While the bulk of American wine production comes from the California, there are other regions throughout the United Staes where winemakers have already made their mark, or are just beginning to gain recognition from the rest of the country and world. From East to West and even down South, winemakers are showing that American wine isn’t limited to the California giants. Let’s take a look at some of the other wine regions in America that deserve your attention.
Columbia Valley, WA
The Columbia Valley has long been one of the most interesting regions in America for wine. The region has been host to winemakers since the mid to late 19th century. Prohibition slowed down but did not end the wine industry in the Columbia Valley. By the 1950s, researchers from the University of Washington had begun replanting the Columbia Valley, mostly producing Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines. The region has only expanded since, creating wines that have the fruit-forward boldness of California wines, with the refined structure of European wines.
The valley is located between the 46th and 47th parallel, making it in line with the famed French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The region also experiences more sunshine than the California wine regions despite Washington’s rainy reputation. The Columbia Valley’s location on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains keeps it away from the wet, coastal weather. In fact, most vineyards in the Columbia Valley need irrigation as total rainfall for some areas can be less than six inches a year (less than the Gobi Desert!). The cool climate lets the grapes ripen slower, allowing for more tannin production and balance. That balance and structure is what Columbia Valley wines are famous for. The most common varietals today are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling, with sizable portions of Syrah, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc as well.
Learn more about the Columbia Valley here: http://www.columbiavalleywine.com/.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
The Willamette Valley is probably the most well known and renown area outside of California to make wine in the United States. Since the 1960s, when wine production was reintroduced following Prohibition, the Willamette Valley has seen its status grow among the world of wine, especially when it comes to the production of Pinot Noir. The Willamette Valley actually features a number of sub-region AVA’s including the Snake River AVA, Dundee Hills AVA, and McMinnville AVA among others. The Willamette Valley is also known for having most of Oregon’s most populous cities such as Portland, the capital Salem, and Eugene.
Long thought too cold for the production of wine, the Willamette Valley actually offers ideal conditions for grapes suited to colder climates like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. Despite its reputation as a cold place, temperatures in summer can routinely reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and rarely dip down below freezing. The Pinot Noirs grown in the Willamette Valley have achieved international recognition, standing up alongside their relatives from Sonoma and Burgundy. Pinot Noir represents nearly 75% of the total acreage planted within the Willamette Valley.
Learn more about the Willamette Valley here: https://willamettewines.com/.
Finger Lakes, NY
The Finger Lakes region of New York has been producing a combination of European, American and hybrid wines for almost 200 years. The first vines were planted by the Reverend William Bostwick in his rectory garden back in 1829. Prohibition cut production in the early 20th century, but it was restored soon afterwards (are you sensing a pattern yet?). Since the beginning of production, the Finger Lakes region has produced wines better suited to cold climates, as temperatures in the North East are considerably lower than elsewhere in the country.
Part of what keeps the climate regulated enough to produce wines in the Finger lakes area is the proximity to Lake Eerie and the depth of the Finger Lakes. The lakes are actually water-filled valleys left behind by Ice Age glaciers that receded thousands of years ago. Long and deep, the lakes are great temperature regulators, serving as heat sinks for the region. The most successful wines from the Finger Lakes AVA are grapes better suited to chilly temperatures like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Today there are over 100 wineries in operation in the Finger Lakes AVA.
Learn more about the Finger Lakes here: https://www.fingerlakeswinealliance.com/.
Hill Country, TX
Texas has a long history of wine production. Spanish missionaries began planting vineyards in the 17th century. Texas winemaker Thomas Munson’s research with hybrid grapes and root stock helped save the French Wine Industry from the Phylloxera plague in the late 19th century. However, Prohibition all but ended the Texas Wine industry in the early 20th century. The wine making industry wouldn’t start again until the 1970s in the Texas High Plains. Today, Texas is one of the fastest growing wine regions in America, with the potential to make wines that might one day compete with their more renown neighbors
The Texas Hill Country AVA is the 2nd largest AVA in the nation. It encompasses 9 million acres in the area north of San Antonio and west of Austin. Despite the regions history of German settlers, the grapes planted in this warm region are typically French, Italian, or Spanish in their origin. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the most commonly planted varietals, but you can also find other varieties like Syrah, Viognier, and Tempranillo. The warm climate, along with lingering humidity from the Gulf of Mexico and limestone rich soils, create wines that have world-class aromatics and blend remarkably well.
Learn more about the Hill Country here: https://texaswinetrail.com/.
Virginia, like Texas, also has a long history with wine. It starts in 1619, when “Acte 12” of the Virginia House of Burgesses required all male colonists to begin planting and tending grapevines. Thomas Jefferson even attempted to plant vineyards on his Monticello estate, but failed after his vines became unusable thanks to Black Rot and the previously mentioned Phylloxera. Like nearly every wine producing region in America, Prohibition shut Virginia’s wine industry down. The industry was thankfully restarted in the 1970s, and continues to grow to this day.
The Monticello AVA, much like the rest of Virginia, has taken up the flag for more obscure Old World varieties of wine such as Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Petit Manseng. The Monticello AVA is also known for its wonderful Chardonnays, as well as America’s original wine grape, the Norton, which many winemakers are working to restore the reputation of. The native grape had in fact begun to receive recognition towards the end of the 19th century, winning medals in some European competitions, before Prohibition wiped its production out. The Monticello AVA covers 1,250 square miles and has a range of soil types and elevations. The climate is generally warm temperature with plenty of cool air filtered in from the nearby coast, although snow is not uncommon in winter. The AVA gets its name from Thomas Jefferson’s famous estate, Monticello, which is located within its boundaries.
Learn more about the Monticello AVA and the rest of Virginia wine here: https://www.virginiawine.org/.
By Aldo Moreno