Wine Guide Pacific North-West & Rest North America

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Wine Guide Pacific North-West & Rest North America – Wine Region Map

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he total area of vineyards in the north-west of the United States is small, certainly when compared to the sprawling expanses of California, but is nevertheless spread across a vast geographical area. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay have now been well-established in Oregon for close to three decades. A whole host of small to medium-sized wineries have emerged and new ones continue to do so. Most of these are to be found in the Willamette Valley. Washington State is the second largest state in terms of quality wine production behind California, but has only recently become really well known. New and exciting sources of top reds, from both the Bordeaux and more recently the Rhône varieties, are increasing and it seems certain that this trend will continue.

Wine Region Map


Oregon & Washington State & the Rest of North America Wines


As well as the Willamette Valley there are several other AVAs to the south, including the Umpqua Valley, Red Hills Douglas County and in the far south of the state Rogue Valley and Applegate Valley. The southern appellations are also now included in a generic Southern Oregon AVA. The Umpqua Valley region sits in the river valley of the same name, with coastal ranges to the west and the Cascades range of volcanic peaks to the east. Some exciting reds and whites are emerging. The Rogue Valley is marked by relatively high-altitude vineyards and cool-climate whites, including Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, are planted with some success in the westerly sectors of the AVA, as are increasingly impressive reds. In the north-east both the Columbia and Walla Walla valley AVAs extend over the state line, with a few wineries based on the Oregon side. The Columbia Gorge further west also straddles the two States..

Wine country of the Dundee Hills

The main viticultural activity, though, is in the Willamette Valley, a vast stretch of vineyards with varied soils and an extensive array of mesoclimates running from Eugene in the south to Portland in the north. At its widest the AVA is in excess of 80 km (50 miles) and it runs north-south for 320 km (200 miles). The majority of vineyards are found in the northern half of the region between Monmouth and Portland; the greatest concentration in Yamhill County, in the centre of that area. Here six new smaller AVAs have been established. These are the north-western Yamhill Carlton District, to its east the Chehalem Mountains which includes the Ribbon Ridge appellation and stretches the furthest north. Immediately south the Dundee Hills and to the south-west McMinnville. The most southerly of the sub AVAs are the Eola-Amity Hills. This is mainly Pinot Noir country and the hunt for unique sites continues apace as wineries seek to establish different terroirs. Because of the small agricultural nature of the industry there is a real air of co-operation. Many producers are now farming biodynamically or sustainably.

A number of white varieties are also successful, among which Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc have the best potential. Inevitably Chardonnay is extensively planted but really striking examples are still limited.

Washington State

The vineyard area here is vast and is dominated by the giant Columbia Valley AVA, within which there are three sub-AVAs, the Yakima Valley in the west, the Horse Heaven Hills that borders it and the Walla Walla Valley in the east. A sizeable part of both Columbia Valley and Walla Walla in fact stretches into northern Oregon. The Yakima Valley also includes three further sub-regions: Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and most recently Snipes Mountain.

Vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA with the hills in the back ground

A newly established AVA close to the coast is Puget Sound, yet it appears to be too cool and damp to provide wines of any substance. The Columbia Valley by contrast is dry and necessarily irrigated. Located to the east of the Cascade Mountains, it is suitable for quality wine because of its northerly latitude and consequently longer, sunnier days. Excellent Bordeaux-style reds are produced along with good Chardonnay. The Yakima Valley is also successful with these grapes and with Syrah. Perhaps the greatest potential is actually for the Rhône varieties rather than those of Bordeaux. Excellent wines of both styles have now been made in Walla Walla as well.

Over the past decade, Virginia has emerged as a wine-producing region deserving serious attention. Quality has improved dramatically. Furthermore, their so-called signature grapes, Viognier and Cabernet Franc (with the upcoming Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot), are a welcome change from the hybrid varieties which used to dominate, the use of which had two unfortunate results: first, the wines could be distinctly unattractive both in aroma and taste, and secondly, wine made from hybrid grapes could not be exported to Europe, which only allows wines made from grapes which are Vitis vinifera. Having said that, some of the state’s best wines are blends led by the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. As of late 2013, there were 230 wineries, up from five in 1980. Many of these, however, are small and depend on sales from their tasting rooms; a number also market themselves as venues for weddings and anniversary celebrations. The Virginian wine industry overall remains inward looking. Nevertheless, there are some very serious wine-makers.

