Veteran-owned High Lonesome Vineyard s a producer of award-winning wines. It recognized as one of top 10 wineries in Arizona. Photo by High Lonesome Vineyard.

Tucked away in the scenic terrain of Southeastern Arizona in the picturesque landscape of Cochise County, High Lonesome Vineyard® stands as a beacon of quality and passion in the world of viticulture. Owned and operated by Tom and Edie Gustason, both retired from the U.S. Army, the vineyard is not just a business but a culmination of a lifelong dream.

Arizona Viticulture

Arizona’s wine history has a rich heritage dating back to the Spanish missionaries of the 16th century. The story continues with Henry Schuerman, a German settler who, in the 1880s, cultivated Zinfandel in the Verde Valley’s Oak Creek area. His wines found a market among cowboys and copper miners. However, the advent of prohibition laws in 1915 put a damper on wine production until the 1970s. It was then that Gordon Dutt, a soil scientist from the University of Arizona, experimented with vineyards in the high desert. The encouraging outcomes of these trials marked the commencement of Arizona’s contemporary wine industry.

Mission San Xavier del Bac near Tuscon, Arizona. Arizona’s wine history traces back to 16th-century Spanish missionaries. Photo by Keyany / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Since the 1970s, Arizona has been part of the viticulture scene, fostering a wine culture that celebrates the state’s abundant high desert harvests and the commitment of vintners overseeing more than 30 wineries across the region. The state’s tasting rooms have contributed to Arizona’s esteemed wine status, even in locales distant from the vineyards themselves. Across Arizona, from quaint hamlets to bustling metropolises, eateries and watering holes have incorporated Arizona’s vintages into their offerings.

Boasting climatic and soil conditions that rival those of famed wine-producing areas in California and Argentina, Arizona’s southern elevated deserts have positioned the state as a significant contender on the global wine stage. The regions of Willcox and Sonoita stand out as Arizona’s most productive wine territories, with their expansive valley farms yielding almost three-fourths of the state’s grape harvest, resulting in acclaimed varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot. Sonoita earned the distinction of being Arizona’s inaugural American Viticultural Area (AVA), with Willcox and the Verde Valley joining the esteemed ranks.

The Sonoita/Elgin AVA is located in Southern Arizona, encompassing the towns of Sonoita, Patagonia, and Elgin. This region, sitting at an elevation between 4,500 to 5,200 feet, was the first designated AVA in the state of Arizona. The valley is surrounded by several mountain ranges, contributing to the unique mineral deposits in the soil. The climate here is characterized by summer highs in the 80s to 90s and an average rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, mostly during the monsoon season.

The Verde Valley AVA is situated in Northern Arizona, encompassing the towns of Sedona, Jerome, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and the communities of Cornville, Page Springs, and Rimrock. This region, located about 2 hours north of Phoenix by car, sits at an elevation of roughly 3,000 to 5,500 feet. The Verde Valley has a wide variety of soils, from limestone in Rimrock, sandstone in Sedona, to basalt on House Mountain, along with highly fertile alluvial deposits near the Verde River and Oak Creek. The average rainfall here is 16 to 18 inches per year, mostly during the monsoon season.

The Willcox AVA is located in Northern-Eastern Arizona, which includes Willcox, Kansas Settlement, Turkey Creek, Pearce, located in Cochise and Graham counties. Cohise County grows the majority of the state’s fruit in larger, more acreage-per-vineyard farms. Vineyards are planted in the Sulphur Springs Valley and along the bases of the mountains in the area between 4,000 and 5,500 feet. The average rainfall is 13 to 18 inches, again mostly coming in heavy monsoon storms during July and August.

Each of these AVAs contributes to the diversity and richness of Arizona’s wine industry, offering unique flavors and characteristics influenced by their specific geographical and climatic conditions.

Vineyards and wineries are not just confined to the well-known regions of the state. These producers, known as Mavericks, cultivate their crops in the state’s more unconventional regions. Some of these areas include parts of Cochise County, Chino Valley, Young, Kingman, Williams, and Portal. These trailblazers are at the forefront of growing grape varieties that are well-suited to the distinct microclimates found within Arizona’s expansive and stunning terrain. High Lonesome Vineyard is one vineyard that is considered a maverick.

