Research paper

With wine now being produced in all 50 states, there are many regions worth noting outside California and the Pacific Northwest. The most successful areas seem to have that great combination of an aspiration for quality among the growers, an ability to organize and self promote, and proximity to a city that provides a stream of tourists to create a “wine scene”. These qualities can all be found in North Virginia, Michigan’s Traverse City area and Texas Hill Country.

VIRGINIA

Virginia has been producing wine since the early 1900s but it’s only in the last two decades that wine in this region has really begun to show promise. In 1976, the prominent Italian winemaking Zonin family founded Barboursville Vineyards producing Bordeaux blends and Italian varietals in what is now the Monticello AVA. Many other vineyards followed in the 80s and 90s and there are now about 250 wineries operating in Virginia. Virginia has 3,000 acres under vine and claims to be fifth in production volume nationwide.

The Growers

Of the seven Virginia AVAs, Middleburg AVA in Northern Virginia is known for its rich history and heritage as well as its excellent wines and culinary assets. Located just 50 miles west of Washington DC, this area is a popular weekend escape for politicians and foodies. Of the 230 wineries in the state, Loudon County has the largest concentration with 70 wineries. The area is bounded by the Potomac River to the north and mountains to the east, south and west. 

The landscape is rolling hills with soils composed of granite and sandstone erosion with good drainage. The soils here are considered to be among the best in Virginia. The region is also cooler than Virginia’s other AVAs, which is a major benefit. Soft breezes coming from the Ashby Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains dissipate morning fog,  reduce frost and lessen the incidence of mildew during the growing season. The Viognier, Cab Franc and Bordeaux blends here rival some of the best from California and Europe. 

Most of Virginias wineries are very small and family owned with only a few large investors getting in the game. Donald Trump and Steve Case of AOL have wineries here. Many of the smaller wineries depend on direct to consumer sales. The trend among producers toward quality continues to grow. Good examples of this are Boxwood Winery making Bordeaux blends, Chrysalis Vineyards making fine whites, Gray Ghost Vineyards, Narmada Winery, and Paradise Springs have all won awards.

Organizations & Tourism

The government in Virginia is particularly devoted to promoting Virginia wines. Early on they realized the potential to support other rural attractions in the state by drawing visitors in through wine tourism and have dedicated a lot of energy toward this effort. Northern Virginia is the most populous in the state and accounts for 44% of the overall travel and tourism budget, upwards of $9 billion, the largest of any region in the state and wine is an integral part of the development strategy. The numerous organizations supporting the industry include the Virginia Wineries Association, Virginia Wine Board, Virginia Wine Marketing Office, Virginia Winegrowers Advisory Board, Virginia Wine Council, and Virginia Wine Growers Association to name a few, all organized to support and promote Virginia wines. 

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CAROL KING carol@carolking.com

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Events such as the Virginia Wine Summit, Virginia Wine Expo, and Virginia Wine Festival are all designed to showcase Virginia wines, bring in wine industry leaders, wine professionals, restauranteurs, wine enthusiasts and the press.

MICHIGAN

Known mainly for cherries and grape juice, Michigan is new to the business of making fine wine. Seated on the 45th parallel as is Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace, Michigan wine country looks like Sonoma Valley 20 years ago— bucolic and undeveloped. They have 2,650 acres planted to vine and approximately 100 small to medium sized wineries.

The Growers

Michigan has four AVAs all located in proximity to Lake Michigan. Almost all wine grapes grown are within 25 miles of the Lake. Fennville and Lake Michigan Shore AVAs produce 45% of all Michigan wines, but it is the Greater Traverse City area including the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula AVAs where the action is. 

Wineries in this area boast beautiful hilltop views of the bay. 51% of vinifera grapes are grown here. Soil is sandy with good drainage and the lake-dominated climate allows a longer growing season. The Lake Effect shelters the region from harsh winters and provides favorable microclimates for grapegrowing.

White wines are the best bet in this region. Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürtztraminer and Traminette are standouts. Cab Franc and Pinot Noir make good sparkling wines. Chateau Grand Traverse, Left Foot Charley, Old Mission Cellars and Bel Lago make quality white wines that are crisp, dry and refreshing.

Organizations & Tourism

Known for its spectacular fall foliage, Michigan’s stunning autumn season coincides with harvest and creates a huge draw for wine tourism drawing over 2 million visitors each year. There are many local tasting events and festivals like the Harvest Stompede, the Hunt for the Reds of October, Blossom Days, Great Lakes Wine and Paw Paw Festivals. The region has a healthy selection of top notch restaurants and the hilltop is dotted with multi-million dollar homes.

Chateau Chantal, Good Harbor Vineyards, Chateau de Leelanau, and L. Mawby Vineyards are all part of a TV show call “Wine Warriors” that is currently in production. The show gives a behind the scenes view of wineries from the Greater Traverse City area with a compelling cast of characters that will definitely draw attention to the area if it is picked up on cable.

