An Afternoon Visit to the Crop Circle Winery
A Chance Discovery While Traveling on the Interstate
Traveling down Interstate 10, on what has recently become an annual autumn visit to Apple Annie's Orchard in Willcox, Arizona, I noticed, among the many signs that dotted the highway just before Exit 340 for the city of Willcox, a distinctive sign inviting travelers to visit the Crop Circle Winery in Willcox.
Having grown up in western New York State just north of that state's famous wine producing Finger Lakes Region, I have developed an interest in wine and enjoy visiting wineries.
In my youth the small American wine industry existed almost entirely in the states of California and New York.
I still remember family drives through the Finger Lakes with a stop at one of the big family owned wineries such as Taylor in Hammondsport, NY or Widmere in Naples, NY, both of which are currently owned by Consolidated Brands.
Following college I joined the Air Force where, while stationed the former Mather, AFB in Sacramento, California during training as an air navigator, I had the opportunity to visit a number of wineries in the nearby Napa Valley.
Winery Tours Then and Now
Thanks to both technology, which has helped make the growing of wine quality grapes possible in all 50 states as well as many countries, and increasing demand for wine, small wineries producing quality wines are opening in rural areas all over the nation.
The Internet has also played a role in this as it allows these small operations to market their product directly to a national audience (well, not quite, as Prohibition Era legislation still restricts consumer choice in some states and localities) thereby avoiding the expense of trying to break into established distribution channels.
However, just as the old family run wineries in New York and California discovered in years past, opening their wineries to tourists was a great way to introduce their product to wine aficionados and newcomers alike.
One noticeable difference between the winery tours of my youth and those of today is that most of today's tours no longer include a tour of the production facilities and many, especially the smaller ones, are beginning to charge for the tastings.
In addition to the expense of having to hire tour guides, I am sure that tours of the production areas have been cut back due to fear of lawsuits due to opening a production area to tourists.
Also, despite the new production technology having led to greater efficiency, some how technicians in lab coats working among stainless steel tanks with pressure gauges and computerized controls just doesn't have the same feel as a room full of ancient oak casks with spigots at their base from which guys in jeans and work boots draw tiny samples and employed their experienced taste buds to determine when the wine was ready.
The old way was not only more colorful but also gave the tourist the feeling of watching a process that reached far back into human history.
However, despite the romantic attraction of the old ways, these processes just aren't productive enough to produce quality wine in quantities sufficient to grace the tables of both aristocratic connoisseurs and ordinary folk seeking to expand their adult beverage choices beyond ordinary beer.
While most wineries that I have visited in recent years have dispensed with the tour of the production facilities, all continue to offer the wine tasting experience with the wines served by people who know and love both wine and the art of wine-making.
The tasting room is usually a part of a larger gift shop that dispenses, in addition to the winery's own wines, related products such as grape jams, cheeses (which have long been served with wine and, like wine, are the product of actions by microbes), wine glasses and similar wine serving paraphernalia, as well as books and other tasteful tourist items.
Wineries are Not Unkonown in Arizona
Upon seeing the sign inviting us to visit the Crop Circle Winery, we quickly decided to include it in our afternoon's activities especially since its location along Ft. Grant Road placed it along the same route that would take us to Apple Annie's.
Not only was I curious about a winery in the Sulphur Springs Valley of Cochise County in Arizona, but the name Crop Circle conjured up the image of a New Age operation and I was curious to see how the proprietors connected wine and new age beliefs.
While I was surprised to find a winery in the Willcox area this would not be the first winery I had visited in Arizona.
Over the past twenty years a wine industry, producing some very good wines, has sprung up in the Santa Cruz County area which lies directly south of Tucson. While most of these wineries are concentrated in the mountains around the village of Sonita there is at least one as far north as the southeastern edge of Tucson and another along the Mexican border in Nogales.
