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Get uncorked at this weekend’s Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Festival

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Sonoita-Elgin, located in Cochise County, is Arizona's first American Viticultural Area, a region designated by the government as a distinctive grape-growing region.

The area is rich with unique vineyards and tasting rooms dedicated to all things local wine, with some of the state's best wine makers calling the area home.

To celebrate the AVA designation's 40th anniversary, one of the area's vineyards will host 18 wine producers from all across Arizona for the Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Festival, taking place this weekend.

The festival, currently in its eighth year, is a way for guests to taste the wine legacy being forged in the state while enjoying live music, food and a variety of arts and crafts vendors all in one place.

The event is taking place at Kief-Joshua Vineyards, located at 370 Elgin Road, Elgin. The vineyard is situated on 20 acres in the middle of what's known as "winery row" and their first planting happened in 2003.

Dedicated to sustainable practices and matching the soil to get the best grapes possible, the vineyard is herbicide and pesticide-free, and adheres to what made the region an AVA designation.

Winemaker and vineyard CEO Keif Manning said that the festival is a good way to introduce people to the wine growing region in Santa Cruz County.

"We get wineries from all over state and about 97 percent of the wine grapes grown in Arizona are grown here in the southeast corner between Sonoita and Wilcox," he said. "So it's about bringing people to where the grapes are grown, exposing them to the beautiful climate and a region that most people aren't even aware existed down here. It's good exposure for a place that most people will never drive by on accident."

Manning said the festival typically sees about two to three thousand attendees, and the event remains one of the state's only wine festivals actually held at a vineyard.

The festival at Kief-Joshua Vineyards started with Manning's hope that the Arizona Winegrowers Association would host a wine festival in the Sonoita-Elgin region where most of the wine grapes in Arizona come from.

"We've always done festivals all over the state and we were trying to push for the Arizona Wine Growers to start a festival in Sonoita where a good portion of wineries were at time," Manning said. "We had festivals in Tucson and Phoenix, Wilcox, other places but never had it here, which was the only place recognized as a wine region,the AVA, at the time, so we decided to do our own. We brought wineries from all over the state just like other festivals but we just did it right here on our vineyard."

The featured vineyards this year hail from the region itself, as well as from all across the rest of the state.

Manning said that the festival always changes a little bit each year and they are excited to bring in some new vineyards, vendors, music and four food trucks.

Along with the wine, guests will be able to sample local wares from vendors including Sogno Tosco Olive Oils, Poof Itza Gift, Slash Z Photography, Udderly Natural Products, Caroline's Chocolates, Elksong Jewelry, Hermosa Handbags, Andersen Windows, Cutco Cutlery, Whoa Nelly Gallery, Peace and Love Smoked Cheese, Windsor Hats and more.

There will also be live music from four different bands both Saturday and Sunday, including Rhythm Jax with Angel Diamond and Cat Daddy and the 12 Barz Blues Band.

The festival takes place from March 7 to 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Tickets are $20 to $45 and include a souvenir wine glass and sampling tickets. Additional sampling tickets will be available at the event. Tickets can be bought in advance at kj-vineyards.com/events and will also be available at the door.

Well-behaved dogs are welcome, as well as families, but guests must be 21 to drink.

The Sonoita-Elgin area is about an hour away from Tucson.

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More by Jamie Verwys

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