Returned from Phoenix, AZ with good things to say about the local Arizona wine, newly renovated American Airlines Admirals Club at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), and -- of course -- the beautiful scenery. It is absolutely beautiful country.
PHX is an American Airlines hub -- the sixth largest in terms of number of flights and destinations, moving about 63,000 travelers per day -- so the journey is pretty straightforward from the likes of New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and even Boston. British Airways also offers a direct from Heathrow, so Europe is very much in the cards. This is a big airport serving America's sixth largest city of over 1.5 million people, so you're well covered.
I've been a big fan of PHX since the days it spent as the major hub for America West Airlines, which merged up into US Airways in 2005, which subsequently merged into the bigger American Airlines to form the world's largest airline. "Sky Harbor" also has to be the best airport name on the planet. The place is sprawling, but fairly straight forward. Not a lot of sweeping architectural grandeur, aka "Cathedrals", but solid. The renovated American Airlines Admirals Club near gate A7 is worth relaxing in for a moment. If PHX is any indication, I think American is making really good strides with their Admirals Club renovations. Clean, modern look, and better food and beverage than its un-renovated cousins.
To the surprise of anyone not familiar with Arizona winemaking, I found three winery tasting rooms inside of a block in the town of Cottonwood (about two hours north of Phoenix). I'd come looking for Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, an exceptional wine producer whose work I was familiar with thanks to their national distribution. The grapes are actually grown in Cochise County, in the far southeast corner of the state along its border with New Mexico to the east and Mexico to the south, but the winery and tasting room call Cottonwood home... nowhere near the vineyard itself. Further investigation reveals this to be a somewhat typical setup for Arizona winemaking where the grapes are grown quite far from the population centers. They've 130 acres under vine, supplemented by fruit bought from other Arizona growers. A larger vintage several years ago produced 27,000 cases, and they processed 330 tons of fruit in 2015. I absolutely love that 100% of their wine is produced from Arizona grapes, the first vintage of which came out in 2007. These folks are innovative blenders of different grapes and styles. Their connection with history and character of their home state is deep, meaningful, and authentic.
I headed south to Scottsdale, AZ After leaving the town of Cottonwood and its excellent Arizona Stronghold Vineyard winery. There, twenty minutes east of Phoenix, I found the Su Vino Winery, younger twin of the original Su Vino in Grapevine, TX. An urban winery that sources at least the vast majority of its fruit from various California vineyards, Su Vino is less concerned about the local terroir than it is with serving its own unique wine in a modern, fun environment. This winery is built for a good time, more like a wine bar that makes its own stuff, set apart from more traditional tasting rooms by everything from the big group of friends seated all together having a great time, to the happy hour specials listed on the menu.
I'll add that, particularly for those of us who live in a completely different climate, Arizona is home to beautiful country. The state license plate incorporates some purple coloring, which is odd until you drive out to the desert and lose your breath at stunning sunsets that turn the sky purple as clouds roll across a sky that was just minutes ago the bluest thing you've ever seen. It is breathtaking. I cannot recommend enough renting a car and just driving. Cottonwood (and neighboring Jerome) make ideal destinations thanks to their wine community. You will not regret the time you spend on that particular journey.