By: Jim Trezise
Several years ago, I judged wines in a California-based national competition where the Best of Show wine, from among thousands, was a fabulous Rose from Mac’s Creek Winery. As an easterner, I’d never heard of it but figured it was somewhere in Sonoma.
Wrong: Nebraska. And it was made with Marechal Foch grapes. Huh?
That was a sign of things to come, or that were already happening.
Wine is an all-American art form--made in all 50 states, with strong steady growth, lots of innovation, and a nationwide focus on quality. Result: Great benefits for the industry, the economy, and consumers.
California is our friendly 800-pound gorilla, producing 90% of all American wine and providing leadership in many ways. Washington State has been booming for years, and with accelerating growth on the horizon will certainly remain #2, with New York #3 in total production but Oregon #3 in total number of wineries. And then there are the other 46 states.
As the former President of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation for 32 years, I clearly know New York best, having watched the industry grow from about 50 wineries to over 400, attracting well over 5 million annual tourist visits, and generating over $5 billion in annual benefits for the state economy. And, importantly, quality had grown as quickly as quantity, thanks to collaboration among wineries and research by Cornell University.
This is happening nationally—in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, and in virtually every other state. The number of American wineries has essentially doubled in the past decade to about 9,200 today. And grapes are America’s. highest value fruit crop.
A major reason for the growth is research and innovation. The United States has a huge range of “terroir”—the French notion of geography, geology, and climate that make various places unique for agriculture. Minnesota is clearly different from New Mexico, and the only way for wineries to succeed is to plant the grapes suitable to their region. In fact, Minnesota has been a leader in creating new, extremely cold-hardy vines that can withstand winter temperatures of 40 degrees below zero. Those vines are now planted widely in other northern states. And virtually every state has its own grape and wine research program.
As a judge in about a dozen competitions each year, I also have the privilege of tasting the industry’s progress from coast to coast. The results are impressive. Not so long ago, there were quite a few “DPIM” wines, meaning “Don’t Put in Mouth” after you’ve smelled a wretched aroma. Those are essentially gone, and it has actually become harder to judge because the quality has both increased and become more consistent. That is great for everyone, and especially consumers.
Looking to the future, much will depend on climate change. No, not global warming: The business climate. Wine people are always talking about the climate, because you need good weather to grow good grapes for great wines. But many forget that you also need a good business climate to grow our industry.
That’s where WineAmerica comes in. We are the national organization of American wineries, created to protect, defend, and enhance the business climate for wine in America. There is no shortage of major issues: excise tax reform, immigration, trade, music licensing, funding for research and export promotion, regulations, and much more. It’s not nearly as romantic as a stroll through the vineyards on a sunny day, but the work is every bit as important as pruning vines and selling wines.
American Wine is there to be discovered and enjoyed. Wine country tourism is one way, but armchair tourism can be fun too, thanks to the internet. Just pick a state and Google, “Wines of ___” and you will be transported to a world you may never have imagined. And if you find some intriguing wines you’d like to try, you can probably have them shipped to your doorstep. Treat yourself: You deserve it.
Jim Trezise is the President of WineAmerica (national), President of the International Riesling Foundation (international), former President of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation (state), competition judge, conference speaker, but most importantly a lover of wines and wine people. He lives and works on Keuka Lake in New York's Finger Lakes region.