Wine Trails Across America
Unusual varieties, friendly tasting rooms, spectacular scenery and exciting summer activities—there is much to reward the wine tourist in every state in the union.
By Doug Frost
Unusual varieties, friendly tasting rooms, spectacular scenery and exciting summer activities—there is much to reward the wine tourist in every state in the union.
In 1981, there were approximately 600 wineries in the United States. Today, there are 3,000. That's pretty amazing, but statistics do little to reveal the true penetration of vineyards in America.
With the opening of North Dakota's Pointe of View in July 2002, all 50 states host wineries, and wine tourism is no longer celebrated only in Northern California. Producers from Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Virginia, New York and many other states are not only capable of producing well-balanced table wines, many of them are creating wines that can compete with those from the West Coast.
The best of these are made from the familiar European grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot. Some excellent wines are made from hybrid vines, and though these wines have improved radically in the last decade, the market has been slower
to embrace less familiar varietals such as Seyval Blanc, Marechal Foch or Chambourcin.
Whatever the grape type grown, the wineries are attracting more and more crowds. Kansas's Holy-Field Winery, for instance, has only been open for nine years, but it has already become comfortably reliant on tourist traffic from nearby Kansas City for sales. Come harvest time, the same day-trippers show up at the winery to pick grapes. Virginia was hardly friendly to wineries 30 years ago, despite native son Thomas Jefferson's obsession with the vine. Now there are over 100 wineries, most established in the last decade, and Virginians are flocking to them.
To say that the wine regions are great to visit is true enough, but does scant justice to the quality they've achieved in recent years. Wherever in the 50 states the wine trail leads you, you'll make discoveries you never expected.
Niagara Niagara rises
|It's easy to miss Daniel Lenko Winery. It's a modest brick bungalow off a minor country road. You'll know you're there when you catch a glimpse of the muddy driveway packed with the BMWs and Mercedes of collectors from Toronto and the U.S., there to snap up the cult bottlings as they're released. |
Just two miles up the road from Lenko is Peninsula Ridge Wine Estates, which Norman Beal, a former oil commodities trader in the U.S., opened in 2000. Beal convinced Burgundian winemaker Jean-Pierre Colas to leave Domaine Laroche in Chablis and join him.
These are just two of the burgeoning number of Ontario wineries. In 1989, there were only 18, today there are 90, and last year, they produced the equivalent of some 5 million cases worth about $300 million.
About an hour's drive from Toronto's airport lies the dense cluster of vineyards of Canada's Niagara region. The land also creates a great environment for growing grapes. The Niagara Escarpment, a ridge of limestone deposit similar to the soils of Champagne and Burgundy, protects grapes from the cold weather, while the lake also moderates extremes of temperature. These conditions produce world-class sweet ice wines as well as elegant dry wines from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet grapes.
Further along the trail is Inniskillin, the winery credited with first bringing international recognition to Canadian wine. Next is Lailey Vineyards, which produces opulent, buttery Chardonnays and rich Cabernets.
Many of the wineries on the trail also have fine restaurants. Try Cave Spring Cellars' On The Twenty, Hillebrand Estates' Vineyard Café or Peller Estates' Winery Restaurant.
The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is full of Victorian charm, fine shops and good food at the Old Angel Tavern. It's well worth a visit.
The Wine Council of Ontario:
Niagara Economic and Tourism Corp.:
Hudson Valley A river runs through it
Serious wine enthusiasts often ignore East Coast wine trails, thinking that however pleasant the scenery might be, the wines will be a letdown. But New York's Hudson Valley wine region of New York State has some surprises in store for wine lovers. Nearly 30 wineries are clustered on the banks of the Hudson River, whose moderating influence on the cold winters has made grape growing possible here.
