California takes the cake when it comes to American wine. Ask anyone about who makes great domestic wine and they’ll probably say California or Oregon, but did you know that the first AVA [American Viticultural Area] was actually in Augusta, Missouri? Or that every single state produces wine?
Now, not all that wine is actually worth your time, but there are certain areas that are definitely making strides in the wine world. Ever heard of Colorado wine, or how about Virginia vino? New York and even Texas make some surprisingly great wines. So hop in your car and take a cross country road trip to taste all that these great states have to offer.
Let’s start up north and work our way west. New York is the second largest producer of wine in the country. Surprisingly, this state’s modern wine history can be traced back to an Ukrainian immigrant who was finally able to convince someone to take a chance on him and grow vitis vinifera grapes (the classic grapes used for all wines) instead of native grapes like the Concord grape.
Riesling seems to be the star of the state, being grown in the cool Finger Lakes region, whereas Bordeaux types are grown in the warmer Long Island area. Riesling styles from bone dry to dessert sweet are produced, with some of the best producers being Hermann J. Wiemer, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Ravines. If you are planning to visit this summer, consider going to the Finger Lakes Riesling Festival this August, which features wineries, breweries, artisans, and local food vendors.
Further down the East Coast, make a stop in Virginia. Jefferson might be credited with bringing wine to the Colonies and having an extensive wine cellar, but his actual vinification skills were meager at best. Luckily, a couple hundred years later, Virginians have figured out how winemaking works, and have done it well.
With over 200 wineries, Virginia’s wine industry is booming. Five wineries received gold medals at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest American wine competition. The Charlottesville and Monticello areas were one of the first to produce quality wines in Virginia. See these areas while following the Monticello Wine Trail, full of wine, history, and beautiful scenery, with the Blue Ridge Mountains serving as a backdrop. With thirty wineries along the trail, plan for at least a full weekend to be spent here. Some producers to check out include Barboursville, which won one of the gold medals previously mentioned, and Glass House, which is a small boutique winery that also creates artisan chocolates.
A quick 20-hour car ride west will take you to our next wine destination: Texas. The Lone Star State isn’t only for beef and bbq; they are also the number 5 wine producer in the country and home to the second most visited wine area, right behind Napa Valley. With climates similar to that of the Rhone Valley in France and of central Italy, Mediterranean style wines do well in Texas.
Known for big reds, syrah, and tempranillo, these wines are sure to make their presence known. Fredericksburg, part of the Texas Hill Country AVA, is the heart of the thriving business in Texas. There are 14 wineries within Fredericksburg, and many more within just an hour or two drive out. Check out 4.0 Cellars, which is a tasting room for three powerhouse Texas wineries: Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars. For vineyard visits, Pedernales Cellars is an award winning vineyard. Last year, their 2012 Viogner won the grand gold award at the Lyon International Wine Competition. Only 201 wines out of more than 3,000 entrants won this award, and Pedernales was the only American wine to win such a prestigious award. If you’re going to give Texas wines a shot, be sure to check out our Dallas Wine Bar guide.
And finally, our last little known wine region: Colorado. While Colorado doesn’t quite have the fame of its Western neighbors, its wine is certainly on the up and up. The warm weather during the day combined with the cool night time temps result in the perfect sugar and acid levels needed for a great wine. At some of the highest elevations in the world (4,000–7,000 feet above sea level) the pests aren’t a problem, and water is controlled through the use of irrigation.
The Grand Valley AVA, made up of Grand Junction and Palisade, produces about 75% of the state’s wine. Like New York, Riesling is one of Colorado’s top varietals, along with Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet Franc. Perfect for the fitness guru, Colorado offers many self-guided biking tours through the western slope wine country, perfect for getting your buzz on while enjoying all nature has to offer. Rent a bike, grab a vineyard map from the Palisade Chamber of Commerce, and soak in your surroundings. There is also the Tour de Vineyards, a 25-mile bike ride through Palisade’s wineries and orchards, conveniently timed with the Colorado Mountain Winefest.
So grab a few friends, get in the car, explore these places, and make a few memories. An added bonus, when one of these vineyards or regions makes it big, you can say you were there before it got cool. Don’t you want to be a trendsetter?