Franciscan Grapes for Authentic Wine

Last year I hiked the Montezuma Pass in Coronado National Memorial. At the ridge, I stood in awe as I beheld the vast landscape with golden vegetation that glittered in the sun; or maybe I had heat stroke. Still, it was a treat to imagine Francisco Vázquez de Coronado leading the expedition to find Cíbola, and the Seven Cities of Gold. Many historians believe the expedition followed the San Pedro River through the valley east of the Memorial. Was that a crossbow dart I saw lying in the valley below? Time and erosion have surely covered the tracks, but at places like these it’s hard not to envision a trinket or two.

I rode with the windows down

We returned to civilization via the back way, a switchback dirt road where we passed several border patrol vehicles, a tiny village, dirt bikes, and the prettiest scenery of rolling hills, craggy blackjack oaks, flat land, and sky. Oh my, the sky! We seemed to be forever approaching it and never arriving. At one point, a cloudburst brought  the sweet fragrance of a cleansing autumn rain, then the clouds regathered into big bunches of cotton balls. I could go on about the beauty forever! And of course I rode with the windows down.

As we neared our next destination, I assumed I would enjoy a glass of wine, but I got much more than that. Following a driveway through open range grasslands with a backdrop of soaring mountains, the Sonoita Vineyards resembled a wealthy rancher’s hacienda. Inside, sommeliers poured jeweled liquid into wide rimmed wineglasses.

I placed my hands on the long counter. “What do you have that will turn my cheeks as rosy as your best Cabernet?” I said, as my eyes wandered toward the food shelves.

“Oh, almost everything here will perk up your complexion. What brings you to our vineyard?”

I explained my interest in Coronado and the Old Spanish Missions.

The handsome woman’s eyes lit up. “I have something here you are going to love.”

And she proceeded to pour me a glass of 2013 Arizona Mission wine. As she explained it, the rootstock for mission grape vines were brought from Europe and planted in the New World because they made an excellent ceremonial and table wine. As the story goes, 16th Century Jesuits and Franciscans brought the bud wood to the Arizona valley where they flourished in the lush, warm soil. The ancestors of those original vines produced the ruby red wine I drank that day. Not only that, but because of the 19th Century French Wine Blight, thousands of Europe’s vineyards were decimated, which makes the vines that now survive in America all the more evocative. To sip the wine from the same rootstock so many mission priests enjoyed is a little unsettling. It’s like drinking a cup of history. I still get chills …

Do you have a favorite wine story? Or a favorite wine? I’d love to hear more, and maybe even enjoy a glass in your honor.

2 Responses to “Franciscan Grapes for Authentic Wine”

  1. Judy Gyde

    You wondered if anyone has a wine story. My dad has a vineyard at Catawba Island, where I grew up. This had been my grandfather’s vineyard and had yielded abundant Concord and Catawba grapes for wine and grape juice for decades. It took a terrific amount of work to maintain the vines and this became too much for my dad to handle since he is almost ninety. Deer and wildlife have been feasting on the grapes even before they ripen for the past two years. If we had lived closer and had more time, we would have liked to maintain the vineyard. There is something so special and therapeutic about working out there in the sunshine.

    • Amy Nowak

      Family members just spent the weekend at Catawba Island. They loved it! And, here’s a fun story. The day my boyfriend decided to break off our relationship, he brought a bottle of wine from the island, but when he couldn’t get the cork out, he stuffed it inside so we could enjoy the fruited beverage. I still have that bottle and the boyfriend. We’ve been married for almost thirty-three years! (Blame the wine?)


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