Alright. I confess. I have for my entire adult life been a California wine elitist. For years, I simply could not accept the idea that wine produced in any other state could come within a mile of a California wine in quality. Even when I moved to Oregon for law school I would continually look down my nose at the wineries of the Willamette Valley as inferior to the lovely wines from California with which I was familiar. Fortunately for me, recently I have overcome this jaundiced view of geographical snobbery. A friend gave me a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir that blew me out of the water. Stylistically so unique to its region, different than anything from the Russian River, yet exceptional in its own way. Then, my mom gave me a bottle of Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious, unique and eye-opening. As I removed my blinders, I saw that more and more, excellent wine was being produced in many states. I had previously thought it fool-hardy to put the time and resources in a capital intensive business such as grapes and winemaking in an state without a proven history of winemaking success.
I must now admit I was wrong. Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Idaho, Michigan, New York and many other states are now developing wine industries successfully producing top-notch juice. These visionary winemakers can truly be called pioneers because they went against convention and pursued their dreams. They have done so wisely by carefully selecting grape varieties that will thrive in their particular meso-climates.
Finally, these burgeoning wine regions are beginning to receive recognition and awareness by the wine drinking public. One key element of this newly found recognition is the increase in the number of states permitting direct shipment of wines to consumers. As more states realize the benefit of implementing permit systems that allow their residents to buy wine from other states, more consumers are able to access wine from small producers who lack the nationwide distribution systems dominated by the mass producers. Such individual sales are critical to economic viability of these small wineries and states are beginning to realize the value they give back in fostering tourism and the local economies. Don’t make the mistake I made. Go online, look around, and expand your wine universe. As more wines become available through direct shipment, you will find great wines and new discoveries in every corner of the United States.
My views on this have changed dramatically because I now believe that just because something is produced in California doesn’t mean it is necessarily of superior quality. Many good wines are produced outside of California, especially from other American states. The truth is that wine is like everything else: It’s not all about location, it’s about the producer! The best advice I can give anyone who wants to drink great wine is simply to seek it out and drink it. Don’t worry about where it was produced, who produced it, or if it was produced at all. Just focus on the wine itself and enjoy it for what it is – a pure pleasure.
What you should do if you want to explore other regions of the United States to get great wine is to make a short list of wineries in states other than California which you like. Then, you should arrange to visit those wineries and taste as many different wines as possible. You will be astonished at the variety of wines available to you and you may discover that one (or more) of those other wineries produces wine equal to or better than anything coming out of Napa or Sonoma. My personal favorite region to visit when I want to explore other parts of the U.S. to get great wine is New York State. Not only is the wine there excellent, many of the wineries are small family owned businesses producing wine by hand using minimal modern technology. The owners are often passionate about their wine and are more than happy to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with you.