Michigan State University has an agricultural program dedicated to wine research and education. The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council is very active in promoting and supporting the areas wine regions. Law revisions, friendly to the wine industry, passed laws in 2005 allowing wineries to sell from their tasting rooms, ship direct to consumer, and sell directly to retailers and restaurants thus bypassing the entire wholesale distribution system.

A warming trend on the Great Lakes foretells an increase in production. The Council is looking to increase productivity 10-fold by 2024.

TEXAS

Franciscan priests were planting vines way back in the 1600s for the sacrament, and it was a Texan who saved the entire wine world from Phylloxera when Thomas Munson did his research on root stocks and created hundreds of hybrids, but it wasn’t until the ‘70s when Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries were founded in the Texas 

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CAROL KING carol@carolking.com

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High Plains near Lubbock that Texas wines began to show any promise. Since 1990, the number of wineries has grown from 25 to 300. Ironically, Texas also claims to be fifth in production volume nationwide, depending on whether you are talking to a Virginian or a Texan.

Texas has more indigenous vine species than any other region on Earth growing over 36 types of Vitis grapes, no less than 15 of them being native. Bordeaux blends and Italian varietals are common.

The Growers

Today, Texas has eight AVAs with Texas High Plains producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons, and Texas Hill Country, more specifically Fredericksburg, being the center of attention.

Texas Hill Country 

Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country AVA covers 70,000 acres with peaks and valleys made up of 90% clay loam. The climate is no different than the rest of Hill Country but is the hotspot of wine tourism. With its German cultural heritage, the area boasts lots of tasting rooms, excellent restaurants and hotels and its status as a wedding destination means it also has other tourist-friendly services such as luxury spas. It is the third most visited wine region in the US but is still under the radar outside of Texas.

Texas Hill Country’s proximity to Austin and San Antonio provide it with a steady stream of visitors. Events such as Wine & Swine and The Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival held in Austin every year carry in all that goes with it in the form of wine enthusiasts, professionals, the culinary crowd and the press.

Fredericksburg produces good quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Becker Vineyards is a notable producer as well as Pedernales Cellars for Rhone style wines, Tempranillos and Viogniers, and Spicewood Vineyards for Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Touriga Nacional, and Syrah.

Texas High Plains

Texas High Plains AVA is located in the Panhandle at a 3,000-4,000 ft elevation. It’s the largest AVA in Texas and the third largest in the US with a total of 8 million acres and produces 80% of the grapes in Texas (only a fraction of this is planted to vine). The high elevation and low precipitation create a favorable climate for grape growing with relatively cool night temperatures during fruit ripening. It is the most consistent AVA for Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Syrah, Sangiovese, Vermentino and Roussane.

Soils are calcareous with red sandy loam over limestone and moderate low fertility. The terroir is similar to Coonawarra in Australia. The elevation provides long days of sunshines and cool nights. Cold winter temperatures allow the vines to go into dormancy before the growing season. The Ogallala Aquifer provides a source of irrigation and tempers the summer heat and winter freeze. The constant wind over the flat terrain helps prevent against powdery mildew.

Texas High Plains doesn’t have the tourism that Texas Hill Country has, but its reputation for quality boosts the states image overall and raises the profile for all Texas wines, including Fredericksburg.

McPherson Cellars Winery is a notable producer as well as Llano Estacado which is the second largest Texas winery making excellent, bright-flavored reds that rival Washington States best.

Organizations & Tourism

Quality wines are a point of pride for Texans. The Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association sponsors a number of competitions as well as an annual conference & trade show. The High Plains Winegrowers is dedicated to promoting awareness of  the superior quality of High Plains wine and the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas 

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CAROL KING carol@carolking.com

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hosts events, educational opportunities, grants scholarships and hosts the largest wine auction in the Southwest. The collective called Texas Fine Wines is a small elite group of winemakers on the shortlist of award winning Texas wines that have joined together to promote themselves as the best of the best.

In the world of Academia, Texas Tech offers a viticulture degree and the University of Texas is actually the largest producer having founded a vineyard in the ‘70s that it now leases to a group of Bordeaux winemakers who produce two labels, Ste. Genevieve and Escondido Valley.

Conclusion

There are other regions in the US that show a lot of promise. The Finger Lakes has long had a reputation for quality whites, Long Island has been on the rise as has Pennsylvania. But Pennsylvania isn’t there yet, Long Island winemakers are still very insulated, are not unified and don’t even see the point in promoting themselves, and the Finger Lakes region doesn’t have the local support and energy surrounding its wines to draw more tourism.

Texas, Michigan and Virginia all have very strong support at the roots that drive people to the region and with it comes press, word of mouth and sales. There’s also the undeniable fact that when a wine region attracts attention and visitors, the entire economy of that region benefits as well. Communities that understand this and organize around it seem to have the greatest success. I believe that as interest in wine increases in general, these areas will continue to develop both in quality and production.