About 15 or so years ago, many progressive U.S. restaurants switched to a farm-to-table concept and began serving fresh vegetables picked from fields just down the road, meat from nearby packinghouses and craft beer brewed on – or near – the premises. Domestic wine, however, wasn’t always local and often came from as far as 2,000 miles away.
Fast forward to today, when the trend toward local wine is gaining momentum. Wherever folks live in the U.S., there’s at least one wine originating from that home state. It took a while to catch on, but wine is now made in each of the 50 states.
California, Washington, Oregon and New York lead the nation in wine production, with California turning out more than all the other 49 states combined. Advanced enology is making it possible to grow wine grapes even in Alaska and the colder climates throughout the northern sector.
Noteworthy is that these relatively new wineries do not sacrifice quality for quantity. For instance, wine from Wisconsin, Indiana and Arizona is gradually being upgraded to keep up with the heralded vintages from Europe and other worldwide wineries. It’s been proven that cost is no object for serious drinkers willing to pay for excellence.
Universities Turning Out Winemakers
Many states are sponsoring viticulture programs at local universities, creating a new generation of winemakers who have the knowledge and incentive to develop craft vintages made not only with familiar Chardonnay and Merlot grapes, but with native Muscadine and Norton as well.
According to the WineAmerica trade association, people who have been sipping homemade beer and spirits are eager to try the new tastes and experience of regional wine. There are at least a dozen states each having over 100 wineries. Farmers who have been growing tobacco are slowly switching to wine grapes. Texas, among others, has micro-climates similar to those in Spain’s wine territory.
The broadening of consumer tastes is natural, says the American Association of Wine Economists. When you travel in Italy or France, you are inclined to drink local wines. By comparison, wine from Nebraska exemplifies local interest, too. One wine here retails for a relatively expensive $35 a bottle, and the association reports that consumers love it, price is no deterrent and sales are steadily climbing.
Not too long ago, most consumers might have hesitated to pay more than $10 for table wine. Example: super bargain Two Buck Chuck has sold more than 800 million bottles since its 2002 debut. Now, some prices exceed $25 to $35 per bottle for the same grade of wine. Chicago wine bar Pops for Champagne sells a local sparkling wine for $58, higher than comparable sparklers from France, Italy and Spain on the bar’s list.
California Has The Most Wineries
As for wineries, California leads the pack with 3,728, according to WineAmerica. Washington is second with 681, followed by Oregon (599), New York (320), Virginia (248) and Texas (204). In Texas alone, wine production has grown nearly 40 percent to 1.3 million cases annually over the past decade. (Learn more about the California Wine Scene in "A Breakdown of the AVAs in California.")
Climate change is making an impact on U.S. grape cultivation, a Michigan State University study has found. The research reveals that controversial climate change has added at least 29 days to the growing season over the past 50 years. The conclusion is that even with harsh winters in several states, vineyards are able to yield more grapes and sustain the production longer. (Read on in "Climate Change and the Future of California's Wine Industry.")
Speaking of grapes, the two most dominant types in coast-to-coast cultivation are Muscadine and Norton. A native of southeastern U.S., Muscadine is found primarily from Delaware to the Gulf of Mexico and westward to Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
Muscadine adapts well to warm, humid conditions, and not so well where the temperature drops below 10 degrees F. The grapes, requiring adequate sun and drainage, release a fruity wine with a hint of musk. They usually start to ripen around mid-September.
Norton Is Oldest U.S. Grape
Norton, America’s oldest native grape, thrives in mid-Western and mid-Atlantic regions. Recognized by its deep purple pigmentation, its largest planting is in Virginia with 69 acres. The fruity flavor of the wine expresses coffee and chocolate notes in a rich, full-bodied red that blends well. Along with Chambourcin and Marquette, Norton is especially able to withstand frigid winters and frost.
Here’s a list of primary wine grapes grown in each of the 50 states:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona and Arkansas
The primary grape varieties grown in Alabama are Muscadine, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the last two of which are also grown in Alaska along with Zinfandel. In Alaska, greenhouses have been implemented to mimic free range growing practices due to the extreme cold weather. In Arkansas, Muscadine, Niagara and Cythiana are grown.
California, Colorado and Connecticut
Chardonnay is the golden-haired child of California, but it also has a second primary grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. In Colorodo, Merlot and Riesling are the grapes of choice; and in Connecticut, Edelweiss and Sevyal Blanc are grown.
Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Hawaii
Muscadine continues on to be a popular grape in the U.S., being the primarily cultivated grape in Florida, Georgia and Delaware, the latter also grows Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. In Hawaii, the primary grape is Symphony.
Idaho, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa
In Idaho, the primary grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. In Illinois, they primarily grow French hybrids like Seyval Blanc, and in Indiana, Traminette is the favorite variety. Iowa's chosen grape is Frontenac.
Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana
The grape of choice in Kansas and Kentucky is the Chambourcin grape, the latter also cultivates Traminette; and in Louisiana, the primary grape is Muscadine.
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan
Edelweiss and St. Pepin run the game in Maine, in Maryland, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. Chardonnay and Riesling are grown in Massachusetts and Michigan respectively.
Minesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Montana
Chambourcin is the popular grape in Missouri while Marquette is preferred in Minnesota and Montana, with the latter also growing Riesling and Marechal Foch. In Mississippi, America's oldest wine grape, Norton, is grown along with Vingoles.
Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Jersey
Edelweiss and Frontenac are the primary grapes in Nebraska. One would think that in the harsh desert of Nevada, nothing would grow, but they've made good business of cultivating Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. In NH, Chambourcin, Leon Millot and Marechal are the preferred grapes; and in New Jersey, they prefer the classic Cab Sauv.
New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and North Dakota
Merlot makes its home in NM and New York; NY also cultivates the known concord grape and the noble grape, Riesling. In NC, the chosen grape is Muscadine and North Dakota cultivates Vitis Riparia.
Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, PA and Rhode Island
The grape we all love to drink as our preferred grape juice, the concord grape, is also grown in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio produces Riesling and Vidal Blanc as well. In Oklahoma, Rubaiyat is choice and Oregon prefers another classic, Pinot Noir. in RI, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the preferred grapes with the latter also being grown in PA.
South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas
Respectively, these states cultivate Muscadine, Marquette, Chambourcin and Cab Sauv as their primary grape harvest.
Utah, Vermont and Virginia
Cab Sauv and Sirah are the grapes best known to Utah, with La Cresent being hailed in Vermont and Chardonnay in Virginia.
Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming
In Washington, they prefer the classic Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay in West Virginia, Marquette in Wisconsin; and Frontenac and Frontenac Gris in Wyoming. (Learn more in "Wonferful Washington Wines.")
Total U.S. wine sales rake in about $60 billion, a 5 percent hike over 2016. And the Millennial Generation (those born between 1976 and 2004) has an affinity for trying new food recipes and wine. As long as they keep on trying, those numbers should keep on rising.