- Rest of USA
Besides California, Oregon and Washington State, quality wine production is limited to just a handful of states. However grapes other than vinifera varieties are grown throughout the country. In New York State, for example, hybrid varieties are popular in the production of kosher wines and grape juice. Wines from these tend to have what is quaintly referred to as a ‘foxy’ character. A very damp pet dog smells not dissimilar. The best developments have been in Virginia, New York, in particular Long Island, in Maryland and to the far south in Arizona. The odd reasonable bottle has also emerged from Texas and the state may have real potential.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 quality point 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 following wine producers have a full profile in Wine behind the label:
A to Z of producers
R d V Vineyards
Veritas Vineyard & Winery