How many states in the U.S. produce wine? All of them—even Hawaii boasts two producers, while Alaska has five wineries.
For certain, the U.S. wine industry is booming: Production nearly doubled in the 15 years from 1998 to 2013—from 494,000 gallons to 836,000, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
There are now 8,000 wineries in the U.S., according to Wine America, the national association of American winemakers. Just 15 years ago, there were closer to 3,500 wineries, “so I think we’ve possibly reached the plateau in terms of expansion,” says spokesperson Michael Kaiser. “I think we’ll see current wineries planting more vines rather than the number of wineries growing.”
Half of the wineries are in California, and in terms of production, California produces 90% of U.S. wine (728.94 million gallons in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available). Washington is next, producing 34.14 million gallons of wine, followed by New York (27.15 million gallons) and Pennsylvania (10.27 million gallons).
Several other states have developed robust wine industries. Here are five other U.S. wine regions we think you’ll be hearing more of in the next few years.
It may come as a surprise, but the wine industry growth in Idaho is far outpacing that of its potato business. Idaho produced 805,000 gallons of wine in 2013.
The state, which boasts high elevations, volcanic, well-drained soil and temperature swings, has 51 wineries, most of which have taken off in the past 15 years, though a handful have been around since the 1970s.
The state can’t yet hang its hat on a standout varietal, says Moya Shatz Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission in Boise, “but our rieslings and viogniers are excellent, and in reds, syrah, merlot, tempranillo and malbec are all doing phenomenally.”
Idaho’s wine industry received a big boost in 2007, when its Snake River AVA (American Viticultural Area) was approved. This region includes 30 wineries and vineyards, mostly clustered around Boise. Second and third AVAs are now pending, for the Lewis Clark Valley and Eagle Foothills.
Juniper restaurant in Boise serves only wines from Idaho, Washington and Oregon, where “you can find any grape you want,” says owner Kacey Montgomery. Of the 35 wines the restaurant offers, about a third are from Idaho.
Local wines tend to cost a dollar or two more, Montgomery says, “but it’s worth it. When people come from out of town, they want a Boise experience. And people from the area are proud of and love the local wines.”
Juniper also hosts monthly winemaker dinners “because the winemakers here are super accessible,” she adds. “They talk at the dinner about how they made the wines, and the chef talks about the pairing.”
The 13th Street Pub and Grill in Boise serves as many local wines as possible, says co-owner Scott Graves. “The only issue we’ve ever had is that wineries from a small AVA need to charge mid- to upper-tier prices.”
But he says that prices are starting to adjust since the industry is growing, and local restaurants are willing to take less of a profit on local wines. The 13th Street Pub revamped its wine program this past November, adding 12 tap wines, four of which are local. It has two other local wines by the bottle.
A local winery is producing a house wine for the pub, which Graves will name and design a tap handle for. The tap wines cost $7 to $12 a glass, with the Idaho wines falling in the middle of that range.
Most growth in the Arizona wine industry started in the late 1970s in Sonoita, which was classified as an AVA in 1984, says Rod Keeling, president of Arizona Wine Growers in Pearce, AZ, and co-owner of Keeling Schaefer Vineyards. Founded in 2003, Keeling Schaefer harvested its first fruit in 2005 and began selling its wines in 2007.
Sonoita is 5,000 ft. above sea level, a high-altitude desert, and one of the highest wine-growing areas in the country. The Sonoita area contains about a third of Arizona’s wineries, and two other areas equally share the other two-thirds: The Verde Valley near Sedona and the Wilcox area, another high-altitude region.
There are now nearly 100 wineries in Arizona, and since 2005 the industry has grown 1,000%.
In terms of acreage, the state has planted about 800 acres, with 250 more in development—a significant jump on 2005 when less than 100 acres were planted. Arizona produced 145,000 gallons of wine in 2013.
The top varietal here is syrah, followed by grenache and mourvèdre, says Keeling. About 98% of Arizona wine is sold within the state, and it’s served at about 200 bars and restaurants. It’s also sold in supermarkets and Costco.
