(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

For the love of wine & good times at Simon Hazel Cellars

April 5, 2023
By Matt Sterner

"We strive to have only the best."

Collectible, vintage, rare, and one-of-a-kind wines. That’s what Simon Hazel Cellars offers inside its tasting room at 6960 E. Sunrise Dr. #160.

Describing their wine selection as boutique, co-owner and local Tucsonan, Joe Taylor spends all of the time it takes with distribution representatives to learn about the history of the winemakers behind the scenes, the vineyard itself, and the quality of the wine before it is sold at Simon Hazel Cellars.

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

“I’m a Napa cab guy at heart, and most of my personal collection consists of OGs of Napa, but lately white Burgundies and Sicilian reds have stolen my heart,” said Taylor. “Wine is very subjective and it’s important for the store to appeal to all customers, styles, and wine preferences. So, two priorities while choosing the wines are finding wines from most wine regions in all price points — maintaining the high-quality I seek out — and sometimes it can be difficult, but it’s my passion and I truly love what I do.”

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
A passion for wine

While serving for the U.S. Navy, a local event planner in the area where he was stationed in Monterey, California needed a helping hand for the Concourse D’elegance — a ritzy car show held annually in Pebble Beach. This is the moment when Taylor’s love for wine blossomed into something beautiful.

“I volunteered as a server for the two-day party being held at the Chappellet estate, the home of a wealthy French family, I assumed,” he said. “When I pulled up to the beautiful home, I was greeted by the friendliest family who welcomed me into their home and taught me about wine, tipped me with a few bottles of excellent Chenin Blanc, and sparked a little fire that wildly grew. When I came of age to purchase alcohol, Chappellet was the first wine club I joined, starting my collection of their Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon — still a work in progress — and my passion for wine.”

Simon Hazel Cellars (Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Although, before opening Simon Hazel Cellars, Taylor spent a good amount of time doing something totally different — a different varietal, so to speak — and had a career in the healthcare industry. Being a consultant for one of the larger EMR software companies, Taylor worked in several hospitals across the country, giving him the opportunity to travel to cities like Boston, Honolulu, and everywhere in between.

All of that traveling can become tiresome, though, and while creating a hospital-specific curriculum for operating room staff, surgeons, and anesthesiologists is an incredible role to fulfill, Taylor was looking for a change.

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)
Bringing Simon Hazel Cellars to life

“In the fall of 2019, I took a leave of absence from work to care for my 61-year-old, badass best friend, hero, and grandma to my dogs, my mother, who was diagnosed Stage-4 with a rare form of gallbladder cancer,” he said. “While at home in Tucson full-time, I enrolled at the University of Arizona to continue my education in Neuroscience with an emphasis in Psychology. My mom, surrounded by family including my two dogs, Simon and Hazel, unfortunately, died on April 8, 2020, during the COVID lockdown. This set in motion a series of events that in sum, led to the opening of our wine store.”

Just a few months after his mother’s passing, Taylor officially met his partner, Tucson native, Bryan Durkin, who is also a local high-end real estate agent with Sotheby’s (they met nearly a decade earlier at a dinner party a mutual friend was throwing).

“We bonded over the usual dinner party conversation, like being avid wine collectors, our love for dogs, and the need to be passionate about our careers.”

Years after their first encounter, they decided to combine their love for wine and a career they loved equally as much, and embarked on a three-month “epic adventure” from Tucson, Arizona to the Arctic Circle — backstopping in Napa on the way up and back down. While having lunch on Pritchard Hill, where the Chappellet family (and many notable wineries) grew their prized wine, Taylor decided to leave the healthcare industry and open a wine store.

A year to the day later, the pair opened Simon Hazel Cellars in 2022.

So much more than a tasting room

“The original idea was to open a bottle shop — minimal staff, a selection of amazing wines, a basic website,” said Taylor. “Events never came up in conversation until our contractor mentioned the idea in passing while pondering extra square footage of the old dry cleaner being transformed into the wine store. Today, our tasting events account for more than 50% of revenue, are a marketing tool themselves, and provide our neighborhood, the greater wine community, and residents of Tucson something new, different, and refreshing to do.”

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Simon Hazel Cellars hosts both private and public tasting events each month.

Every other Friday evening, the team kicks off the weekend with a Wine & Jazz Happy Hour. If you’ve yet to catch one of these entertaining events, they’re well-rounded with incredible live music, a selection of delicious appetizers, and an ever-changing selection of six to eight wines.

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

They’re keeping the fun fresh, too, with the wine theme changing each event, meaning they highlight various wine regions, producers, varietals, and styles every month. In addition to Wine & Jazz Happy Hour, the crew hosts a Paint & Sip event twice a month that’s taught by the talented Chellie Krajnak, who also teaches art at Canyon Ranch and the Ritz-Carlton.

Other public wine-tasting events include holiday-themed celebration tastings. For instance, on New Year’s, they had a mimosa bar, opened trophy bottles like Heitz Cellars’ Martha’s Vineyard, and guests were treated with a New Year’s toast of Bollinger La Grand Annee — acclaimed wine critic, Jeb Dunnuck’s top wine choice of 2022. During their Poppies, Puppies, and Pinot event, they offered a flower arranging class, bring your dog to the wine shop day, and a lovely wine and chocolate pairing for Valentine’s Day.

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

If you’re looking for something a little more private, Simon Hazel Cellars has you covered. Some of the current private wine-tasting events include the Wine Tasting Experience, Food & Wine Pairing Experience, and their Paint & Sip (it’s the same as the public option but for private parties).

“The Wine Tasting Experience includes two hours in our private tasting room,” said Taylor. Parties larger than eight people can use the entire store. It includes a dedicated wine host to describe each wine, including its terroir and tasting notes, an individual charcuterie board for each person, and a personal wine-tasting journal to use and take home. “We can either select the wines ahead of time with the guest or if the guest would rather be surprised, we will select wines based on preferences or styles — the entire experience is customizable,” Taylor noted.

The Food & Wine Pairing receives everything the Wine Tasting Experience does with the addition of an expert pairing of wines. These are curated with the help of their neighboring restaurant partners’ delicious meals. Ahead of time, everyone’s given the opportunity to select what they would like to order from the restaurant and Simon Hazel Cellars does the rest.

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

“Our team provides five-star service and a seamless dining experience held in our beautiful store,” said Taylor. With six wines we expertly pair with the meal, it’s magical!”

So, whether you’re a wine aficionado, someone who’d love to learn and explore the wonderful world of wine, or a casual drinker who’s trying to impress others with a nifty bottle, pay a visit to Simon Hazel Cellars and take a gander at their boutique collection.

The tasting room and bottle shop is open from noon – 10 p.m. on Monday – Saturday and noon – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Wine & Jazz Happy Hour is every other Friday.

(Photo by Hannah Hernandez)

Simon Hazel Cellars is located at 6960 E. Sunrise Drive #160. For more information, call (520) 467-4668 and visit simonhazel.com.

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