The United States is the world's 4th largest wine producing
nation after France, Italy and Spain, with double the quantity
of 5th placed Argentina. California
is far and away the country's most important wine region, accounting for 90% of
production. Wine is actually produced in every single one of America's 50
states, even if Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota have only 12 wineries and just
over 35ha of vines between them.
The history of the US wine industry is a thorny one. Try as they might, the
early East Coast settlers had little success making wine and had to wait until
the mid-19th century for their first commercially successful
example: Nicholas Longworth's famous Sparkling Catawba from Cincinatti, Ohio.
The west coast had a climate far more conducive to vine-growing and from its
first vineyard (probably Mission) planted in 1769 at San Diego, the wine
industry swiftly flourished, boosted by the influx caused by the Gold
However, the twin blights of mildew and phylloxera at end of
the 19th century, followed by Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, set the
wine industry back 100 years. Ever since, wine has endured a somewhat uneasy
existence, flourishing despite an obstructive distribution system and often
tacit government disapproval.
The US boasts every type of producer, from the tiny `garagiste' producing a
couple of barrels of incredibly rare and expensive wine to the monumental
producers of cheap brands like Ernst & Julio Gallo who sell 75m cases of
wine a year (25% of the total production of the US!). Such progress has largely
taken place in the last 40 years through an unquenchable desire for quality,
the insistence on the finest expertise and technology, enormous investment and
California produces some of the world's greatest Cabernet Sauvignon,
Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from famous regions like Napa and Sonoma.
Recognition of this really dates back to the 1976 Judgment of
Paris where the region's finest trounced the cream of French wine in a
blind tasting held in Paris.
After California, New York is actually the second biggest
wine-producing state; most are made from Concord (often described as `foxy'-
and not in a good way) although increasingly Chardonnay too. From a qualitative
point of view, however, California's closest rivals are Washington which
specialises in Bordeaux blends, and Oregon which yields some very
fine Pinot Noir.
Of the rest, Virginia's reds from Cabernet and Merlot show potential, while
Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan all
have significant plantings, mostly of American hybrid varieties.
Although it doesn't yet have an Appellation Contrôlée system per se, the
concept of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) was introduced here in 1980. The
first was Augusta in Missouri, and they now number 188. They have none of the
restrictive rules of the AC system and are all the better for it. 85% of any
wine labeled with a given AVA must come from that region. In addition, every
state and county is classified as its own appellation.