The Life and Times Of American Wines

Jennifer Williams-Bulkeley

Jennifer Williams-Bulkeley

Jennifer is passionate about getting rare and beautiful, small production wines, into the UK market to be enjoyed.

Like America itself, winemaking in the US is a newcomer on the global winemaking scene, but is growing by leaps and bounds.

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There are currently over 10,000 wineries in the US and believe it or not, all states appear to have some form of wine making. From Michigan to Idaho the vast expanses of land and diversity of climate and terroir lend itself to experimentation and expressions of wine from local grapes. Oeno tourism and wine as a lifestyle choice are prevalent throughout the country. While wine from Texas may be the latest wine rage, the reality is California, Washington, Oregon, New York and increasingly Virginia, dominate the US wine scene.

At the heart of American wines is California. Over 95% of all domestic wine is made in California and over 90% of US exports are from the State that alone represents the world’s eight largest economy. The weather, the land and the influence of the Pacific make it ideal for agriculture and of course that means grapes.

There are over thirty regions and 142 American Viticultural Areas or AVAs in California alone, making a wide range of wines from lean Chardonnay to big and bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Famous Napa Valley is a beautiful part of the world and while only thirty miles long and five miles wide, it is the center of the winemaking universe for the US. Napa is a big chapter in the story of American wine and tends to direct the luxury end of the market, with allocations and mailing lists creating fear of missing out, FOMO, consumerism supported by luxurious wineries and restaurants. There is something for everyone in Napa but the high end consumer appears to be their main demographic and the wines, prices and marketing support the messaging.

The real story of American wines however, lies outside of Napa and in the regions where dedicated winemakers are seeking out great vineyards and the fruit they yield. The Pacific Coast has some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes and the winds and climatic drama the Pacific provides are a key to the vast expressions of wine coming from California, Washington and Oregon. There is room to explore in the vineyard and the winery in the US. Unlike many of the European countries, there is less of an emphasis on regulating how a wine is made in the vineyard or the winery and more on freedom of choice to make a wine that is expressive of place and with it’s own narrative.

Wine is big business and like all big agricultural business’, costs and volumes are always a driver and consideration. There are mass produced wines and huge companies making entry level wines that are on shelves all over the world. They are a big part of the wine market. Conventional farming along with replanting of younger more vigorous vines tend to drive economic decision making. Wine as an alcoholic product is one thing, but wine as a crafted expression of the place it comes from, like a cheese or a meat should reflect the land, the climate and the care of the vines and the fruit.

The current life and times of America appears to always be under discussion for one political or economic reason, but away from the noise, the big brands, the glitz and glamour, there are real people, farmers and winemakers, working to change the narrative of American wines and doing a very good job of telling a compelling story about why it is worth exploring and enjoying American wines.