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November 5, 2007

Fruited Plains

You’ve heard of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but what about Texas Hill Country and Yadkin Valley? These 11 American wine-growing regions are worth exploring.

By AMY CORTESE

Following in the footsteps of the French wine industry’s appellation d’origine contrôlée system, the United States in 1980 established its first American Viticultural Area—in Augusta, Missouri, of all places, where the native Norton grape is a star. Today there are 188 distinct A.V.A.’s in the U.S.; more than half are in the established wine-producing states of California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. But there are a number of other noteworthy, but lesser-known, regions as well.

Grand Valley, Colorado
Colorado boasts vineyards in some of the highest elevations in the world, at 4,000 feet and up—way up. But hot days and cool nights are a vintner’s dream, making for well-structured varietals. Many of the state’s 60 or so wineries are in the Colorado River’s Grand Valley, where growing conditions are said to resemble those of France’s Rhone Valley. Syrah and viognier are favorites. 

Florida (statewide appellation)
This is no Mickey Mouse operation: Spanish settlers in Florida were producing wine 300 years before California even became a state. Due to the climate, winegrowers favor the humidity-loving muscadine grape as well as hybrids containing it. Wines from these grapes tend to be on the sweet side, as do the state’s many fruit-based varieties. 

Snake River Valley, Idaho
The country’s newest A.V.A. was granted in April 2007 and covers a large swath of southwestern Idaho and a bit of southeastern Oregon. A cold climate and the high peaks rising up from the Snake River make for challenging growing conditions, but riesling, gewürztraminer, and other European varieties are successfully produced. 

Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
This narrow strip of land, just 19 miles long and three miles wide, juts into Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan. The bay’s deep waters temper the autumn and winter chill, helping this spot’s handful of vineyards turn out quality wine, most notably some of the country’s finest riesling. In these parts, there are as many styles of riesling as there are Eskimo words for ice. 

Hermann, Missouri
Settled by German immigrants, the area, which runs along the southern bank of the Missouri River west of St. Louis, was a thriving wine center in the 1800s. The extreme temperature fluctuations rule out vinifera, but Hermann has made a name for itself with native American grapes such as Norton and cold-hardy hybrids. 

Outer Coastal Plain, New Jersey
This A.V.A. is home to some 20 producers, including Renault Winery, the country’s oldest continuously operating vineyard, which dates back to 1861. Its 2.3 million acres of mostly flat, sandy soil yield merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, the intriguing French-American hybrid chambourcin, and delicious fruit wines. They don’t call it the Garden State for nothing.

Yadkin Valley, North Carolina
This part of northwestern North Carolina features moderate elevation and a climate well-suited for chardonnay, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Its most famous winery is Childress Vineyards, owned by Nascar legend Richard Childress.

Isle St. George, Ohio 
In the mid-1800s, Ohio was the premier U.S. wine producer. Today the state has six A.V.A.’s, including this tiny one in the middle of Lake Erie. Isle St. George is just a mile long, but more than half of the island is planted with grapes. Cool-climate wines such as riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot noir and catawba (an American native) do well here. 
 
Texas Hill Country, Texas
Everything’s big in Texas, including this 9.6 million-acre A.V.A., the country’s second largest after the Ohio River Valley, which spans parts of four states. Its dry climate and winemaking finesse have earned the region a reputation for excellent Bordeaux blends and Italian varietals. 

Utah (statewide appellation)
True, it’s widely thought of as a teetotaling state. But Utah has cultivated grapes for winemaking since the 1860s. In recent years, several vineyards have sprung up and are turning out surprisingly good riesling and gewürztraminer from their high-altitude perches.  

Monticello, Virginia 
In the rolling hills along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, the A.V.A. called Monticello takes its name from the home of Thomas Jefferson, Virginia’s most famous pioneer winemaker. Elegant viognier, petit verdot, and Virginia’s own Norton grape have put this area on the map. Barboursville Vineyards, in Barboursville, makes good Italian wines.

 

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