Located at 3450 Highway 82, Sonoita, AZ 85637
Open Thurs 10a-4p; Fri-Sun 10a-6p
It was just after 4pm when I reached the Hops and Vines vineyard in Sonoita. The gray skies were getting darker and I knew that whatever passed for daylight on this day wasn’t gonna last much longer. The entrance to the place was marked by DIY-type signs that were vastly different from the polished looks of the other tasting rooms I had visited that day.
I had heard Hops and Vines described as a cool, laid-back vineyard that organized fun, social events about once per month. They attract a pretty big crowd and they’re the young, hip vineyard on the block which is a nice complement to the older, more established places in town. It sounded exactly like the kind of place that Rosario would frequent. But none of the hip kids were out on this rainy day. The grounds were desolate and the tasting room was empty except for a handful of people.
The walls were lined with art, photos and other trinkets but I barely had a chance to notice them. My eyes immediately went to the bar and locked on a familiar figure with her back to me. It was Rosario Vargas. I hadn’t seen her in about seven years but instantly recognized that long, beautiful, shiny black hair and her thin frame with the same, overly tight jeans she always wore that somehow made her look like she had a muffin top even though she was super skinny and had, like, a body fat percentage in the single digits. I don’t know how that look was even possible.
“You’ve finally found me,” she said, without turning around. “It took you long enough. You don’t know how badly I want to devour what you’ve got for me.”
“Uhhhh…excuse me?” I asked.
Rosario turned around to look at me.
“Oh shit,” she said. “Sorry, I thought you were the pizza guy. I ordered that shit almost an hour ago. Hi, though, it’s good to see you!”
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Rosario’s favorite food was pizza. Also she was really into banging pizza delivery guys for some reason.
“I’ve been all over this town looking for you today, Rosie. I thought you were in trouble.”
“Do I look like I’m in trouble, Cinnabon?” Cinnabon was her nickname for me. She had several nicknames for me, actually. And as a matter of fact, she didn’t look like she was in trouble at all. She was knocking back glass after glass of wine and invited me to have a few with her. “Come on, I’ll get you a tasting. It’s $15 for five wines and a souvenir glass. Unless you have your own glass, then it’s only $10.”
I had a glass from each of the three other vineyards I hit up that day but I decided to take home one from Hops and Vines as well. It was the stemless kind and I figured it would make a nice addition to my collection.
In keeping with Hops and Vines’ laid back style they pair each wine sample with different styles of chips, which sounds weird but works out perfectly for me because most of the wine I drank anyway was on my couch with a big bag of chips, an 80’s action movie on Netflix and a total lack of pants. Fittingly enough, the first taste was of a red wine called The Temptress. It was light and had hints of cherry and raspberry. It had a delicious flavor that drew you in and made you immediately long for another taste. The server placed a bowl of Doritos on the bar which complemented The Temptress perfectly. Rosario clinked her wine glass with mine and winked.
“So what the hell is going on with you, Rosario? First I get a call from some weird guy named Chuck Steak who tells me you’re in trouble. Then I meet a couple of guys who say you’re starting a winery/strip club/drug front and one of them says he’s your fiancé. I have no idea why I’m here.”
Rosario placed her hand on my cheek and the sensation instantly sent me back seven years in time to that young, skinny, messy-haired kid who first saw this beautiful woman running out of the local Target with a stolen blender under her shirt.
“You already know why you’re here, Strawberry Daiquiri.” That was another nickname she loved to call me. “I wanted you to be the sommelier at my strip club/winery joint. I haven’t come up with a name for it yet. I expect it’ll be a combination of dirty, wine-related puns. So far I’m thinking ‘Cabernet Sauvignass.’”
“That’s a terrible name. But why would you assume that I knew enough about wine to be your sommelier?”
“I didn’t. In fact, I assumed you didn’t know shit about wine. You only drank crappy, cheap beer by the caseload when we were together and I imagine you’re still doing the same?” She was right. I was. “I knew you had the potential to learn about wine and apply that knowledge. You just needed to be shaken out of your piss-flavored-beer comfort zone. Here, tell me about this wine.”
