USA Wines: The Taste of the Free

With its vast territory, temperate climate, and European roots, one would expect that the United States has a flourishing wine industry. Off the top of the head, Napa Valley comes to mind. This region happens to be just one of the States’ wine regions that keep the world on its toes with their premium spirits. Being an icon of the worldwide wine market can be a huge challenge, but Napa Valley and the rest of the country’s wine regions are up to it.

Beginnings: The European Connection

Early European settlers from Greenland found that grapes thrived in the North Americas. These Vikings found an abundance of grapevines and ended up calling the area Vinland. But it wasn’t until the late 16th century that the first American wine was produced. French settlers in Jacksonville, Florida made the wine from Scuppernong grapes.

Other colonies were eventually required to produce wine as part of their charters. However, settlers did not particularly like the flavor of wine produced by local grapes. Eventually, they ended up planting European varieties, specifically the Vitis vinifera, beginning in Virginia.

In Pennsylvania, the Vitis vinifera successfully interbred with the native Vitis labrusca variety to create the Alexander grape. After decades of failed attempts due to pests and vine diseases, the first commercial winery was founded by Pierre Legaux in Pennsylvania in 1787.

Similarly, missionaries established the first vineyard and winery in California in 1769. They reached Sonoma and began planting there in 1805. However, the local grape varieties in the area produced wines of poor quality. It was Jean-Louis Vignes who started using high quality varietals in the state near the Los Angeles area.

The Prohibition

The Prohibition in the United States, which began in 1846 and was ratified in 1920, put off the development of the wine industry in the country. Most vineyards closed shop, while some continued to produce sacramental wine, which was the only product allowed at the time. However, home winemaking advanced, with the products restricted for home or sacramental use. After the Prohibition was rescinded in 1933, the wine industry was difficult to restore, with most winemakers dead and majority of the vineyards abandoned.

Additionally, this was also the time of the Great Depression. There was a shift in American wine lifestyle and people began to prefer cheap and sweet wines. Production was limited to sweet wines and remained constrained.

Further efforts from researchers at University of California, Davis in the 1960s kicked off the renaissance of the wine industry through seminars that educated them on which grapes thrived in certain regions. They were also taught better winemaking techniques.

Eventually, degrees in viticulture were offered. By the 1970s, the wine industry in California began to attract foreign investors, and production began in parts that included Oregon, Washington, and Long Island in New York. To date, all states have at least one winery.

Notable American Wine Regions

The West Coast yields more than 90% of the United States’ wine trade. This is composed of three states, namely California, Oregon, and Washington, with California producing almost 90% of wines in more than 1,200 wineries.

The most famous region in this area, as well as in the entire United States, is Napa Valley. It also happens to be one of the most popular wine destinations in the world. Its location between the California coastline and Central Valley makes it ideal for production. With more than 400 wineries, this region commands the attention and admiration of wine enthusiasts worldwide.

Winemakers in the Napa Valley region typically blend grapes for their products. They are best known for their premium Chardonnay and iconic Cabernet Sauvignon. They also produce high-quality Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. Napa wines are considered prized possessions in nearly all wine cellars around the world.

Meanwhile, the nearby Sonoma County might not be as productive as Napa Valley, but it boasts more varieties of wine that include sparkling wines like Riesling, Muscatel, Traminer, and Chasselas. Temecula Valley is a small wine region that produces the likes of Syrah and Sangiovese. Other notable red wines produced in California include Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Grenache, Malbec, Mouvedre, and Barbera. Other white wines are the likes of Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, and Muscat Canelli.

The second largest wine region in the United States is Washington. Their products include 60% red and 40% white wines. Washington wines are far cheaper than those from California due to the lower price of land. Their wines are notably fruity and acidic.  They are best known for their Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. They also produce Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Grenache, among others. Taking a hint from Canadian tipple, they have also dabbled in ice wine production. Meanwhile, Oregon has more than 300 wineries, with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris being their top wine products.

The East Coast of the United States also has a thriving wine industry. New York is the third largest wine producer after California and Washington. It has four wine regions that are known for Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sparkling wines. As for New Jersey, it produces wine products from 90 varieties of grapes that include common red, white, rosé, fortified, dessert, and sparkling wines.