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The states of wine

Nov 12, 2012


By Karl Klooster
Of the News-Register


While the American wine industry is concentrated in just four states — California, New York, Washington and Oregon — every state can boast a winery or two, or even a few.

The four wine-centric states, three of them on the West Coast, account for 97.4 percent of the nation’s annual production. That only leaves 2.6 percent for all the rest, but it is spread very widely.

California dominates the industry with 89.2 percent of the total. The rest of the big four only adds 8.2 percent.

So even well-established wineries in major producing states may find themselves pitted against marketing giants in an ongoing battle for space on grocery store shelves and restaurant wine lists.

That’s why you seldom hear about, much less have the opportunity to buy or try, wines grown and produced elsewhere in the country. That is, unless you happen to live in or adjacent to one of those “other” states.

For example, in Oregon, we see a fair amount of Idaho wine.

That’s true even though Idaho only produces about 600,000 gallons a year, earning a rank of 15th nationally. Thanks to close proximity and reasonable prices, some praiseworthy wines from the “spud” state find their way onto Oregon shelves.

Oregon itself is no great shakes when it comes to quantity. Its 440 wineries produce only about 1 percent of all American wine. It might go up or down a tenth or two, depending on the year, but doesn’t vary much.

It’s quality, not quantity, that makes the Beaver State a global contender. And the same can be said for some of the most renowned wine producing regions elsewhere in the world.

So why couldn’t some lesser-known American state produce something exceptional? Why not Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan or Missouri?

The fact is, every one of these states has a thriving wine industry — one that is demonstrating a serious commitment to increase its presence and position in the marketplace. Looking at a list of the 50 states, half of them are producing at least 100,000 gallons a year.

Although no more than an introduction to such an extensive subject can be provided here, anyone interested in fine wine should find just a tantalizing taste enough to investigate further on his own.

Take, for example, Virginia. Ranking only 10th in total production, its industry recently laid claim to generating annual wine tourism revenue second only to that of California.

Although Oregon can disprove this assertion — $2.7 billion versus $750 million, relegating it to the realm of a self-promotional overstatement — people still take notice when a place receives great press.

Last year, Travel Leisure Magazine ranked Virginia as one of the top five wine tourism destinations in the world. And this year, the state made Wine Enthusiast’s top 10 listing.

The Virginia Wineries Association website boasts 224 member wineries in 15 geographic regions broken into six American Viticultural Areas. That’s up from 193 members in 2009.

The Virginia Vineyards Association, formed in 1979, claims nearly 200 members. They grow more than 30 vinifera varieties, as well as native grapes, led by Norton.

Cabernet franc, viognier and chardonnay have thus far proved Virginia’s most successful vinifera varieties.

In just five years, the industry has more than doubled in size. It’s 2010 production of 440,000 cases will soon be eclipsed.

When it comes to tourism, Virginia has some wineries serving as veritable showplaces. They include Barboursville, Keswick, Fox Meadow, New Kent and Paradise Springs.

The 1,000-acre Kluge Estate, recently purchased by Donald Trump in a bankruptcy auction, leads the Virginia pack in lavishness. But The Donald will have to revitalize its checkered image.

Last year, another high roller, AOL co-founder Steve Case, purchased another bankrupt Virginia winery — Early Mountain Vineyards. He plans to invest major money in the venture.

When Texans decide to do something, small isn’t in their vocabularly. Over the past decade, the number of Texas wineries has grown more than five-fold, from 46 to 220.

Production of approximately 2.85 million gallons, or 1.2 million cases, elevates it to No. 5 overall, behind just the big four.

Few outside the industry know that Kentucky ranks sixth at just under 2 million gallons. There, 61 wineries are dividing up 840,000 cases of annual production.

The industry website in Kentucky calls it the home to America’s first commercial vineyard. It boasts of “rebuilding a wine industry ready to take its place among the world’s best.”

In Missouri, grape production increased 76 percent between 2007 and 2009, going from 2,500 to 4,400 tons. The Show Me State is currently the nation’s 12th largest wine producer at just over 1 million gallons.

Missouri’s 118 wineries are banking on Norton, a native American red. The popular Rhone white, viognier and another native variety, Concord, are also in the mix.

Michigan, a longtime player on the American wine scene, holds down the 8th position. But only 2,650 of its 15,000 acres of grapes are made into wine.

Its 94 wineries produced 1.3 million gallons in 2011, with riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris heading the list of more than a dozen vinifera grapes grown in the state.

There’s more, much more, of course, to this cross-country trip through U.S. vines and wines. And there will be more at another time.

Meantime, be sure to regularly enjoy a glass of wine and keep your eye out for some of those “other” wines that will likely be coming our way over time.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at kklooster@newsregister.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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