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One of the first things I Googled before accepting this job was “Sierra Vista craft brewery.” I’ve been a craft beer aficionado for as long as I’ve been of legal age, so ensuring that my new home had good local beer was obviously a more pressing concern than “apartments” or “proximity to Mexico.”
While Bisbee’s Beast Brewing is truly a hidden gem, and Old Bisbee Brewing enjoys the atmosphere of Brewery Gulch, Cochise County is lagging behind the rest of the state regarding craft beer options.
As scarce as the local craft beer is in Cochise County, it’s the complete opposite in neighboring Santa Cruz County, in both its selection of spirit and volume. The combined region of Sonoita and Elgin is legitimately Napa Valley with less snobbery, boasting 11 wineries all within a short drive of each other.
Despite Sonoita being the only federally recognized wine growing region in Arizona, winemakers used to have to travel to faraway Phoenix or Willcox to brandish their wares and sample the work of their peers in a festival setting.
That changed four years ago when Kief-Joshua Vineyards’ winemaker Kief Manning realized that arithmetic didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
“We’re the only viticultural recognized and the only region that didn’t have a statewide festival,” Manning said.
Now in its fourth iteration, this weekend’s Southeast Arizona Wine Growers & Music Festival, hosted at Manning’s winery right off Elgin Road, has matured into one of the better offerings of events under the shadows of the Huachuca Mountains that I’ve seen in my short time living here.
The full list of wineries representing at Kief-Joshua’s palatial tasting room is Alcantara, Arizona Stronghold, Asmundsen, Burning Tree Cellars, Caduceus, Callaghan, Carlson Creek, Coronado, Cellar 43, Flying Leap, Golden Rule, Keeling-Schaffer, Lightning Ridge Cellars, Page Springs, Passion Cellars, Sand-Reckoner, Sonoita Vineyards, Su Vino Winery, Village of Elgin, Zarpara, along with the host winery.
Bands playing include Tucson bands the Usual Suspects, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday with AmoSphere to follow. On Sunday, Top Dead Center plays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a band to be determined to follow.
Tickets for the event are $10 with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Mountain Empire Rotary Club in hopes of funding the area’s first public park which is outstanding, considering the only thing that Santa Cruz County has more of than wine is wide open space.
Saturday and Sunday also mark the third year the event doubles as a chili cook-off in partnership with the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI). A unique pairing to be sure, but it’s more coincidental than some sort of avant garde culinary taste from 2027.
“The local rep of CASI lives in Sierra Vista and is a customer so it sort of happened,” Manning said.
This year’s face-off will be a de facto Southwestern regional qualifier for a national chili competition as chili masters from as far as Texas and California are barnstorming into Elgin in hopes of coming away with the top prize. Tickets for chili tastings are $5.
Forecasts are bullish as the outdoor event will be running each day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Manning is expecting to host anywhere between 1,800 to 2,000 people, which almost triples the population of Sonoita.
Hmm … maybe I should have just Googled “Sierra Vista winery.”