The next taste was a wine called Zinfidelity. I told Rosario it tasted of plums and cherry with hints of spice and then had a chocolatey finish. This wine was paired with garlic bread chips and the flavors were an amazing mixture that at first seemed simple but quickly became more complex and enthralling.
“See, Banana Bread?” Another nickname. “Before today you wouldn’t have had the confidence to say any of that shit. You used to tell me that you really liked wine because you liked grape juice as a kid. Remember?”
I did remember. Rosario always knew me better than anyone. I used to think it was because no one could truly see the real me that lay deep down except for her. But I was starting to realize that it was more that she was experienced while I was uncomplicated. Her being ten years older than I was surely made it easier.
“After seven years why would you try to shake me out of my comfort zone now? I only ever hear from you, or about you, once a year or so. The most recent time was ‘cause I happened to be watching CNN when they said you busted out of that private prison in Eloy. I had no idea you were even in Arizona. And before that I just got a package from you with a t-shirt in it that said, ‘I’ll Slap That Ass Till It’s Fifty Shades Of Red.’ I’m never gonna wear that t-shirt. What kind of idiot would walk around in public wearing that fucking t-shirt?!?”
I was practically yelling at this point. The entire afternoon that I spent feeling cold, wet and in the dark was getting to me.
“Relax, Bacon Bits.” Nickname. “I sought you out because I never liked how things ended seven years ago. You were younger than anyone I had ever dated but you caught my eye because I saw so much potential in you. You were intelligent, exciting, handsome and had a killer Backstreet Boys-esque haircut. I could totally see that Backstreet Boy turning into an amazing Backstreet Man. You made me think you could hold the entire world in the palm of your hand if you wanted. Not to mention how good you were at putting together awesome mixed CDs for us to make out to.”
“I still use those same old mixed CDs. Nobody remembers who James Blunt is anymore so I just tell girls he’s an obscure, up-and-coming indie chick and they just eat it up.”
Rosario gave me a look that I used to mistake for affection but just now realized was closer to pity.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Pineapple Chunks.” Nickname. “You never did live up to that potential. You spent your days and nights in a drunken haze, aimlessly bouncing around dance clubs and being really, really terrible at the Electric Slide. Seriously, I watched you Electric Slide, like, dozens of times. You never got better.”
“It’s a hard dance! And you were only with me for six months before you bailed!”
“And those six months turned into more than six years. You’re still in that same drunken haze and still using the same old mixed CDs and still aimless.”
She was right. I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was silently sip the next taste that got poured into my glass while Rosario and I were talking. It was a wine called Amanda. As expected, it was delicious. It had hints of strawberry and vanilla and paired perfectly with the bowl of Cheetos the server set down in front of me. This wine was special in its own way because, according to the server, it was the first of a 6-part series that would change as the vine grows. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to taste the first version of this wine and looked forward to see how the taste evolved in the future.
Rosario broke the silence.
“Breaking out of that prison in Eloy was research for me. I’ve invested money in all the companies that build private prisons in Arizona. And starting Cabernet Sauvignass will help me fund my own private prisons that I’m building in Mexico.”
“What? Why would you do that?”
“A big chunk of the people in private prisons in Arizona are undocumented immigrants and that chunk is getting bigger. The private prison companies have successfully lobbied over the years to make unlawful border crossings a criminal act punishable by time in a federal prison. It used to be a civil offense punishable by deportation. In the last 25 years the private prison industry has grown by 1600% and I’ve made a shit-ton of cash investing in it. But there’s still a market for deportees. I’ve been working on a deal with the government. They’re gonna agree to send deportees to my Mexican prison system. What they don’t know is that I’ve been assembling teams of migrants and showing them how to bust out of U.S. prisons just like I did.”
