Before the 1970’s, California wine was considered table wine and of poor quality. The famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 changed the wine paradigm elevating California wines to world class quality.
Now, Napa Valley is America’s most celebrated wine region and often referred to “Disneyland for Adults.” California’s Tourism Bureau promotes California as the “Land of Food and Wine.” Frankly, there are just too many limos in Napa for me.
Vineyard land in Napa Valley can easily cost a hundred thousand dollars an acre, which makes wine from this region increasingly more expensive. Most of Napa’s wine is full-bodied, rich, and one-dimensional. A drive through Napa Valley nets an observation of every slope being smothered in vines.
The economics of producing wine make winemakers look for a new frontier to plant their vineyards—the Central Coast, Mendocino, and Lake County are just a few California wine regions that have emerged over the last few decades.
Oregon and Washington wines have exploded over the past decade. Oregon’s Willamette Valley offers earthy and powerful pinot noirs, while eastern Washington offers a vast wine growing dynamic where one can find everything from chardonnay to cabernet and full-bodied syrah. The Cascade Range helps divide the Pacific Northwest with the western side influenced with rain from the Pacific and the eastern side dry and dessert like. The values the Pacific Northwest offers are immense.
My constant challenge is to be forward thinking and try wines from emerging American regions that don’t have any Pacific coastline.
Wines from the mountain regions of Arizona are ripe, yet opulent—The high altitude vineyards actually don’t have heat problems, but frost ones. Viognier and Cabernet Franc from Virginia are refined and food friendly—Viognier is argued to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite white variety. A short drive from Chicago to Lake Michigan’s Eastern Shore offers an immense potential for future winemaking—The distinct terrior from the lake effect offers loamy soil and curious winds. I am excited about the Alsatian varietals being vinified in Michigan.
Always be open minded to the evolving American wine paradigm!