Two sisters in southern Arizona are totally turning the quintessential image of wine tasting on its head.
This is a fairly typical Sunday afternoon at Arizona Hops and Vine. It's proof that wine tasting doesn't have to be so serious.
“We're not, like, curing cancer. We're serving, we're making wine and we want to be a part of everybody's special memories,” said Shannon Austin Zouzoulas. “We love weddings here. We love birthday parties, bachelorette parties, whatever, we love to be a part of that. But we also want you to walk in and feel relaxed. We don't ever want you to walk in and feel like, ‘I don't know enough about wine. How should I be swirling my glass?’”
Instead, the sisters aim to help average people understand and enjoy wine.
Shannon and Megan are the owners of this vineyard and tasting room in Sonoita – the heart of southern Arizona's wine country.
When you think of wine pairings, you might think cheeses or cuts of meat.
“We pair with chips, we're laidback,” said Zouzoulas.
Sister Megan Haller moved to the area when she married a border patrol agent, and she fell in love with the area.
“I volunteered to harvest one day when my kids went off to school, and it was that or get a real job. So I went out there and decided to harvest the grapes and I just fell in love with it, and they hired me to work in the vineyard full-time,” she said.
While Haller was working at all the vineyards she could, Zouzoulas was tasting lots of wine.
“I was living on the east coast. We talked about always opening wineries but we grew up in California. But then we realized, California is so yesterday,” said Zouzoulas. “We really wanted to be pioneers -- we should do it in Arizona. So, when I got my divorce I realized this is where we should - I moved out here and opened a winery, that was the way to go.”
With six kids between the two of them, the sisters knew their new venture had to be family-friendly.
“Our theory is nothing makes you want to drink more than children,” Haller said.
It's their tongue-in-cheek attitude that has their tasting room jumping and guests thirsting for more.
“And honestly, the thing that makes us the most special is everybody that comes here usually comes back with their family and their friends,” Zouzoulas said, “and they're like part of it, like literally part of it. We spend so little on advertising because it's the customers that kind of spread the word.”
But it’s not just the environment. The wines are also a key reason people come to Hops and Vine.
“We have wine for every palette,” said Haller. “We have a sweet sparkling all the way to like, some really dry, complex estate wines that we're really proud of. So I'd like to think wine is a big part of why people come in here.”
It takes time and lots of sampling to find the wines you like.
“Developing your own palette, finding out what you like and then learning about those areas and the styles they make their wines has been a part of my process,” Haller said.
The process of starting their own vineyard was from the ground up.
“We planted the entire vineyard from cuttings that we propogated ourselves,” said Haller. “All of the work on the building and the landscaping was done by volunteers. We don't have a forklift.”
To make their location truly kid-friendly, the sisters and their kids make and sell alcohol-free sodas.
“Step right up,” said Haller. “We have the lemon-lime soda, the orange soda, and the coconut soda.”
“We make our kids run the Sober Shack,” Haller said. “They make homemade sodas and treats and stuff for our festivals and things like that. They work in the field with us.”
There’s also a petting zoo.
But for Zouzoulas and Haller, it's still all about the wine.