High Lonesome Vineyard

Positioned strategically between the historic town of Tombstone, Bisbee and the community of Elfrida in Arizona, High Lonesome Vineyard is a gem set amidst a natural amphitheater of mountains. The vineyard is cradled by the Mule and Whetstone ranges to the southwest, the iconic Dragoon Mountains to the north, and the Swisshelm and Chiricahua ranges to the east. This geographical marvel enjoys a quartet of seasons and sits at an elevation where the mercury rarely tips over the century mark, offering a sanctuary for vines to thrive.

Reenactment of the Gunfight at O.K. Coral, Tombstone, Arizona. High Lonesome Vineyard is located 15 miles east of Tombstone. Photo © by James G. Howes, 2008.

Tom and Edie Gustason’s venture into the world of winemaking is a story of transformation and growth. Their path to establishing High Lonesome Vineyard began in the late 1980s, a period marked by the -beginning of their notable military careers. Tom, having dedicated 21 years, and Edie, with 20 years of service, would bring the same level of commitment and discipline from their military careers to their winemaking venture.

In 2011, they couple chose a 36-acre plot of land, rich in sandy loam soil, known for its excellent drainage and fertility—qualities that are highly favorable for viticulture. This particular type of soil, combined with the unique microclimate of the valley, offered an ideal setting for growing a variety of grapevines. It was here in 2013, in this verdant expanse, that they decided to plant their roots, both literally and metaphorically.

Their decision to settle in this region was influenced by its agricultural heritage, which promised a bountiful yield and the opportunity to contribute to the area’s burgeoning wine industry. The Gustason’s envisioned a vineyard that would not only produce high-quality wines but also serve as a testament to the valley’s rich potential for viticulture.

As they embarked on this journey, they applied the skills and values they had acquired during their military service—precision, strategy, and perseverance—to the meticulous care of their vines. The result of their efforts is a vineyard that stands as a proud reflection of their past and a beacon of their passion for winemaking.

Vineyard at High Lonesome Vineyard. Photo by High Lonesome Vineyard.

Unique Selection of Wine Varietals

The vineyard’s portfolio is as varied as it is impressive. High Lonesome Vineyard is renowned for its unique selection of wine varietals, each with its own distinct character and flavor profile.

For wine enthusiasts looking to explore beyond the common choices, High Lonesome Vineyard provides a delightful journey into the world of unique and flavorful wines.

Recognition for the Gustason’s’ labor of love has been significant. High Lonesome Vineyard has won numerous international and national awards for their wines and has been heralded as one of Arizona’s top ten wineries, a salute to their unwavering dedication to cultivating wines that are authentically Arizonan.

High Lonesome Vineyard is renowned for its unique selection of wine varietals, each with its own distinct character and flavor profile. Photob y High Lonesome Vineyard.

Events and Tours

High Lonesome Vineyard offers a variety of special events and tours for visitors. They participate in events such as the Tombstone Wine Celebration, Sedona WineFest, and the Sierra Vista Wine, Beer and Spirits Festival. These events provide a fantastic opportunity for guests to experience the vineyard’s offerings and enjoy the local culture and scenery.

For those interested in a more intimate experience, High Lonesome Vineyard also offers vineyard tours. Visitors can explore the vineyard, learn about the winemaking process, and sample their unique varietals. The vineyard is open for tours and tastings Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. The vineyard’s hospitality is matched only by the stunning vistas from their outdoor tasting space, where one can savor their exquisite wines, including some that are rare finds in Arizona.

It’s always a good idea to check their official website or contact them directly for the most up-to-date information on their events, tours, and any special activities they might be hosting.

Final Thoughts

High Lonesome Vineyard is a celebration of the American spirit, a place where the values of service and hard work are distilled into every bottle. It’s a story of transition from military precision to the art of winemaking, a narrative that resonates with veterans and oenophiles alike.

For those unable to visit, the vineyard’s partnership with Vinoshipper brings their cellar to your doorstep. A selection of their finest wines, including the aromatic Riesling, the rare Picpoul Blanc, the distinctive Lemberger, and the deep Tannat, are available for online purchase and home delivery. This service ensures that the essence of High Lonesome Vineyard can be enjoyed anywhere, providing a convenient portal to their award-winning selection. For the latest on their offerings and how to bring a piece of the vineyard home, their website and direct contact are the best resources.


High Lonesome Vineyard

Arizona Wine Growers Association

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

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