December 9, 2023

Arizona and Vine


My writings on the Arizona wine scene have focused on the wineries in the northern reaches of the state so far. This is the Sedona edition after all, and they’re just down the road. But, I would be remiss in promoting Arizona wines if I didn’t branch out and discuss the other regions of the state involved in the grape business.

I’d like to introduce to you to a gentleman that is the perfect bridge to bring together every region of the Arizona wine industry, from the vineyards down south, to the wineries up north, and the retail shops in between. His name is Sam Pillsbury, and he’s the owner of the Pillsbury Wine Company. I had the chance to meet Sam recently. He’s technically a native of New England, but for all practical purposes is a Kiwi from New Zealand. Like most people from the lands down south, he’s gracious, friendly, and always interested in telling a good, colorful story over a drink.

If his name sounds familiar to you, it’s because you might have seen it roll past on a few movie and television credits. Sam’s first industry was film directing, and he has over 30 titles to his credit including Where the Red Fern Grows and Free Willy 3: The Rescue.

A few years back he married a local girl and settled in Arizona. He’s always wanted to grow grapes and make wine, so after a bit of wine tasting down in the southeastern part of the state, he became involved with the Dos Cabezas Winery near Willcox. Dos Cabezas’ wines have been some of the best received in the state, and were even served at a few official government functions in Washington, D.C.

Sam recently decided to head out on his own though (not entirely, he does have business partners in Eric Glomski and Rob Dunaway) and purchased a plot of land to become the vineyard for his new wine venture. The Pillsbury Wine Company covers the whole state as the grapes are grown in Cochise County near Tombstone, the wine is currently made in Cornville, and Sam lives in between, hand selling most of his product in the Phoenix market.

Pillsbury Wine Company, like many vineyards in Arizona, grows predominately Rhône grape varieties. Plantings are heavy with Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Toss in a little Tempranillo, Malvasia Bianca, and what Sam calls “some oddball grape we haven’t been able to identify” that has since been planted over, and you get the current framework for Pillsbury wines. Future plantings are on the way, including some Viognier to add to the white wine portfolio, as well as a few others that call the Mediterranean home.

As for the wines themselves, one word comes to mind – Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s a region in the Rhône Valley of France known for its powerful red wines blended from several grape varieties for those who are unfamiliar. The wines are predominately a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah, and are known for having a characteristic smoky/meaty profile along with bright fruit flavors. Sam’s stated goal, of course, is to produce wines that are more refined, and in the tradition of the old world meant to join the dinner table as food friendly compliments. He says he’ll make a few big monsters in the high alcohol fruit bomb category from time to time as well, just for the fun of it.

Pillsbury wines deserve a special nod because they are all 100% Arizona grown and produced. After trying most of what Pillsbury has to offer, I highly recommend seeking them out, as they are some of the better wines in the state. If you want to learn more about the Pillsbury Wine Company and purchase a few of their wines, visit their website at You’ll find a listing of retail stores around the state that carry their current releases. You can also place an order directly from the website by email.

Remember to enjoy responsibly.

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