“Wait, so you’re making money when undocumented migrants get tossed into Arizona’s private prisons, then you’re helping them bust out and when they get deported you’ll make money when they get tossed into the prisons you built in Mexico? That’s insane! How could you make a profit out of human incarceration?!?”
“People have been making a profit out of it for decades now. If it’s not me, it’s someone else. So it might as well be me!”
“Since when do you care about money? How many times did you give out free happy endings at the mobile massage parlor in the back of your van when you knew damn well you could’ve charged a pretty penny for them? How many times did you start a fire in that barrel in your living room using the stacks of bills from your latest bank heist in order to keep warm instead of just paying the gas bill with them? How many times did you invest in the fucking Latin Grammies?!?”
“People change, Truffle Oil.” Nickname. “You know I came from nothing. I told you my mother sold tamales just to pay the bills and my dad delivered pizzas just to feed his coke habit. It’s time I start thinking about my financial future.”
The server poured me the next taste of wine called Merci and set down a bowl of black pepper chips right next to my glass. The Merci was 100% Arizona Syrah and the taste had a strong disconnect between the beginning of the sip and the end. It started with very fruity flavor that then turned into a surprisingly strong, earthy finish.
I was feeling overwhelmed by everything that was going on. I headed into the bathroom to regain my composure.
I spent the last few hours with rain dripping down my face but being able to splash some warm water on it felt oddly refreshing. The Hops and Vines bathroom was a sight to behold with lovely art and a wealth of decorations lining the walls. I walked out of the bathroom and realized that Rosario was gone. She was nowhere to be found in the tasting room. I panicked and ran outside.
I quickly found her standing on this little platform thing holding my wine glass out to me with the final taste. It was called The Fluffer and it was sweet and smooth. I wasn’t usually into sweet wine but this was incredibly enticing in and of itself and even more so when I realized it was paired with jalapeño chips. The pairing was the perfect balance of sweet and spicy and the flavors where irresistible…and also a fluffer was Rosario’s first job after college so it reminded me of her, which was an added bonus.
“I can tell you’re not very enticed by my private prison plan. That’s okay, you can feel free to walk away, Pumpkin Ravioli With Sage Butter,” she said, calling me by yet another nickname. She loved using nicknames. In fact, she used them all the time. Like…every single time. Since she met me. Even up until now. Forever.
“Wait, wait…all this time I’ve known you, you’ve only ever called me by these weird nicknames.”
“Rosario, do you know my name?”
She stood there, quietly, staring at me, without blinking.
“Rosario…I asked you a question. Do you know my name?”
She continued standing there in silence, still without blinking for at least three minutes which was amazing.
“Holy shit, you have no idea what my real name is, do you?”
“Okay, come on, don’t hold it against me. I’ve never been good at that shit.”
“What. The. Fuck.”
I was about to lose my goddamn mind at her when we were interrupted by the sound of a black helicopter rapidly approaching the grounds. It stopped just above us and four separate ropes unfurled from the chopper toward the ground. Four men in full SWAT gear slid down the ropes, landed and pulled out Submachine guns that they pointed at Rosario in what appeared to be a single, fluid motion. They yelled at her to not move.
A fifth person slid down from the chopper, slower than the rest of the SWAT guys. Well, he was being slowly lowered rather than sliding. He was a large, blob-like figure inside of a net that resembled the kind fishermen used when they were out on a boat. The large blob man had a walker inside the net and he flailed his hook hand when he hit the ground until the net was ripped open wide enough for him to step out. It was Chuck Steak, oxygen tank and all.
“Hi there, Rosie. Fancy meeting you here,” he said with a smile that showed off his total lack of teeth.
“Ugh. Hello, Chuck,” Rosario said. “I’m sorry to see you’re still alive.”
“Wait,” I said. “Chuck, you’ve been after Rosario this whole time?”
“Of course I have. I work for the IRS. And your little girlfriend here tried to write off a couple thousand bucks in lap dances on her taxes last year.”
“Oh come on,” Rosario protested. “They were a legitimate business expense. I was doing research for Cabernet Sauvignass!”
