Although grapes are grown and wine is made
in most American states, only in California and the Pacific northwest
are grapes grown in significant quantities. Only wines from these areas
have gained an international reputation for quality.
California's reputation has been built on
bold, ripe, fruit-driven wines, which often carry their fair share of
new oak. The state has had its problems, with almost every deadly wine
disease rearing its ugly head at some stage, yet it has without doubt,
some of the world's best growing conditions.
The Pacific Ocean is hugely influential,
moderating a hot climate with its cool breezes and fogs. Most of
California's commercial wines come from the warm and fertile Central
Valley, but its premium wines tend to be made form fruit grown much
closer to the coast.
The Napa Valley, sometimes referred to as
the Bordeaux of California, is situated just north of San Francisco Bay.
As an appellation (or AVA), Napa has a diversity of soil, climate, and
topography, which particularly suits Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A
food culture has also evolved here, making it a destination for the rich
The areas of Sonoma and Carneros,
separated from the Napa Valley by the Mayacamus Mountains, are much
cooler and are therefore able to specialize in Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay. Warmer districts, such as Dry Creek, are found in northern
Sonoma, where some superb Zinfandels are produced. Zinfandel is
California's 'own grape'. At best it produces blackberry-flavored,
full-bodied reds, often from old vines. At worst it also makes 'blush'
or White Zin, a pale relation, bottled with a dash of sweetness.
The small, but up-and-coming Sierra
Foothills area is a great source of Rhône and Italian varietals while
south of San Francisco lies the region of Santa Cruz which is home to
some top-class wineries.
Washington State and Oregon, collectively
known as the Pacific northwest, like California lie on the western side
of the country. Spanning three adjoining states, this is an area of
rolling hills, rivers and valleys. Washington, with approximately 30,000
acres of vineyards, tends to be the warmer of the two regions. Its
plantings focus mostly around the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain
Oregon, has only 12,000 acres of
vineyards, which have developed in the cooler Willamette Valley.
Burgundian and Alsatian grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay,
Pinot Gris and Muscat, thrive here. Oregon gained overnight fame in 1979
when David Lett of the Eyrie Vineyard entered the estate's 1975 Pinot
Noir in a blind wine tasting competition, organized by the Burgundian
négociant Robert Drouhin. Although Drouhin's Chambolle-Musigny 1959 came
first, the Eyrie vineyard beat many famous Burgundy wines to come
second. Oregon has been linked with Pinot Noir ever since.
Over the Columbia River in Eastern
Washington, the dry and warm climate of the Columbia Valley is proving
to be an excellent area to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet
Franc and Syrah. Most of the vineyards here rely on irrigation, even
though generally Washington tends to be quite wet. The Columbia Valley
maybe the best-known region, but the Walla Walla Valley is beginning to
generate a great deal of excitement.
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