The entire wine list at FnB restaurant in Scottsdale features Arizona wines. Co-owner/beverage director Pavle Milic showcases eight producers, with several wines from each.
The wines change almost daily “because there are so many winemakers I want to showcase,” he says. Some mainstays, however, include Dos Cabezas, Sand-Reckoner and Callaghan Vineyards.
Because he still gets some customers who don’t understand the quality of Arizona wines, Milic also has an alternate list—known as the Plan B—featuring worldwide wines.
The bottles of wine range from $36 to $76 for whites; and $40 to $240 for reds. Milic also produces his own brand—Los Milics, consisting of three reds and a rosé—in collaboration with Dos Cabezas.
Scott Stephens runs the Phoenix restaurants Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail. Beckett’s offers around 12 local wines of 135 total, while Southern Rail serves 32 local wines out of 105.
Both restaurants also offer half-priced bottles of local wines on Sundays (Mondays, too, at Southern Rail).
To draw attention to the local wines, Beckett’s Table’s wine list includes three sections: Close to Home, Far From Home and AZ Home Grown. At Southern Rail Stephens highlights “Arizona Reserve” wines, selecting what he believes are five of the best wines in the state.
But the most important thing Stephens says he does for local wines is educate his employees. “Education is paramount, and we bring winemakers in to talk to staff about their wines so they get a story about the wine and get to taste it,” he notes.
Virginia is the fifth-largest region in the U.S. for both the number of wineries and in wine-grape acres and wine production: It produced 1.26 million gallons 145,000 gallons of wine in 2013. The state’s wineries have increased from 119 in 2007 to more than 250 today. But Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office in Richmond, says the growth is slowing down.
“I feel we’ve plateaued until we get more vines planted and they start producing,” Boyd says. “The good news is everybody knew this five years ago, so they’re already in the ground.”
Virginia’s climate is similar to that of several wine-growing regions in Europe.. “We have a lot of water and a lot of rain, so we really have been looking at European wine regions for our template on how to deal with moisture and climate and how to control our vineyards,” says Boyd.
The state has highly variable climates—anything from droughts to hurricanes—which means winemakers grow many varieties of grapes that ripen at different times of the year to manage risk.
Virginia’s wines have fruit character, as well as an Old World restraint, “that you don’t get from wines from the West Coast because it’s warmer there—except perhaps Oregon,” says Elizabeth Schneider, a certified sommelier and owner of the Atlanta-based consultancy Wine For Normal People.
Viognier, cabernet franc, tannat (a varietal from the south of France and Uruguay), and petit manseng (also from the South of France) are all thriving in Virginia. Petit verdot is also doing well: It’s used both as a blending grape in reds and meritages, though it’s also bottled alone—something that’s not usually done elsewhere.
Every wine served at The Roosevelt restaurant in Richmond is from Virginia, and there’s enough diversity in what’s available to suit every palate and every pairing, says co-owner Kendra Feather. At any given time, she is working with up to 30 different wineries, but that changes constantly, she says.
Small wineries run out of product, so Feather is always adjusting her wine list. Popular with guests are meritage blends, Bordeaux-style wines, viogniers and chardonnays.
“Our menu is about regional foods, and that’s why we decided to go with a regional wine list, too,” Feather explains. This is appreciated by locals and visitors alike.
“If you go to Italy, you want to try Italian wine and eat Italian food,” she says. “If I were coming to Virginia, I’d want to try what’s indigenous.”
Feather says she has no problem paying more for local wine, and that she marks up her wines less than other restaurants.The Roosevelt’s wines are priced from $26 to $100 per bottle.
Working with smaller wine producers can post challenges, such as shortages of product and distribution issues, says Feather. “But when you are dealing with smaller companies, it’s just what’s going to happen, whether the wines come from Virginia or Italy.”
Michigan, which produced some 2.18 million gallons of wine in 2013, now includes 113 wineries—94 more than 15 years ago.
