Wondering what the USA wine regions are and where the best wines come from? Think of American wine and you’ll probably think of California, which isn’t entirely incorrect considering around 89% of US wine is produced in the state. However, wine production can be found in all 50 states and there are gorgeous wine regions to visit all over the country, which is the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world after Italy, Spain, and France.
USA Wine Regions
This guide to the wine regions of the USA provides a brief overview of the history of viticulture in the United States, a guide to American wine labels, as well as an insight into 12 specific US wine regions, the grapes and wines they’re known for, as well as a few notable wineries to visit there.
History of American Wine
The first Europeans to land in North America were the Vikings, around 1000 AD, who named it Vinland because of the grape vines they found. Skip forward a few centuries and the earliest wine production started somewhere between 1562 and 1564 by French Huguenot settlers near what is now Jacksonville, Florida.
Due to historic colonial tastes, modern American wine production focuses around the Vitis Vinifera, a common grape vine brought over by European settlers, though there are several species of grape native to American soil, such as Vitis Labrusca in the east, Vitis Riparia in the central and northeastern states, Vitis Rotundifolia in south-central and the southeast, and Vitis Vulpina in the central and eastern states.
Wine production flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the establishment of vineyards, some of which became very commercially successful. Though there were minor problems with pests, weather and disease, it wasn’t until the late 19th century when a combination of the phylloxera epidemic and Pierce’s disease devastated the industry.
This was followed by Prohibition, which started when Maine became the first state to go dry in 1846, though the Eighteenth Amendment (forbidding the manufacturing, sale, and transport of alcohol) wasn’t implemented in 1920 and lasted until the repeal of 1933. During this time, exceptions were made for religious purposes, but many vineyards were forced to close (and home wine-making became common).
After Prohibition, there were issues with reviving the American wine industry, such as experienced and talented winemakers having passed away or retired, and the neglect of vineyards, but also the changing tastes of the American palette. The 1930s brought the Great Depression and so demand was for cheap “jug wine” and sweet, fortified wine, which was high in alcohol.
It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that winemakers in California, Oregon, Washington, and New York began to secure foreign investment and focus on high-quality wine, helped in part by academic studies and newly available qualifications in viticulture. As education spread, so did the demand for better quality wines, and today, there are approximately 3,000 commercial vineyards in the country and at least one winery in every state.
American Wine Labels
Developed in 1978, American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are based on specific climate and geographical features. There are currently 252 designated AVAs recognised under US law.
To have AVA appear on a wine label, at least 85% of grapes must be grown in the AVA; whereas, to have a state or county appellation appear on a wine label, 75% of grapes must be from that state or county, though these requirements can differ from state to state (100% for California and 95% for Washington, as examples).
For a label to specific a variety of grape, at least 75% of the gapes must be of that variety, though these requirements can also differ between states. For example, Oregon requires 90% for certain grapes, such as Pinot Noir. Finally, for a vintage year to appear on a label, 95% of the wine must be made from grapes of that vintage.
12 US Wine Regions
1. Lodi, California
Best known for Zinfandel and Petite Syrah
A 90-minute drive from San Francisco, Lodi is a more off-the-beaten-path wine destination in comparison to famous neighbors Napa and Sonoma (see below), which is why a trip here is such a great unpretentious Californian alternative.
Wineries to visit in Lodi:
- Michael David Winery – a winery with a “vintage” feel, known for great value red blends.
- D’Art Winery – a quirky winery with artsy décor and chocolate chips served at wine tastings.
- Langetwins Winery – a more commercial winery with a tasting room overlooking a pond popular with local birdlife.
2. Napa Valley, California
Best known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
The most famous wine region in California and the United States in general, Napa Valley is home to over 500 wineries and the best time of year to visit them is between May and September, which is the growing season.
Boasting a prime Mediterranean climate, more than 30 different grape varieties are cultivated in Napa, but the most popular are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Wineries to visit in Napa:
- Domaine Chandon – this winery is famous for their sparkling wine.
- Beringer – this winery offers a multitude of different tours and tastings, and is noted for red blends.
- V. Satturi Winery – the most-visited winery in Napa, more than 60 different wines are produced here, including sparkling and Port wines.
3. Paso Robles, California
Best known for Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone variations, such as Syrah and Viognier
Equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles might be considered a “new kid on the block” when it comes to California’s wine scene, but wine has been produced here since 1886 and there are over 200 wineries in the area.
More affordable than Napa and Sonoma, Paso Robles cultivates a variety of grapes, but the most popular are Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone-style variations.
Wineries to visit in Paso Robles:
- Sculpterra – a winery with a sculpture park, best known for Pinot Noir.
- Halter Ranch – produces a high-quality rosé.
- Calcareous – glass-walled tasting rooms, plus excellent Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
4. Sonoma Valley, California
Best known for Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah
Located just north of San Francisco, Sonoma Valley is probably the most famous of California’s wine region after Napa Valley, home to wine towns including Sonoma, Healdsburg and Geyserville.
Sonoma Mountain shields the land from rain, while the Pacific Ocean keeps the area nice and cool, but the valleys, coastline, hills and woodlands offer a diversity of terrain that lends itself well to a wide variety of grapes. There are over 250 wineries to choose from across 13 unique AVAs.
Wineries to visit in Sonoma Valley:
- St. Francis Winery & Vineyards – a family-owned, sustainable winery with amazing five-course food and wine pairings (must be booked in advance).