I Learn More about Crop Circle and Other Wineries in the Area
The Crop Circle Winery itself occupies a medium sized steel building on the east side of Ft. Grant Road a couple of miles north of the I-10 freeway exit 340 for Willcox.
I actually drove past the building last year but gave it no thought and this year missed the parking lot entrance and had to break hard to turn in time to enter via the small parking lot exit. With no cars in the lot to begin with, let alone exiting, this was no big deal.
However, once one passes through the ornate oaken doors and enters the gift shop and tasting area, the place oozes charm with its tastefully decorated Victorian furnishings and friendly proprietress offering samples and ringing up orders.
While a few people did stop by while we were there, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Visitors can sample up to five different wines for free. A fee of $5 is charged for the privilege of sampling more than five wines.
The Crop Circle Winery produces about eight or ten varieties of mostly red wines. While all of the Crop Circle estate produced wines were too dry for my taste the ones I sampled were similar in taste to award winning wines I have sampled, and not particularly cared for, elsewhere. So, my personal tastes aside, these wines are obviously excellent choices for those with more discriminating tastes in fine wines.
The Ft. Grant Rd. location is their warehouse and visitor center while the grapes themselves are grown on 35 acres of land owned by the winery 35 miles to the south. While the visitor center on Ft. Grant Rd. is only two years old, the winery and its surrounding vineyards have been in operation for the past five years. The winery is managed by the lady who served us and her husband, but the actual owner lives in Sedona, Arizona where he has owned and operated the Echo Canyon Winery for the past 20 years.
The Crop Circle Winery is not the first winery in the Sulphur Springs Valley as there are a number of other wineries in the area which pre-date the Crop Circle Winery and there are more on the way as ever more land in the area is being purchased and planted with grapes by both professional vintners and wine loving hobbyists.
Both the soil and mountainous terrain are similar to that of the famous Rhone Valley of France. Like the California wine country, this area is blessed with plenty of sunshine every year which, along with irrigation systems providing just the right amount of water, enable vintners to consistently produce grapes that are perfect for making wine.
Unlike France, where water and sunshine vary according to the whims of Mother Nature, which result in vintages varying from good to bad depending upon the year, there is little to no variation in vintages from year to year in California and Arizona with Mother Nature producing near constant sunshine and man providing just the right amount of water via irrigation systems.
As for the winery's name, it seems to have little to do with the weird circles of trampled grain that mysteriously appear in farmer's fields.
However, the name has everything to do with the advanced agricultural techniques used in the Crop Circle vineyard. These advanced agricultural processes include the use of Mayan Indian Circle Planting Techniques for the grape vines and other fruits and nuts grown at the Crop Circle vineyard.
These facts, of course ,haven't stopped the winery from creatively capitalizing on the name both with the distinctive new age style logo and their special twelve pack collection of wines with each one dedicated to one of the twelve months of the Zodiac.
There is also the Sedona connection. Sedona is an area in Arizona known for both its breath taking beauty as well as its supposed vortexes with their mystical spiritual powers.
We Purchase a Bottle and Exit
After spending about 45 minutes sampling a couple of wines, taking in the beauty and ambiance of the cozy little shop and tasting area and chatting with the proprietress about the winery, it was time to leave.
Accompanying my wife and me on this outing was our son (and fellow Hubber), Victor, who having recently turned 21 was able to join us in sampling the wines. Like me, both my wife and son found the Crop Circle wines too dry for our tastes.
When I asked if they had any sweeter wines, the proprietress produced a sweet white table wine with a nice crisp taste almost like that of an ice wine which she said was produced and bottled elsewhere but sold under the Echo Canyon label.
I liked this one so much that I purchased a bottle and, upon examining the fine print on the back label, discovered that it was produced by a winery called Southwest Wines located a little further east in neighboring New Mexico.
Links to My Other Brewing and Wine Hubs
- How to Make Wine
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- How to Brew Root Beer and Ginger Ale
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- A Prohibition Era Wine Recipe
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