America is a country bitterly divided along regional issues. Can you get a better surf on a Hatteras curl or the big monster of California’s Mavericks? Texas chili or Cincinnati style chili? North Carolina or Kansas City for your Barbecue? Biggie or Tupac? Letterman or Leno?
Nowhere is this conflict more evident than in the world of wines. We recently hosted some visitors in the Wine is Life warehouse – a nice group from the verdant fields of Napa Valley and some gentle souls from the rolling hills of Virginia. We practically had a rumble up in here, with both sides crying the virtues of their side of the Mississippi:
“California grows almost 90% of all of the wine grapes in America! West Coast Wine Ruuulllesss!”
“We grew grapes and made wine at Jamestown! East Coast Wine Forever!”
“We have The French Laundry!”
“We have shad plankings!”
“Your wine stinks!”
“Your wine is stupid!”
Much like a political speech, we had to break out the fact-checkers and hose some people down. Well, we didn’t actually hose them down, but did ply them with some Syrah. Australian Syrah.
True enough, the Jamestown Settlers tried their hand at wine making. But they weren’t very good at it. They tried at first with native grapes that they found growing around the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, but the taste was unfamiliar and the settlers didn’t like it. They imported grapes from the homeland in the hopes of recreating what they’d left behind, and promptly killed those vines. The first semi-successful stab at making wine was in Florida in 1562, so technically East Coast gets a point. The first commercial winery? Kentucky, land of bourbon, and not until almost 1800.
All fifty of our states actually grow wine, but most of the wine sold in the United States does, in fact, come from California, so point West Coast. The Gallo Brothers are also the second largest producers of wine in the whole world, so another point for the Westies. It was California, leading the way out of Prohibition, that satisfied American’s taste for jug wines simply labeled “White,” “Red,” or sometimes just “Wine.”
Truth be told, in the Northern Hemisphere, a great swath of America shares something in common with Italy, France, and Spain. There is a band about 700 miles across that weaves its way around our planet and has been designated by our creator (or little green men) as the best places ever to grow grapes for drinking. It stretches from Central California into Washington State, runs across the middle of America, and hits the Atlantic Ocean from Southeastern Virginia to the Finger Lakes area in Northern New York.
So what do you get?
Up in New York you get Red Tail Ridge Winery. They are super eco-friendly, with the use of recycled materials in their buildings and geothermal heating and cooling. Their main building is fronted with a ton of glass, allowing them to work without turning the lights on. They make a nice Barrel Fermented Chardonnay with hints of lemon, vanilla, and almond. Point East Coast Wine.
Owen Roe partners with farmers in Washington State’s Willamette Valley to source great grapes while making awesome wines. They used that commitment to local growers to create Sharecroppers Pinot Noir. You can taste licorice, black cherry, clove, and rose petals. Washington State also brought us Nirvana and Pearl Jam, so we like a wine that combines that with black cherry and roses. Point West Coast Wine.
Not too far north of Washington, DC, (the other Washington) you’ll get to the charming community of Mt. Airy, Maryland. Long after everyone else got tar and concrete, the fine folks of Mt. Airy were slogging away on mud and dirt roads. It is there that you’ll find Black Ankle Vineyards. A couple of wine fans like us, Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron decided to leave their desk jobs about a decade ago and have been knocking out some great wines. With a little raspberry and vanilla, finishing in oak lends a hint of butterscotch, making their Passeggiata a great table choice. Far enough away from DC to be neutral, and a nice wine, so point East Coast.
In 1882, Alfred Tubbs stuck a spade in some soil and liked what he saw. He planted some vines, built a lovely home, and hired a Frenchman to oversee his fields. In 1886 he christened his spread Chateau Montelena, beginning a winemaking tradition that, short of a hiatus during Prohibition, has been making wines ever since. Their Estate Zinfandel features tart fruit flavors, hints of earthy tobacco and leather, and has an amazing, deep color. Napa Valley, nice wine, and you can eat at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. Point West Coast.
As you can see, you can travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific and sample great wines. Goodness knows we’ve tried. There are actually awesome wines being made in Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, Nevada, and Wyoming.
But we were just trying to break up a fight in the Wine is Life warehouse. They could’ve spilled the wine.