Winemaking didn't really take hold here until the 19th century, and it was based on native grapes and hybrids. The resulting wines, with their jelly-jar flavors, developed only a local following until the planting of improved hybrids, like Seyval Blanc, in the 1960s.
|In 1979, John Dyson, then the state's commissioner of agriculture, planted vinifera varieties in Dutchess County and soon converted an old dairy farm into what is now Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, the region's top estate. Today, other wineries in the Hudson Valley produce vinifera along with their hybrid bottlings.|
The region's wineries are grouped along two scenic wine trails: the Shawangunk Wine Trail, tucked between the Shawangunk Mountains and the Hudson River in Ulster County, some 85 miles north of New York City, and the smaller Dutchess Wine Trail across the river. I'd recommend a day on the latter. Start with lunch at the rustic Cascade Mountain Winery in Amenia, and then sample the crisp Seyval Blanc at Clinton Vineyards in Clinton Corners before heading to Millbrook Winery. Dyson's 1999 Proprietor's Reserve Chardonnay is oaky, round and rich; the 2001 Castle Hill Chardonnay is seamless, deep and tightly focused, and the 1999 Proprietor's Reserve Cabernet Franc is an elegant red, all berries and spice.
Millbrook Winery: 845/677-8383; www.millbrookwine.com
Cascade Mountain Winery: 845/373-9021; www.cascademt.com
Clinton Vineyards: 845/266-5372; www.clintonvineyards.com
Pennsylvania Grape Lehigh
|Chaddsford Winery, west of Philadelphia, has been the forerunner in making vinifera wines in Pennsylvania. But, nestled in the foothills of the Poconos, the eight wineries in southeastern Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley Wine Trail reflect the rich diversity of wines produced in the Keystone State. |
Sweet wines made from American Labrusca are still important, but the mainstream varieties for dry and semi-dry food wines are hybrids such as Vignoles, Cayuga, Marechal Foch and Vidal Blanc. It's hard to find a winery that doesn't excel at Chambourcin, a delicious, fruit-forward dry red hybrid, and some of the state's most-lauded ones, Clover Hill and Pinnacle Ridge, are on this trail.
As climate and soils permit, some growers have added Chardonnay and Riesling as well as the more difficult-to-ripen Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
|Some of the vintners have converted the area's historic bank barns—bilevel structures built into hillsides for easy entry and insulation—into winemaking facilities and cellars. Two worth seeing are at Vynecrest in Breinigsville, where visitors should try John and Jan Landis's Traminette, and at Pinnacle Ridge in Kutztown, for its Chambourcin.|
Capitalizing on the beauty of this region, Cherry Valley Vineyards sponsors hikes on the nearby Appalachian Trail, then caps off the treks with gourmet lunches. And don't forget Galen Glen, where winemaker Sarah Troxell offers many styles of Vidal Blanc—dry, semi-dry, ice wine and, just in time for Christmas, sparkling.
For more information, log on to:
Virginia …is for wine lovers
|As with many things, when it came to wine, Thomas Jefferson was ahead of his time. The famed Virginian loved wine and often brought back cases from Europe, but he also believed that his home state was capable of producing world-class wines. In 1773, Jefferson brought Italian winemaker Filippo Mazzei to his Monticello estate in Charlottesville to try winemaking. Their experiment ultimately failed, but they had planted the seeds of what would lead to a new era of winemaking in Virginia.|
Yes, Virginia, you can find great wines in the Old Dominion, as well as superb winery experiences. With more than 75 wineries spread throughout the state, it's easy to plan your own wine trail. I recommend starting with those near Charlottesville and Monticello.
Fittingly, one of the leaders in this new era was (and is) Jefferson Vineyards, just down Thomas Jefferson Parkway from Monticello. It's a great place to begin a central Virginia wine trail, because this is where Jefferson first instructed Mazzei to plant vines. There's a pleasant tasting room, winery tours on the hour, and an excellent choice of Viognier, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and more. A deck just off the tasting room is a perfect picnic spot, with a gourmet grocery, called Brix, nearby.
Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard on Grand Cru Drive could be your the next stop. Just opened to the public earlier this year, the sprawling facility includes a tasting room, the winery and a farm shop with lots of local produce. Their first bottling is Kluge Estate New World Red, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Other excellent winery experiences in the Charlottesville include Barboursville Vineyards (Italian-style wines and dining) and King Family Vineyards/Michael Shaps Wines.