- Landmark Vineyards – best known for small-production Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
- Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery – Italian-style winery noted for its Fumé Blanc and Super-Tuscan-inspired reds.
5. Palisade, Colorado
Best known for Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc
Palisade is a scenic area of Colorado, known for both vineyards and peach orchards, the latter of which bear fruit used to make delicious peach wine. There are around 25 wineries here.
There is an annual wine festival that takes place during the September grape harvest, where the best in viticulture is displayed and celebrated.
Wineries to visit in Palisade
- Garfield Estate – historic farmlands and buildings converted into a winery.
- Carlson Vineyards Winery & Tasting Room – renowned for seasonal fruit wines, including peach, cherry and plum.
- Maison La Belle Vie Winery – a French-style winery that practices traditional European techniques, such as dry-farming.
6. Snake River Valley, Idaho
Best known for Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah
Tucked between southwest Idaho and east Oregon, Snake River Valley is a small wine region comprised of around 15 wineries and 46 vineyards, conveniently close to the state capital of Boise.
Wineries to visit in the Snake River Valley
- Telaya Wine Co. – perched on the Boise River, this winery is noted for its Syrah-based blends.
- Coiled Wines – the Syrah blends are the stars, but the sparkling brut Riesling and Chablis-style Chardonnay are also worth a try.
- Cinder Winery – noted for Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, and rosé.
7. Willamette Valley, Oregon
Best known for Pinot Noir
With a similar latitude to France’s Bordeaux, it’s no surprise that Willamette Valley is renowned for its Pinot Noir wines. However, there are also exceptional Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc wines available here. There are around 600 wineries in the area, so plenty of places to choose from for a wine tasting visit.
Wineries to visit in Willamette Valley:
- Utopia Vineyard & Winery – an award-winning winery located off the beaten path, known for dry-farming and sustainability.
- Alloro Vineyard – small production of 100% estate-grown Pinot Noir.
- Brooks – listed by Wine and Spirits Magazine as one of the top 100 wineries on the planet in 2019, this winery is one of the few Demeter certified wineries in the area, so the biodynamic wines are the ones to try.
8. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Best known for Cabernet, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel
Albuquerque’s up-and-coming wine scene is making moves in the wine world, though wine production is still modest (there are only 60 wineries in the whole of New Mexico).
Wineries to visit in Albuquerque:
- Anasazi Winery – famous for fruit wines made from cherries, cranberries, apricots, peaches, raspberries, and chokecherries.
- D. H. Lescombes Winery – the largest winery in the state, best known for Chenin Blanc and Hatch Chile wines.
- Casa Abril – this winery cultivates Spanish and Argentinian grapes, such as Tempranillo and Malbec.
9. Finger Lakes, New York
Best known for Riesling
Finger Lakes is New York’s most famous and also the state’s largest wine-producing region. More than 100 wineries are scattered around 11 lush lakes, which makes this destination a great outdoor escape as well as a great wine-tasting getaway. Beer and cider are also brewed here.
Wineries to visit in Finger Lakes:
- Red New Cellars – very highly regarded in the Finger Lakes area, this winery is best known for Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.
- Damiani Wine Cellars – noted for complex wines, as well as their art gallery tasting space.
- Fox Run Vineyards – a popular winery known for great value tastings.
10. North Fork, Long Island, New York
Best known for Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah
Once a 19th-century whaling village, Long Island’s North Fork is home to fertile farmlands and scenic coastline populated by family-run vineyards, in the heart of what is known as “the Napa of the East Coast.”
Wineries to visit in North Fork
- Croteux Vineyard – a specialist vineyard that only produces rosé.
- Jamesport Vineyards – one of the region’s oldest vineyards, which also serves brick oven pizzas.
- Martha Clara Vineyards – award-winning winery that hosts a lot of events.
11. Fredericksburg, Texas
Best known for Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Viognier.
Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producer in the country, with the majority of wineries located in Fredericksburg, though around 80% of grapes are grown in the Texas High Plains. Half an hour west of Austin and an hour north of San Antonio, Fredericksburg is a charming town and there are over 100 wineries to choose from to visit.
Wineries to visit in Fredericksburg:
- Becker Vineyards – one of the oldest wineries in Fredericksburg, with a patio overlooking lavender fields.
- Barons Creek – award-winning red wines.
- Fast Ass Ranch and Winery – a winery that refuses to play by the rules, growing Tempranillo grapes and experimenting with food and drink.
12. Leesburg, Virginia
Best known for Viognier, Petit Manseng and Syrah
The vast expanse of Northern Virginia offers a diversity in soil and weather, plus the wine industry here is still young and winemakers are having fun experimenting. Therefore, you can find a wide variety of grapes grown here, from Classic French varieties to German, Georgian and even Portuguese grapes. However, most wineries produce at least some Viognier, Petit Manseng and Syrah.
Wineries to visit in Leesburg:
- Tarara Winery – an award-winning winery with a long history of wine production.
- Doukenie – known for red blends.
- Hillsborough – award-winning wines in harmony with the terroir and has a scenic patio.
More US Wine Regions
This is by no means a definitive list of wine regions in the United States, but just a selection that mixes well-established wine country with up-and-coming areas for vino fans to keep an eye on. If this guide to American wine, wine regions and wineries to visit was helpful, let us know in the comments, or share your own recommendations and suggestions below.
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