When I started studying wine, really studying in 2000, the curriculum included California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. The four states in the U.S. that produced the largest volume of wine. Those four still lead the wine production of the U.S. today, but it is time for my curious mind to check out the others. Even in 2000 the United States had a relatively brief history with serious, fine wine production. Maybe 30-50 years, more and less, of truly producing wines that competed on a global stage with their European ancestry. Of course, California had been renown for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay since 1976 and shortly after the pioneer producers in Oregon and Washington began making great strides, but by 2000 we had still only ascertained the appropriate places to source the appropriate varietals in many ways. Now, 20 years later, everything that had been understood about our west coast is different than 20 years ago. What I am asking is will the changes to our climate necessitate change to the traditional grape regions of production in the United States?
Every time I travel to a new site I learn, through a visual association of the area, better tools to share with students. I notice the landscape, the climate, the soil, the proximity to water, mountains, forests, and other agriculture. It allows me to tangibly recognize why we source, where we source. I am curious to see where could we source, that previously we thought not to source. The west coast will always have advantages over the body of the nation when it comes to wine production. Even with four and five years of wildfire challenges the overall climate and proximity to the Pacific and the mountains, makes the land ideal for the crop. Where are the spots that were okay, but now have the potential to become great?
In the 1980's Washington and Oregon "pioneers" in grape cultivation began taking the relative, but calculated, risk of trying a new area of production, and the exercise was very informative. Washington for example was never type cast. They planted everything they wanted to try. Merlot and Syrah really took off, as did Chardonnay and Riesling, but they planted anything they wanted to try, because why not? When I was in Washington I saw on vines Bourbelenc, Picpoul de Pinet, Aligoté, Marsanne, Blaufrankisch, Roussanne, and close to fifty more traditional varietals. So why not find the appropriate varietal for the changing environments around the United States? I have decided to do just that.
There are currently 260 classified American Viticultural Areas across the United States, and I want to walk each of them, and I want to determine what is going on at these sites right now, and what to watch for in the near future. California contains over 140 of these A.V.A.'s, so I clearly will spend a lot more time there in the next year. Oregon and Washington contain nearly 40, so they will be important, too. I am most excited, to be honest, about the other areas of production though. The states that I have not seen listed on every wine program. Each trip I take, I will post information ahead of my departure, I want to bring guests on these site tours, so watch for opportunities in your area, you could join me as a designated taster. I am also now offering membership to WineTime Online, for those who want to help me make this project happen more rapidly. Members will be able to learn about specific producers that I meet, get comprehensive knowledge of each specific A.V.A., and naturally will receive discounted pricing on wine events.
I went to the Verde Valley A.V.A. in Arizona, on November 14th, four days after it was classified the newest A.V.A. in the states. I toured six different vineyards, tasted their wines, and attempted to get a comprehensive understanding of where their wines are at this time, and speculate a bit about where they can be in another decade. In a few weeks, I am going to Tucson to visit the Willcox A.V.A., the largest in Arizona, it contains almost 85% of the grapes planted to vine in Arizona. I will also visit the Sonoita A.V.A. the first in Arizona named in 1984. Both A.V.A.'s sit at 4,000 feet, and higher above sea level and grow far more grapes than I had realized. There are only 3 A.V.A.s in Arizona, so I am looking for recommendations of states to go next.