Winemaking is a family affair at Najar Cellars Winery in Elgin. (From left) Natalie, Alan, Mina, and Emily Sanchez.  Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Winemaking in Sonoita-Elgin is inherently challenging. Capital is hard to come by. The climate is tough. The physical work is daunting. And land, vines, fencing, weather protection and predator control are very expensive.

Elgin-based Najar Cellars Winery approaches these challenges with a unique philosophy: biodynamic viticulture. While Najar is not a certified biodynamic winery, Najar owner-operator Alan Sanchez believes in using sustainable and organic winemaking practices, along with the rhythms of the earth, such as picking grapes on a harvest moon. These practices in combination become ‘biodynamic.’ 

“Our goal is to produce wine which is as good for you as it can be,” Sanchez said in a recent interview. “Wine is made in the vineyard with minimal input. The right sugar levels, the right pH, the right climate, and pristine grapes are all necessary to make excellent wine.”

And then, of course, there is the terroir: the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as soil and topography, giving the wine its characteristic taste and flavor.

Sanchez, who worked as a hydrologist prior to obtaining viticulture degrees from the Southwest Wine Center of Yavapai College in Clarkdale, moved his family and winemaking business to Blue Sky Lane in Elgin because of family connections to the land and the culture of the area on both sides of today’s border.

Winemaking has been a part of Sanchez family history for many years. The current Najar Cellars winery, approximately 100 Graciano grape vines on a half-acre, with the winery facility itself a 600-square foot converted hay barn, is inspired by his grandfather, Jose “Chapo” Najar Sanchez. Chapo started making Italian-style wine in Globe-Miami almost 100 years ago, importing Primitivo grapes from Lodi, California. The Najar label emphasizes the Sanchez family tradition, with its picture of a hen sitting on a clutch, symbolizing “family with kids.” And two Najar vintages are named after Alan’s daughters, Natalie (Talia, a 2017 rose) and Mina (La Mina, a 2018 tempranillo).

The Sanchez family moved to Elgin three years ago. Mina (age 12) and Natalie (age 10) attend the Elgin School and enjoy participating in volleyball along with being a part of the winemaking enterprise. Wife Emily Sanchez works full-time as a recruiter and is passionate about her chickens which free range the property. 

The family gives special thanks to Sonoita-Elgin locals Kent Callaghan, the Bostocks, and Kat Crockett and George Whitmill, whose help and advice have proved invaluable. Sanchez is especially grateful to his mentor Mark Jorve of Wilcox, where he did his practicum work.

Sanchez is sourcing most of Najar’s grapes right now. The family is finishing conversion of the hay barn into a winery with temperature control, and hopes to have a Najar Cellars retail space in the area in the future. In the meantime, Alan is selling wine online (, at Sunset Ride, in Sonoita, on Second Saturdays, and at wine festivals across the state. Nine wines are offered for sale; the most popular is a Super Tuscan, which is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese.

If you are thinking of serving wine with Thanksgiving dinner this year, Sanchez had a few suggestions. 

“Bubbles are always good,” he said. “Or a Chardonnay would be excellent, as would a Rose. Port would be a good pairing with dessert.”