Wines of North America
North America is the motherland of large number of wild vines that saved the European wine industry during the phylloxera crisis. British, Dutch and French immigrants first planted vitis vinifera on the east coast of the US.
Certain areas like Ohio created a wine industry based on American vines, with typical ‘foxy’ flavours. Currently there are wineries and vineyards in all 50 US states, most based on vitis vinifera. Main states of wine production are California, Washington, Oregon, New York and Idaho.
USA is the 4th country worldwide in wine production and is the largest consumer of dry table wines worldwide. American viticultural areas AVA started in 1978 to guarantee the source of grapes (85% should come from AVA) and can be of any size.
In California first vinifera plantings were in 1769 from Spanish misssionaries. Sonoma vineyards started in 1823 with Mission grape variety planted first. The gold rush gave the wine industry a huge boost which was then damaged by the alcohol repeal laws and the prohibition between 1920-1933. From 1933 until 1960 only Central valley and San Joaquin valley had significant wine production, but the vine acreage increased drsmatically since then and now it has double the acreage of Greece. Wine production is polarised between boutique wineries and giant producers. What Spyropoulos produces in 1 year, it is the ‘angels share’ evaporised wine of Gallo’s production yearly. There is a wide variety of styles and qualities produced, from Charles Shaw ‘Two-Buck-Chuck’ wine versus cult wines (e.g. Screaming Eagle) in California. There are both varietal and ‘meritage’ wines. Most wine is produced as a Californian wine and created as a cross-state blend.
Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, French Colombard, Merlot, Rubired, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc are the main varieties cultivated and produced. The climate has a huge range of climates in its 1100km south to north stretch, but has mostly lack of rain (leading to need for irrigation). Currents from the Pacific Ocean create cooling fogs and mists, providing humidity and decreasing temperatures.
The concept of degree days developed by UC Davies is an attempt to match climate to varieties, but is mostly out of date outside California. Premium wines are supposed to be grown in zones I-III (up to 3500dd Farenheit)
Soils are generally fertile with huge variation ( more than 150 types) and a good understanding of soil, variety, rootstock, and wine style matching. Main problems are the high yields, blending with other varieties (Colombard, Thomson seedless, Barbera, etc.) and a fashion driven market “Instant Gratification” mentality. Also the mix between “Jug Wine” blends versus cheaper varietals.
Zinfandel, identified with Primitivo and Criljenak Kastellanski can create wines of large range of styles and lots of good late harvest examples. Cabernet Sauvignon is made in California at high alcohol levels, use of oak and blended with Merlot to make Meritage wines. I love powerful Californian Cabernet Sauvignons. Merlot is highly fashionable and benefited the most from the wine-health connection.
Pinot Noir is produced in Russian River Valley and Carneros to make rich style wines. Chardonnay is produced in a vas array of styles and prices, usually with high toast oak pronounced and low acidity. Most California is too hot to produced grassy, clean SB, so most go for hgih rioeness, Bordeaux methods. Napa Valley is the crown of the Californian wine. Carneros, Monterey county, San Benito, Livermore valley are all smaller but important AVAs.
The US market currently is considered the most exciting wine market due to its growth levels, R&D and potential.
The Pacific North West includes Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
In Oregon there are 140 wineries. Burgundian negociant Drouhin established a vineyard there and gave a boost to the region. AVA wines must come 100% from the area. The two most famous AVAs are Willamette Valley, and Rogue River Valley.
Washington state is the second largest producer in the US. Columbia Valley, Yakima and Walla Walla AVAs are the most famous. NY is the most important vitis vinifera producer in the East Coast.
Wine production in Canada is limited to the Niagara Falls (icewine from Vidal and Riesling) and British Columbia (Okanagan valley has desert conditions and produces mostly Riesling Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Blanc wines). In Canada there is a state monopoly in the production, distribution and sale of alcohol.