Sedona has long been known for its galleries and artists' studios, a vibrant New Age community and the natural beauty of brilliant red-rock vistas that take on a deeper hue during the summer monsoons.
But in recent years, the artistic enclave of just over 10,000 has gained wide acclaim as a wine and food lovers' destination.
Although it doesn't have any vineyards of its own, Sedona is in the center of the Verde Valley wine country.
Neighboring towns of Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Cornville and Jerome are home to some of the state's most dynamic vintners, including Burning Tree Cellars in Cottonwood, Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Alcantara Vineyards & Winery in Cottonwood, and the Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery in Cornville, which was the valley's first public vineyard and tasting room when it opened in 2002.
"It was so slow you could have played baseball in the street," said vintner and owner Michael Pearce, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 1980. "In fact, it got scary. You have no sales in a day and you wonder, 'Did I make the right decision?' But then Page Springs Cellars opened up (in Cornville) and Javelina Leap (Vineyard & Winery), and it's been great since."
In addition to the vineyards, there are a handful of tasting rooms for vineyards located in Southern Arizona, including Arizona Stronghold Vineyard and Pillsbury Wine Co., two Willcox-based vineyards that have retail and tasting outposts in Cottonwood. (Pillsbury, owned by Hollywood director Sam Pillsbury, opened a Willcox tasting room in mid-May at the vineyard, 6450 S. Bennett Place.)
At 4,326 feet in the upper Sonoran Desert, Sedona's summertime temperatures tend to average almost 10 degrees cooler than Tucson's. Example: Today could hit 104 in Tucson; forecast calls for a high of 96 in Sedona.
VIno Discount card
• The Arizona Wine Travel Card will save you money at Arizona wineries and related businesses. Example: Save 20 percent off a Sedona Jeep Wine Tour. It's accepted at 60 destinations throughout the state, including 29 wineries in Sonoita, Willcox and throughout the state. You also can score discounts at retailers including AJ's Fine Foods and Tavolina Ristorante in Tucson.
• Cost and how to get one: $20 at az.winetravelcard.com or at a number of Arizona vineyards, including Charron Vineyards, Arizona Hops and Vines and Callaghan Vineyards in Sonoita; Carlson Creek Vineyard, Keeling-Schaefer Vineyards and Coronado Vineyards in Willcox.
• Details: az.winetravelcard.com
More Sedona attractions
Here are a few ideas for getting the most out of Red Rock Country's wine community.
Take a wine tour.
Several companies offer tours of Verde Valley wineries, including:
• Sedona Wine Country Tours (sedona-tour-guide.com, 1-928-554-4072): Range from romantic tours for two ($155 per person, which includes wine tastings) to small group jaunts with three to four people (starting at $105, which includes wine tastings). Tour guide Laura Vandegrift gives participants the lowdown on the history of the valley's wine country and tips on wine.
• Verde River Valley Wine Tours (sedonaadventuretours.com, 1-877-673-3661): Stops at Arizona Stronghold, Burning Tree Cellars and Page Springs Cellars. $119.55 per person covers transportation and tastings. Pickup at Sedona hotels.
• Page Springs Wines & Vines (sedonatransport.com, 1-928-301-6913): Stops at Page Springs Cellars, Javelina Leap Winery and Oak Creek Vineyards, all about 15 minutes outside of Sedona. $99 per person (minimum four people), includes first tasting.
• Jeep and Winery Combo Tour (adayinthewest.com, 1-928-282-4320): Stops at Cornville's Paige Spring Cellars en route to a ride in the western canyons. $99 per person (includes tastings, minimum two people).
Taste the fruits of the vine.
Here are a couple of ideas for wine tastings:
• The Art of Wine, 101 N. Highway 89A, bestarizonawines.com, 1-877-903-9463: Tasting room for Cornville's private vintner, Sycamore Canyon Winery, which produces a half-dozen varieties. You also can taste and buy wines from around the state. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (closes at 7 on Wednesdays) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays; $15 includes six pours.
• Sedona Wine & Beer Co., 2575 W. State Route 89A, sedonawineandbeerco.com, 1-928-554-4682: Visitors will find a variety of wines from Arizona and the Verde Valley at the wine bar. Noon to 11 p.m. daily. $10 for three 2-ounce pours.
• Vom Fass Sedona, 336 Highway 179 in Tlaquepaque, sedona.vomfassusa.com, 1-928-282-2595: This upstart shop expects to have its tasting license by the end of June. You can't taste wine, but it carries a host of spirits, including 10-year-old brandies; olive and nut oils; and vinegars all in the cask. Once it gets its license, tastings will be free. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Adventures for the taste buds
When it comes to dining in Sedona, no one can beat the ambience of its natural setting. Patio seating is always packed as diners look out at 180-degree views of breathtaking red vistas. During monsoons, the rocks change colors; some cast a deeper red hue, while the white and brown mountains almost glisten with a blue sheen.
There are plenty of eateries for all tastes, from the southern Mexican fare of Oaxaca Restaurant (321 N. Highway 89A in uptown) - one of Sedona's oldest eateries, with 36 years in business - to the homespun breakfasts and lunches served at the Coffee Pot Restaurant (2050 W. Highway 89A) - which has been a Sedona landmark since it opened in the 1950s.
Sedona lays claim to a couple of signature restaurants that define its dining scene.
• L'Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek, 301 N. Little Lane at L'Auberge de Sedona Resort, lauberge.com, 1-928-282-1661: Executive chef Rochelle Daniel borrows from Spanish, Mediterranean and American influences for her three- and four-course prixe-fixe menu. The menu changes, depending on what's in season. In mid-May, she was serving Dungeness crab on a bed of Bibb lettuce with a Maytag blue-cheese dressing and a slow-roasted pork-belly appetizer with quail egg. $69 and $84; wine pairings additional.
• Che Ah Chi at Enchantment Resort, 525 Boynton Canyon Road, enchantmentresort.com, 1-928-282-2900: Executive Chef David Schmidt celebrates regional cuisine with inventive combinations such as charred avocado and pink grapefruit in the Hamachi appetizer, diver sea scallops with candied bacon relish, beef short ribs sided with corn polenta, and duck breast served with walnuts and apricots and a foie gras emulsion. Entrees start at $39 and top out at $52 for a buffalo tenderloin.
• Elote Cafe, 771 Highway 179, in the Kings Ransom Sedona Hotel, elotecafe.com, 1-928-203-0105: There's magic coming from chef-owner Jeff Smedstad's kitchen, where he braises domestic lamb shank and drizzles it with a sweet and spicy Ancho chile sauce and cilantro crema. Enchiladas are stuffed with braised beef, and braised Colorado buffalo short ribs are draped in a poblano mole sauce. Entrees range from $17 to $26, dinner service only.