There are three major wine growing regions in Michigan—Lake Michigan Shore in Southwest Michigan towards Chicago, and Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula, both near Traverse City in Northwest lower Michigan.
But there are several smaller areas, too, including the Petoskey region, which is pioneering some new varietals that have been developed for colder regions; and Southeast Michigan, where a new, 275-mile Thumbs Up Wine Trail will launch in May with 13 member vineyards and wineries.
“Michigan is one of the leading areas in the country for fruit production, and because of the Great Lakes we have a great climate for fruit,” says Linda Jones, executive director at the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council in Lansing, MI.
Draw a parallel east from Michigan and you’ll find yourself in southern Germany, so it should come as no surprise that the top varietal being grown here is riesling. “We specialize in cool-climate vines,” Jones explains.
Because of the lesser-known varietals that grow well in Michigan, it’s been a little challenging for the region to attract attention. Excellent wines made in the area include riesling, pinot grigio, gewurztraminer, pinot blanc and auxerrois blanc, says wine expert Madeline Triffon. The first female sommelier in the U.S., Triffon now works with upscale grocer/retailer chain Plum Market.
The riesling “can be exceptional,” she notes, “particularly in the hands of people who have been working with it aggressively, like Chateau Grand Traverse.” For reds, Triffon points to gamay noir, lemberger, pinot noir and cabernet franc.
About a third of the wines served at City Scene Lounge in Holland, MI, are local wines. Of the 12, served four are red, five are white, there’s a rosé, a sparkling and a dessert wine, says manager Ben Hartley.
He’s also thinking of adding a Michigan wine list to his ballroom catering menu, both due to customer demand and because it’s the direction the venue wants to go in.
Eric Djordjevic is the president of The Epicurean Group in Detroit, and owns seven properties, three of which are fine-dining locations where Michigan wines make up about 10% of the wine lists.
“It’s about an economic stewardship of wanting to support businesses in our community, and ‘local’ is a hot button for consumers,” Djordjevic says.
“Over the last 10 years, Michigan wines have started stepping up their game,” he says. “It’s a young region, so I think what started as a more humble farming endeavor has become a little more sophisticated, without pretentiousness.”
Texas’ wine industry has “exploded” in the past year, says Debbie Reynolds, executive director of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association in Grapevine, TX. “We are sitting at 350 winery permits—ones that have opened or are in the process of opening.” This is a far cry from 2000, when there were no more than 60 wineries open.
The state produced 747,000 gallons of wine in 2013. The top Texas varietals are blanc du bois, viognier, sangiovese and tempranillo. “There’s a lot of Rhone influence, and some wineries are also doing mourvèdre really well,” says Reynolds.
She also expects to see more sparkling wines start to come out of the state.
Abount 80% of the state’s wine is made in the central Texas Hill Country region, and around 80% of the grapes are grown in the high plains, more than 300 miles away.
Cabernet Grill, in the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, TX, serves only Texan wines. When owner Ross Burtwell opened the restaurant in 2002, Texas wine was in its infancy, he says, so his menu featured worldwide wines. But by 2007 he was featuring exclusively Texan wines and he now serves around 100 of them.
“Some people still have a California mentality; they want merlot or chardonnay, but Texas is not known for those,” Burtwell says. “We try to steer people to what’s going really well for Texas—viognier, malbec, sangiovese and tempranillo.”
The prices on local wines are slightly higher than you might pay for wines from California, for instance, says Burtwell. He uses a deviated pricing system, adding less of a markup on the higher-end wines “because we want people to experience those.”
Winewood Grill in Grapevine, TX, serves about 250 wines from around the world, about 10 of which are from Texas. The local blends are the most popular wines, says general manager/wine director Carlos Deleon.
He points particularly to Messina Hof’s GSM (grenache, syrah mourvèdre), which sells for $85 a bottle, and the Becker Iconoclast cabernet ($35). For whites, Deleon says the Duchman Family Winery do Bianco (trebbiano, vermentino, pinot grigio and muscat) sells well at $30 a bottle.
Amanda Baltazar is a freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest who frequently writes about food and beverages.