SONOITA - A friendly bit of advice if you trek down here to Arizona Hops and Vines: Watch out for Bob.
Bob Marley the goat has these cool, rasta-colored balls covering the poke-y ends of his horns, but those aren't what you have to look out for. Beware those blunt chompers. Oh, he'll act friendly. Do not be fooled.
Bob's sociability issues aside, the rest of the four-legged crew at Hops and Vines is incredibly charming. Lola the Australian shepherd is lovely. Elton John the rabbit, Harriet Tubman the turtle and the chickens are all quite chill.
A petting zoo at a winery? Yup, that's pretty unusual, but then, so is Arizona Hops and Vines.
This is a place that takes the "h" out of wine - kids are not only welcome, they'll actually have a good time.
When sisters Megan Austin Haller and Shannon Austin Zouzoulas, along with their friend Summer Cantu, opened the winery in March, they wanted something family-friendly. After all, they didn't discover the wonders of wine until they became moms.
"Nothing makes you want to drink more than children," Haller said. "We figure we'd better keep 'em busy while you drink."
Hence the petting zoo. And the games - cornhole, tetherball and horseshoes are scattered outside the tasting room, a remodeled home on the 10-acre property. The grounds are landscaped with a trickling fountain and small pond, surrounded by chairs and benches, all perfect places to sit and sip and take in the rolling green hills of Arizona's wine country.
Remember the story of "The Little Engine That Could"? This scrappy little winery is quite similar.
"It's been done on a shoestring," said Haller, who lives in Vail and worked at Sonoita wineries for several years before striking out on her own. "It's a collaborative effort."
She and her sister sweet-talked their parents into buying the property, which they lease back. Haller's trade work at area wineries scored them the cuttings growing in the 6-acre vineyard. She scavenged the wire used to attach the vines to trellises. The winery relies on an army of volunteers, while an adopt-a-barrel program provides some capital.
And though wine is a serious business, this place doesn't take itself too seriously. The women (who aren't above pouring wine into a slushie machine) dish out a heaping helping of fun - along with Cheetos. The puffy ones.
"Cheetos do pair well with the red," said Haller, who admits she loves the orange snacks as much as the vino. The red she's referring to is Imbibe, a California Petite Verdot. The winery offers a rotating selection of a half-dozen wines ($22 a bottle and up). They're a mix of vintages made elsewhere along with a few Arizona Hops and Vines made with grapes purchased in Willcox and California. Their own vines will be ready to harvest next year.
Events have included a camp-out in the vineyard to enjoy a meteor shower and another one called Bad Decisions Night that featured beer, bacon, cheese and chocolate along with, of course, wine.
"We are the most laid-back, relaxed winery," Zouzoulas said.
Haller and Zouzoulas handle day-to-day operations, since Cantu lives in Patagonia. Zouzoulas joked that she's "out in the vineyard, doing what Megan tells me to do. She's the brains."
Their six kids are in on the action, too.
"They complain about pulling weeds," Haller said.
The kids man the so-called Sober Shack, a teeny shedlike building with a chalk-board painted counter that serves up sweet, sweet - did we mention sweet? - home-mixed sodas in flavors like white peach and green apple.
"The kids make the syrups themselves from fruit and sugar," said Haller, who's studying winemaking through the University of California-Davis. "They come up with the recipes."
Looming on the horizon: growing more hops (they've got a little under an acre now), a bocce ball court, an air hockey tournament, a Christmas party pairing wines with cookies, and perhaps a mini-donkey and a few little goat friends for Bob. The lady who provides goat cheese for the winery thinks it might make him friendlier, Haller said.
But until his bleating buddies arrive, keep a watchful eye on the Bobster.
If You Go
• What: Arizona Hops and Vines, 3450 Highway 82, Sonoita, azhopsandvines.com,1-888-569-1642
• Tasting hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.
• Et cetera: A few Arizona Hops and Vines wines are available at The RumRunner, 3131 E. First St.
• Oct. 5 - Art in the Heart of Sonoita: Xymyl: Xymyl - aka Thomas Ale Johnson - will show oil monoprints made using hop leaves.
• Oct. 13 - Oktoberfest: German food, music and clothes along with a home-brewing contest, pitting local concoctions against microbrews from the area.