California often takes the spotlight when thinking of American wine, but every state in the continental U.S. boasts its own wine production. Let’s dive into this rich tapestry of American viticulture beyond California.
The history of American winemaking dates back to the 17th century, coinciding with European colonization. Figures like Thomas Jefferson attempted to cultivate European grape varieties on American soil but faced challenges. Native rootstocks, resistant to the destructive phylloxera louse, evolved in the U.S. yet were deemed inferior for wine.
Over centuries, American winemakers strived to graft European varieties onto native rootstocks. A breakthrough came in the mid-1800s when Nicholas Longworth produced the first commercially successful sweet sparkling wine from the native Catawba grape.
Despite California’s modern-day prominence, early viticulture pioneers, including German, French, Hungarian, and Italian immigrants, played a pivotal role in its rise. Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley became centers for cultivating vinifera varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The diversity of American geography, from the cold climates of New York to the hot regions of Texas and New Mexico, presents an array of grape varieties and wine styles.
While international grape varieties found favor in the West, many Eastern vineyards remained loyal to native varieties or hybrids. Among these, several noteworthy grape varieties beckon the discerning palate as delectable alternatives to mainstream wines.
- Norton: Distinguished as America’s oldest grape variety, it yields a full-bodied red wine characterized by firm acidity and a spicy profile.
- Catawba: Primarily employed in producing white and rosé wines, it imparts crisp berry flavors with subtle spicy undertones.
- Chambourcin: A teinturier grape variety, its naturally red juice results in a robustly flavored red wine best served slightly chilled.
- Muscadine (Scuppernong): Although its small clusters pose challenges for commercial harvest, it produces both red wines imbued with strawberry and sour cherry notes and white wines redolent of banana and bruised apple nuances.
- Niagara: Yielding a white wine endowed with a grape’s sweet “foxy” character.
These native cultivars continue to evolve as winemakers explore their potential so, before suggesting that Cabernet Sauvignon to your members, consider exploring America’s heritage and taste a piece of history.