American Wine Regions

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007 at 12:00 am

Napa Valley vineyardThe United States has a huge wine industry. So huge, almost every state, including Alaska and Hawaii, have vineyards and wineries. We will focus in this list the major regions that shape America’s wine, take note that most of these regions are located in California.

Napa Valley – This is California’s—if not the whole United States’—most prestigious wine region. A little more than an hour’s drive east of San Francisco, Napa Valley stretches 30 miles north from the city of Napa to the small two of Calistoga.

It is home to about 300 wineries and California’s most sought-after wines. The region is renowned for its rich, complex, long-lived cabernet sauvignons, which flourish in the warmer northern reaches of the valley. Meanwhile, the cooler climates of the southern valley, produce fine chardonnays and pinot noirs.

Sonoma County – Located west f Napa, Sonoma County is a large, high-quality wine region that supports a diverse array of grape varieties. Its cooler areas, like the Carneros in the south and the Russian River Valley in the West, are known to produce excellent chardonnays and pinot noirs. Meanwhile its northern, warmer areas produce different red wine varieties from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zifandel, and petit sirah.

Mendocino County – California’s northernmost wine growing region, about a 2.5-hour drive from San Francisco, encompasses both cold coastal areas (such as Anderson Valley and Mendocino Ridge) and warmer inland districts (like Ukiah and Redwood Valleys). Mendocino has over 15,000 acres of vineyards and wineries, supporting a wide array of grape types.

Sierra Foothill Gold County – The winemaking culture of the Sierra Foothills coincided with the Gold Rush when miners planted grapevines upon their arrival. The gold may have dwindled, but the grape-growing flourished. The heart of this region is comprised of Nevada, El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras counties, each boasting of different soil types and climates.

Amador, with its volcanic soil and warm climate, is famous for its spicy, hearty, and fruity red Zinfandels; El Dorado, boasting of higher elevations and cooler climate, supports a wider array of varieties; the smaller Calaveras and Nevada counties also produce high-quality wines.

Santa Cruz Mountains – Approximately 75 miles south of San Francisco, it is home to one of California’s most rugged and scenic wine regions, heavily-influenced by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the high elevation of many of its vineyards.

Given its cool, marine-influenced climate, it specializes in varieties like chardonnay and pinot noir, although merlot and cabernet sauvignon have been produced successfully here. Getting to the wineries of Santa Cruz are not easy to get to, but their beautiful mountain settings and idisyncratic wines are worth the trip.

Monterey County – Located south of Santa Cruz, in the fertile coastal plains of the northern central coast, Monterey County is among California’s largest premium wine-growing regions. This region focused primarily on cool-climate varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, and gewürztraminer.

San Luis Obispo – Lying right in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo encompasses some of California’s most beautiful coastline, as well as superb vineyard acreage. Its primary winegrowing region is near the town of Paso Robles.

Despite its proximity to the ocean, Paso Robles area cultivates red grapes that grow well on warm climate such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and zinfandel. Aside from which, wineries here also grow Italian varieties like barbera and French Rhone Valley varieties like syrah, grenache, and mourvedre.

Temecula – It is California’s only prominent American viticultural area south of Los Angeles, located in southwestern Riverside County and situated between 1,400 and 1,600 feet above sea level. Temecula Valley has over 3,000 acres of vineyards that cultivates premium wine grapes. It has a dry, moderately-warm daytime climate, evenings cooled by breezes from the Pacific Ocean, and well-drained decomposed granite soils combine to create wines with fresh, distinctive varietal flavors and superb structure.

Willamette Valley – This wine region, stretching from Eugene in the south to Portland in the north, is the largest in Oregon. Sheltered by the cascade Mountains to the east and Oregon’s Coastal Range to the west, the valley has gained international recognition as a world-class growing district, especially for cool-climate varieties like pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, and chardonnay.

Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys – The Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys are located northeast of Willamette Valley, and actually shared with Washington State. These warmer, drier appellations are well-suited to the cultivation of red varieties like merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah.

Rouge, Apple Gate, and Umpqua Valleys – These appellations are located southwest of Oregon. Although generally drier and warmer than the northern wine districts and well-suited to Bordeaux (like cabernet, merlot, and cabernet franc) and Rhone Valley (like syrah) varieties, each contains cooler microclimates allowing for successful cultivation of the Burgundian varieties that flourish in the Willamette Valley.

Washington – This state emerged in the mid-1970s as a promising young wine region and has become the second-largest wine-producing state in the United States, after California. Washington’s wine industry boasts of more than 240 wineries, 300 wine grape growers and 29,000 acres, and its wines are sold in all 50 states and in more than 40 countries.

The eastern side of the Cascade Mountains is dry and almost desert-like, receiving only eight inches of rain annually. This area develops wines with fully-developed fruit flavors and lively acidity, attributed to its dry, volcanic soils.

Texas – From the area around Dallas in the northeast to the western plains and the Hill Country of the south, growers and vintners are dedicated to the cultivation and production of high-quality grapes and wines. Texas’ wine industry is the fifth largest in the United States, with over 200 commercial vineyards and nearly 50 wineries in six defined viticultural areas.

Leading varieties include cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, sauvignon blanc, and chenin blanc. Since Texas wine regions enjoy generally warm climates and alkaline soil, its wines have the rich fruit reminiscent of California wines balanced by the acidity and structure typical of French wines.

New York – The state has over 5,000 acres of wine grapevines, almost all of which planted in New York’s two finest winegrowing regions: Finger Lakes and Long Island. While the Finger Lakes boasts more wineries, Long Island produced the state’s best wines. Most local wineries feature merlot, the most widely-planted red grape on the island, as their signature variety. Long Island’s merlots are bright and fruity, with strong notes of black cherry and plum.

Virginia – Virginia’s winemaking tradition dates back to 400 years ago, spurred by Thomas Jefferson’s love of fine wine. Extreme weather conditions and unpredictable rains at harvest time confront Virginia winemakers and grape growers with challenges, but growing expertise in grae and vineyard selection and harvesting practices has helped state winemakers produce consistently high quality wines.