Endowed with more indigenous grape varieties than most countries, the United States is naturally well positioned to be one of the largest, most dynamic wine-producing regions in the world. However, wine producing got a late start in the U.S. with the first vines being planted in the area of present-day Jacksonville, Florida, by European settlers in 1562. Nearly 50 years later, the colony of Virginia began importing French Vitis vinifera grapes, which were bred with native varieties to produce a new hybrid grape dubbed, “Alexander.” While this became the first commercial wine produced in the U.S., Alexander became the varietal most widely planted in vineyards east of the Mississippi, and remains so today.
The first commercially successful winery was established in Ohio during the 1830s but was destroyed nearly 30 years later by black rot. This prompted winemakers to move north, establishing vineyards in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Further development of wine production was underway during this time with California producing the largest quantity of wine, followed by Missouri.
Disease nearly wiped out America’s wine industry in the late 19th century, followed by Prohibition. The U.S. wine industry reemerged in poor condition post-Prohibition with consumers forgoing quality, dry wines for cheap, sweet wines.
It wasn’t until the University of California, Davis published research regarding the best regions to plant specific grapes, that the wine industry changed course. The 1970s and 1980s saw great success by Californian winemakers and helped secure foreign investment dollars from other winemaking regions.
Today, the U.S. is the fourth-largest wine-producing country in the world, after France, Italy and Spain.
The United States has become one of the most spirited and dynamic winemaking regions in the world. Almost every varietal and style of traditional European wine has been experimented with throughout various regions of the country. Unbound by the rigorous laws of their European counterparts, U.S. winemakers enjoy the freedom to openly test the limits of nature and to market their wines in a consumer-friendly way.
The wine-producing regions of the United States exhibit climate ranges from continental to coastal, subtropical to Mediterranean. Although each of the 50 states produces some quantity of commercial wine, volume is concentrated in the states of California, Washington, Oregon, New York, Virginia and Texas.
Today, California is known as one of the world’s highest-quality producers of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Washington, Oregon and New York hold similar positions for Merlot, Pinot Noir and Riesling.