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Wine Regions of the United States

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | June 29, 2011

The United States of America is one of the largest countries in the world and as such offers a vast amount of land suitable for agriculture. With a great amount of land and almost unlimited climate variations, limitless possibilities exist for the growing of crops. Vines are no exception to this fact. Different climates across the United States allow for many different types of grape varieties to be successfully grown and processed for winemaking.

Throughout the history of winemaking in the United States, pioneers in the winemaking industry have seen the potential for the development of a wine industry that rivaled old world institutions. Through hard work and determination history has proved these pioneers correct. Today, wines produced in the United States rival their Old World counterparts in overall quality. Based on this fact, the United States is the fourth largest wine producing country in the world.

A good understanding of the wines of the United States comes from understanding the characteristics of the various wine regions of the United States. The diverse climates and soil conditions found within the United States lead to many different Terroirs that predetermine the grape variety that can be best grown for the production of wine. Some of the more well know wine regions include the States of California, Washington, Oregon and New York. At different times throughout the history of United States winemaking, additional states have played an important part in the production of wine. While a majority of states have gained a reputation for poor quality wines, many states are working to reverse this perception. Specifically, the states of Michigan, Ohio and Virginia are working to improve the quality of their wines.

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Out of all the regions in the United States, California by far has the most acreage of vines and is certainly the most famous. Winemaking in California got its start from Spanish missionaries who cultivated the vine for the production of sacramental wines. The wines produced from these humble beginnings were of inferior quality as they relied on an inferior variety of Vinifera. It would be approximately one century before high quality wines were being produced in California. By the mid-19th century, pioneers and European settlers were producing high quality wines based on vine varieties imported from Europe. By the end of the 19th century, California had a strong reputation for the production of high quality wines. It was at this time that two disasters struck, Phylloxera and prohibition. These two disasters effectively destroyed the wine industry in California as well as the United States. It took another 80 years and the tireless efforts of talented individuals to reverse the damages of Phylloxera and Prohibition. In the end, quality wines re-emerged. Today California is envied and respected by every other wine producing area in the world.

In sharp contrast to California, wine production in the State of Oregon did not get off its feet until the early 1960s. The conventional beliefs during this timeframe were that the cool damp climate of Oregon was not suited for the production of quality wines. Several winemaking pioneers balked at this generalization. Enterprising individuals believed that quality wine production was possible, as the climate of Oregon is similar to the climates of Europe. In the end this was proven to be correct as Oregon wines began to win awards and were subsequently thrust into the limelight. Oregon’s primary variety is Pinot Noir although other old world varieties are popular.

When touring the vineyards of California, one can never fail to be amazed at the sheer number of vineyards and the land that they consume. Winemaking in Washington is similar in the size of vineyards but unlike California, several conglomerates are responsible for the production of wine. This set-up has resulted in a very systematic approach to winemaking in Washington. Large wineries based in populated areas buy their grapes from different parts of Washington State. This systematic approach allows for cross-regional blends as well as the production of large volumes of quality wine. As the reputation for the quality of Washington State wines increased, Washington wineries began to add medium priced, mid range wines to their offerings. In recent years vintners have added even more varieties of wine to their wineries. Grape varieties in Washington include Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling among others.

At first glance, production of wine in New York State may sound dubious at best. Early wine production in New York State focused on sweet, cheap and kosher wines. Beginning in the 1950 and progressing forward, visionaries looked to the Finger Lakes area as an ideal location for the production of quality wines. The production of wine in New York persisted and in the mid 1970’s legislation was passed allowing vineyards to sell wines directly to customers. This created a boom for vineyards and by early 2000 there were over 100 wineries statewide. Today New York has a well-deserved reputation for the production of quality wine and is the third largest wine producing region in the United States. The Riesling grape variety is very popular as are additional old world and New World varieties.

Additional wine regions exist within the United States. States such as Ohio and Michigan have had colorful wine histories. In Ohio, the wine industry collapsed not once but twice. Currently, Ohio is steadily improving with winemaking and today produces some quality wines. Michigan’s winemaking history has been problematic concerning quality wine. Michigan State laws have significantly hindered the production of quality wines. However with recent positive changes being applied to Michigan wine law, Michigan has begun to produce quality wines. It is important to remember that winemaking does exist in additional States, each with their own colorful histories and promising futures.

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