Eighty people attended the soft opening of the new tasting room for Sunset Ride Wine held March 14 in Sonoita. The space was filled with guests enjoying glasses of wine and hor d’oeuvres while catching up with friends and neighbors that in many cases they had not seen since the pandemic hit.
Owners Chris and Lori Johnson, along with partners Mike and Janet Veta, bought the building that had previously housed Charlie Kentnor’s real estate office and Heart of Gold Antiques, and have not only remodeled one area as a tasting room for the Johnson’s Sunset Wines, as well as an office for Veta’s insurance business, but have plans to add a second tasting room for another local vineyard. They also hope to add a casual restaurant and gathering place for customers to sit and enjoy good food and wine in a relaxed atmosphere.
“We want it to represent our lifestyle, to be maybe a little more casual and unpretentious,” explained Lori. “We are ‘unsnobbing’ the wine world.”
Limited memberships in Sunset Ride Founders Club are available, which offers discounts and special events to the first 50 people who sign up.
The Johnsons, who live and grow their grapes in Elgin, planted their first grapes in 2016 and produced their first wines in 2019. They currently grow cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, reisling, mourvedre, as well as a few other varieties of grapes.
“We try to make our wines for the everyday consumer,” Lori explained. 75% of the grapes used in their wines are grown at their vineyard. “We have friends in Elgin we have tapped into, as well as down in Willcox and some from friends in California.”
The name of the vineyard was inspired by the beautiful local sunsets, and also because it evokes the classic image of a cowboy riding into the sunset, both a metaphor for retirement and a reference to their own horses.
“We were thinking about retiring and then Chris said “I have an idea. Let’s plant grapes,’” Lori said. “’It’ll be fun,” he said.”
Although new to the wine business when they arrived in Arizona, they had experience in making home brewed wine, and Lori had earned a degree in agriculture business management at California Polytechnic State University. To learn more about the industry, Chris spent two years going to Yavapai College in Cottonwood to study viticulture.
“We feel very welcomed by the entire wine community and received so much support helping us getting started. It is really nice to see all that support. So much community support. Our friends and my dad have helped us tremendously, picking, bottling, at the soft opening,” Lori said. “We could not have pulled this off without them”
The Sunset Ride tasting room, located at 3266 SR82 in Sonoita, is open Thursday – Sunday, 11a.m.- 5p.m. Visit their website at www.sunsetride.com for more information.