“Even if I let that slide there’s still the matter of the ten grand you tried to write off for cocaine expenses.”
“Oh. Yeah, I can’t exactly defend that.”
“I don’t know what’s more confusing, the fact that you tried to submit blow receipts to the IRS or the fact that you even asked your coke dealers for receipts in the first place. Who does that?”
“Responsible business owners do, asshole! Besides, they all use Square now. It’s super convenient to get receipts, they just email that shit straight to you.”
The SWAT team arrested Rosario and led her to the helicopter. She looked over her shoulder at me and gave me a wink. She didn’t say another word. Neither did I. I had none. Chuck Steak walked over to me.
“Thanks for leading her to us, kid.”
“Wait, I don’t get it, Chuck. You called me into Sonoita. But then Rosario said she wanted me to be a part of her scheme the whole time. How did I get involved in this at all?”
“Rosario is a tricky one. She used me to get to you. But she didn’t anticipate that I would then use you to get to her.”
“I don’t know, Chuck, I don’t think Rosario’s better at anything than she is at anticipating things. She might be five steps ahead of you even as we speak. Don’t let your guard down.”
I walked out onto Hops and Vines’ platform thingy and looked out onto the Sonoita landscape. The rain had finally stopped for a bit and the little daylight that seeped through the gray clouds all day was quickly coming to an end. The events of the day bounced through my mind like pinballs and I started to get a headache. I buried my face in my hands and felt my palms getting wet. My eyes were watering. Chuck walked up next to me and put his hook hand on my shoulder, drawing blood.
“What is it, kid?”
“Fuck this day, Chuck. I came to Sonoita today thinking I was gonna save Rosario from some kind of trouble. Then I find out I couldn’t do a thing for her. She’s no longer the person I fell in love with and I’m still the same guy she couldn’t be bothered to love. I haven’t changed a bit in the last seven years since I met her. I’m still the same old, aimless alcoholic.”
Chuck tried to adjust my necktie with his hands but ended up slicing off most of it with his hook.
“Well, kid, if you’re gonna be an alcoholic then at least you’re a classy-looking one.”
“Yeah, great,” I scoffed through tears. “Hooray for me, I’m a classy alcoholic.”
“I’m not kidding you, I actually like the sound of that. Tell me, how long have you been in Arizona?”
“Just shy of ten years.”
“And how much traveling have you done here?”
“Hardly any. Hell, Sonoita’s the farthest out of town I’ve ever traveled, I think. I don’t even know where I would go if I wanted to explore.”
“Well I’ve lived in this state all my life, kid. I’ve been all over the world but my home base has always been Arizona. And believe it or not, Arizona’s a beautiful place. You may have to dig around a bit to find that beauty but I can tell you that it’s worth the effort. If you want to find direction and purpose then you need to start by leaving your comfort zone. Don’t worry about going to Europe or Africa or Australia just yet. I’ve been to those places and more and they’re definitely worth a visit but I suggest you start locally. Go to the town of Sedona. The hippies who live there say there’s some kind of Vortex of energy that fills you with calm and perspective or some shit. I don’t know much about that hippie shit but I can tell you that Sedona’s a good a place as any to start if you’re looking for a change. You can take it from there.”
Chuck hobbled back onto the helicopter. I watched it fly off with Rosario onboard, watching me from behind her Hannibal Lecter face mask. I felt a chill. The temperature had been in the low 60s all day and it seemed to get colder as it got darker. I hopped into my car and put the bottle of The Fluffer that I had bought alongside the three others I purchased this day. Four vineyards, four bottles, four souvenir wine glasses. I pushed the Eject button on my car’s CD player and pulled out the mixed CD I had burned almost a decade ago full of James Blunt songs. I tossed it out the window and drove away from Hops and Vines.
Sonoita was still. I drove a few minutes in silence before the rain started up again. The crackling of raindrops on the windshield was a suitable way to close out my adventure. My rainy day in Sonoita and Elgin was finally over. There was nothing left to do except tomorrow.