Along with the requisite visit to Monticello, eat a meal at historic Michie Tavern, enjoy the University of Virginia's campus, and simply soak up the bucolic atmosphere.
Virginia Wine Marketing Office:
Jefferson Vineyards: 434/977-3042;
Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard: 434/977-3895 (ext. 55); www.klugeestate.com
First Colony Winery: 877/979-7105 or
434/ 979-7105; www.firstcolonywinery.com
Barboursville Vineyards: 540/832-3824; www.barboursvillewine.com
King Family Vineyards/Michael Shaps Wines: 434/ 823-7800; www.kingfamilyvineyards.com
Texas Head for the hills
"Texas wine" may roll off the tongue about as easily as "jazz bagpipes," but be aware: Texas, with more than 300 vineyards and 50 wineries, is now the fifth-largest wine producing state. While some traditional grapes (notably Pinot Noir and Zinfandel) have resisted the charms of Texas weather, several growers have produced delicious Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot, as well as varieties more adapted to the state's warmth—Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese and Viognier.
Texas is a huge state (two of its wineries are 700 miles apart). The largest concentration of wineries is in the Austin area, with 22 wineries within a two-hour drive, so if you only have a day or two, focus on the Hill Country north and west of the city. There, the soil is rocky and acidic with warm days and hot nights—perfect for the warm-weather varieties. It is a charming area favored by native Texans, with rolling hills covered with junipers and live oaks, and threaded with rivers.
Start off at Flat Creek Estate, a gorgeous place in the hills north of Austin by Lake Travis. Aussie winemaker Craig Parker makes an intense Cabernet and lightly acidic, floral Muscat. A pleasant drive across creeks and past a lake and you are at Fall Creek Vineyards, one of Texas's oldest and largest wineries.
|Their Granite Reserve is a Bordeaux blend with a soft style and a bargain price. Then take a quick trip over to Alamosa Wine Cellars, an artisanal winery specializing in Viognier, Grenache, Tempranillo and Sangiovese. Jim Johnson, a veteran of Heitz and Iron Horse, is making a Viognier that many feel is on par with some Condrieus. Stop at Cooper's in Llano for pit-cooked Texas barbecue, then head to Spicewood Vineyards, home of a rich, dry Reserve Sémillon and an award-winning Sauvignon Blanc. |
The next day, drive to Johnson City, where Texas Hills Vineyard is working in an Italian style. Try their Super-Texican, a take-off on the Tuscan blends, and their Due Bianco, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. Ask for directions to the Willow City Loop for a scenic drive to tchotchke heaven in Fredericksburg. Fifteen minutes from Fredericksburg is Becker Vineyards, the Texas wine most often served by President Bush. Be sure to try their incredibly lush Cabernet-Syrah and their peachy Viognier. End the day at Driftwood Vineyards, a new winery committed to great fruit, limited oak and negligible manipulation. Their fruity Chardonnay is unoaked and bone-dry, and their Viognier is rich with apricot and pear aromas.
Flat Creek Estate Vineyard and Winery, 512/267-6310; www.flatcreekestate.com
Fall Creek Vineyards: 915/379-5361; www.fcv.com
Alamosa Wine Cellars: 915/628-3313; www.alamosawinecellars.com
Spicewood Vineyards: 830/693-5328; www.spicewoodvineyards.com
Texas Hills Vineyard: 830/868-2321; www.texashillsvineyard.com
Becker Vineyards: 210/644-2681; www.beckervineyards.com
Driftwood Vineyards: 512/858-4508; www.driftwoodvineyards.com
New Mexico Sparklers with altitude
|Question: Can New Mexico produce wines of character and balance? Answer: Gruet Winery.|
If it came from California, Gruet's sparkling wine would be considered first rate. That it comes instead from elevated desert in northern New Mexico is ample evidence that there are many fine wine regions yet to be discovered in America—many of which do not get the credit that they deserve.