Vines growing in Virginia

All of Virginia suffers from an unforgiving climate. First of all, the winters are long and can be very cold, with varying amounts of snow, so that the vines only begin to put out buds in late April. These are followed by suffocatingly hot and humid summers, which include frequent, sometime torrential, downpours, and not infrequent tropical storms and even hurricanes. This is a major reason for the popularity of the Viognier grape. Because its berries are small and thick-skinned, and the loose clusters of grapes allow the air to circulate, it withstands the humid summers and the accompanying fungal diseases better than, for example, the Chardonnay grape. Cool nights begin to appear only in September. All this means that Virginia has a relatively short growing season and one that begins relatively late. In the circumstances, it is impressive that Virginian winemakers make so many good, and a number of outstanding, wines.

The major wine-producing areas are in Northern and Central Virginia to the east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. These areas can, at this point, be largely narrowed down to two American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, in which most of the best producers work: Middleburg AVA in Northern Virginia and Monticello AVA in Central Virginia. The soils vary across the state from granite in the west to sandy loam near Chesapeake Bay. Most of the soils, however, have a greater or lesser clay content, and thus growers look for slopes which will drain rapidly after the all-too-frequent downpours.

Prices can be high for Virginia wines. Some deserve it, a number of which are featured below, but, all too often, the quality of the wine does not deserve the high price asked for it. Ideally, this situation will improve.

There are two wineries that stand out in Arizona: Callaghan Vineyards, based in the Sonoita AVA and Dos Cabezas with some decent reds and whites from Cochise County near Tucson. The Sonoita region is cooled by its elevation and the Callaghan winery has some impressive, well-drained, gravel dominated vineyards. An extensive range of varieties is planted and the Caitlin’s Cuvée is a notable Bordeaux-style red dominated by Petit Verdot.

New York State
New York State remains one of the better bets for quality wines outside the big sources on the western coast. In the north-west of the state the Finger Lakes region, just to the south of Lake Ontario, has a protected, very localised climate moderated by the lakes themselves. Both Chardonnay and Riesling are successful here along with a few sparkling wines. Among the best wineries, Fox Run, Dr Konstantin Frank, Lamoreaux Landing and Hermann J Wiemer stand out. Directly north of New Jersey is the small Hudson River AVA where some decent Chardonnay is produced. Perhaps of most significance from a quality point of view are the wineries of Long Island and particularly The North Fork of Long Island. The climate is strongly maritime and both regions have proved to be impressive sources in recent years of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, along with the occasional striking Chardonnay. Bedell, Corey Creek, Gallucio, Jamesport, Palmer, Paumanok and Pellegrini are all worth a look.

Rest of the USA
To the south of New York, a few good wines are being produced in Maryland which, with its warm maritime climate, has real potential despite the odd wet harvest. Better mesoclimates are being established and one winery in particular, Basignano, stands out for the impressive quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage wines.

From a volume rather than a qualitypoint of view, Idaho is significant and home to the giant Ste Chapelle Winery. Quality so far has been sound but uninspirational with simple, straightforward red and white varietals.

The country has one sizeable wine region at Niagara in Ontario and more recently one in the far west in British Columbia. Wine production is now controlled by the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) and under these regulations the Ontario and generic British Columbia appellations were established. As well as in Niagara Peninsula good whites and icewine are also produced in Ontario from Pelee Island and Lake Eyrie North Shore. The vast majority of the country’s vineyard area and wine production is still focused on Ontario. It is the icewines that make give Canada its unique stamp. Key names to look out for in Ontario include Cave Spring Cellars, Chateau des Charmes, Henry of Pelham, Konzelmann, Peller, Pillitteri and Reif Etate.

However in British Columbia and in particular in the Okanagan Valley, although those same magnificent icewines are crafted, there are an increasing number of dry table wines of note as well. Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah have all shown potential in this dry, sparse inland region to the immediate north of the international border with Washington State. Key names in Okanagan are Blue Mountain, Gehringer Brothers, Inniskillin Okanagan, Jackson Triggs, Mission Hill, Quails Gate and Sumac Ridge.

To date no wine in significant quantities of any substantial quality has been forthcoming here. This is largely down to a scarcity of local consumers to support a small wine industry. However, the potential of the area is there and in particular in the Baja Peninsula. The only wines to have had any worthwhile distribution so far are those of the LA Cetto company, although there is now Mexican investment in the Roussillon region in southern France.

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