purchase Dos Cabezas in 2006. That same year, they purchased the property on Highway 82 in Sonoita that now houses their popular tasting room and patio seating. The Bostocks also now own Cimarron Vineyard in Kansas Settlement, which they acquired in 2011 from pioneering Oregon winemaker Dick Erath.
The original Dos Cabezas Vineyard in Willcox is now owned by Maynard Keenan of the rock band Tool, and has been renamed the Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard.
Bostock said surviving Covid lockdowns, along with listening and adapting, has been a key achievement for Dos Cabezas. He noted that during Covid, when businesses were in steep decline, the wine industry was one of only three industries to grow countywide. He said that prior to Covid, most of their customers were tourists until they started serving food, which brought in local clientele. Now they have a bigger part in the community for which he is grateful.
Many local residents are selling their homegrown produce to the winery and raising animals to provide cheese. “We have been able to meld our vision of the area with other people’s vision for the area and collaborate, which is the kind of place I want to live in. I think it is also great that we have been able to employ people that live here.
“This industry is a great thing for Southern Arizona and if you like wine at all, there is something for everyone, even if it is not our wines,” said Todd. “The industry has matured. It’s not just alcohol—it’s rooted firmly in ag and ties in great to the area.”
Bostock credits much of his success to mentors Al Buhl, Frank DiCristafano, Dick Erath and Kent Callaghan. “They were all huge,” he said.
The Bostocks are co-founders of the Arizona Vignerons Alliance, an organization focused on improving and protecting the wine growing regions in the state. It is a collaborative effort among winemakers to share information that will help them face challenges and understand growth patterns. The Alliance now operates under the umbrella of the Arizona Wine Growers Association.
Next to join the local wine industry were Jim and Ann Gardner who purchased 40 acres in 2004 from Larry Cornwall, one of four sons who grew up on the original Starr Ranch.
Hannah’s Hill, named after the Gardners’ daughter, is located just off SR82 near Upper Elgin Road. At the top of the hill is a large red barn with a white roof, which reminds them of growing up in Wisconsin.
In 2007, the Gardners began developing the property as “weekend warriors.” Commuting from Phoenix, they established power and telephone, built the winery and drilled wells. They planted 13 acres of vines from 2008 through 2013, relying mostly on family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They converted their garage in Phoenix into an amateur winery, purchasing grapes and processing their first batches of wine, which won Best of Show at the Arizona State Fair.
Jim had been interested in brewing and wine making since college. In the late 1990s he joined the AWGA and began his enology education while meeting winemakers Gordon Dutt, Kent Callaghan, Al Buhl and others. Jim volunteered at Callaghan’s for three seasons, “I learned a ton from him,” he said. “He allowed me to participate in nearly every aspect of his processes, from picking grapes to crawling inside wine tanks to clean them before the next racking, to bottling wine.”
With their first harvest in 2012, they began professional winemaking in the red barn, but the yields were small, so they sold that wine to family friends and coworkers. They also procured fruit from California and made their “NOG” (“Not Our Grapes”) product line. Public sales began in 2015. Today they provide outdoor tasting under a patio awning.
Running a vineyard has not been without memorable episodes. Jim recalled the big freeze several years ago when temperatures in the area plummeted to zero degrees. When he arrived on site from Phoenix, he discovered their three-inch water main cracked from the freeze. The pump had run the 20,000-gallon underground tanks dry, creating an outdoor ice sculpture. “It was a hell of a mess!” he said.
Then there was the planting season where the Gardners purchased far more vines than the volunteers could plant in a weekend so they hired contract labor. “The contract labor came out of Tucson and these guys were pretty much all freshly released from jail for various offenses,” said Jim.
Later that season, friends came down for a visit to help train the vines and they discovered a two-foot-tall marijuana plant next to one of the vines. The plant was ripped out of the ground and attached to the end post, drying quickly in the Arizona sun. Over dinner and wine that evening they enjoyed speculating how that plant got its start.
The Gardners’ daughter Hannah does much of the marketing and social media for the winery and helps out in the vineyard when she is in town.
Last year, Jim and Ann bought a home in Sonoita and are preparing their historic home in Phoenix for sale. “We look forward to fully integrating ourselves into the local community,” said Jim.
Next issue: The industry continues to boom as female winemakers hit the scene.