Although New Mexico's is a hot climate, Gruet's vineyards are at 4,200 feet in altitude; nighttime temperatures drop to 50 degrees, allowing grapes to ripen while maintaining crisp acidity. Gruet's Blanc de Blancs is particularly well balanced, achieving a focus and structure that some famed California sparklers often lack.
Gruet's winery and tasting room are in northern Albuquerque. Northwest of Albuquerque is Milagro Winery, which fashions rustic, tasty Zinfandels as well as fat and juicy barrel-fermented Chardonnay.
New Mexico's best wine trail is located north of the beautiful town of Santa Fe.
|The Sangre de Cristo Mountains offer remarkable scenery on the drive north from Santa Fe. Stop at Balagna Winery and visit White Rock Canyon. If you need something to warm you (not likely) you can try Balagna's impressive La Bomba Grande Port wine. The view of mountain and sky at Black Mesa Winery is stunning; the winery is homespun, but the Coyote bottling (Cabernet, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel) is serious stuff. The entire trip through the Rio Grande Gorge before you get to Taos is spectacular for mountain scenery.|
At La Chiripada Winery you can taste barrel-fermented white wines that are solid and friendly, and reds that are powerful and dense.
Gruet Winery: 888/857-9463; www.gruetwinery.com,
La Chiripada: 505/579-4437
Milagro Vineyards: 505/898-3998
Colorado Terroir at 7,000 feet
|If you think Colorado is a swath of frozen tundra punctuated by ski lifts, you're due for a trip down Interstate 70. Two hours west of Vail, I-70 winds through the walls of Glenwood Canyon and spits you out in the sun-filled Grand Valley, a surreal mix of pastoral greenery and lunar, gray cliffs. Seventy percent of the grapes for Colorado's 41 wineries grow here. |
At between 4,000 and 7,000 feet (that would be Terror Creek, the world's highest commercial winery), Colorado vineyards get intense sun and cool nights, while the desert-dry air keeps disease and pests at bay. The challenge is finding grapes that can survive the early frosts and cold winters. Merlot and Chardonnay are most prevalent, for commercial reasons, but all the main vinifera grapes are being tried.
From exit 44 off I-70, take the bridge to Canyon Wind Cellars, where Napa winemaker Robert Pepi makes Cabernet and Merlot in the valley's only temperature-controlled barrel cellar. Then head north to Grande River Vineyards, the largest grapegrower in the state. Pick up their schedule for summer vineyard concerts and be sure to sample their Viognier.
Head west on Route 6 until you spot Chardonnay Chicken, the giant metal sculpture at the entrance to Plum Creek Cellars. Their tasting room is filled with wine-themed artwork and other tempting gifts; be sure to try their impressive Cabernet Franc. Nearby is Garfield Estates, a serious new wine venture situated in a 100-year-old barn. Their artisinal Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and rosé are worth the trip.
To reach Carlson Vineyards, follow route 38 on a series of switchbacks to the top of the mesa. A magnificent view of the valley floor is on display on the approach to Carlson. Don't let the quirky labels and fruit wine fool you; Carlson makes some killer Riesling and Gewürtztraminer blends. Another two zigs bring you to Colorado's oldest winery, Colorado Cellars, where you can draw your own samples from a wall of spigots.
The final stop is Two Rivers Winery, and its new, Bordeaux-style chateau. You can easily tour The Grand Valley in a day, even if you depart from Vail, but it's worth staying the night to visit the Colorado National Monument, less than an hour west of wine country. It's a wonder of soaring red monoliths and sheer canyons, with mountain lions, bighorn sheep and a breathtaking view of the wild west.
Canyon Wind Cellars: 970/464-0888
Grand River Vineyards: 970/464-5867; www.granderiverwines.com
Plum Creek Cellars: 970/464-7586
Garfield Estates: 970/464-0941; www.garfieldestates.com
Carlson Vineyards: 970/464-5554
Colorado Cellars: 800/848-2812
Two Rivers Winery: 970/255-1471
This is an abridged version of "Wine Trails Across America." To read the article in its entirety, pick up the August issue of Wine Enthusiast at your local newsstand.