The United States is the fourth largest wine producing country in the world, following France, Italy, and Spain, with an annual production of about 2.86 million tons of various types of wine. It is also the sixth largest grape-growing country in the world, with more than 445,100 hectares of vineyards, second only to Spain, France, Italy, China, and Turkey. There are vineyards and wineries in all 50 states of the United States. American wine is primarily concentrated in California, Oregon, and Washington on the west coast of the United States, with California’s wine production accounting for 89% of the country’s total. As a major wine-producing country in the New World, the United States has a 300-year history of grape planting and winemaking.
History of Wine Production in the U.S.
The earliest history of American wine-producing regions can be traced back to between 1562 and 1564, when Huguenot settlers who immigrated from France made wine from the American wild grape Scuppernong in the area around Jacksonville, Florida. They found that the taste of wine made from wild grape varieties native to the Americas was very different from that of their native France, with an unpleasant taste and aroma.
In 1619, in order to drink the wine they were familiar with, they introduced French grape varieties to the United States from the Virginia company, but these early introductions failed due to unacceptable soil conditions and the infestation of local diseases and insect pests in the United States.
In 1683, William Penn created a vineyard in Pennsylvania, planting French grape varieties. In 1769, near San Diego, California, Franciscan missionaries established California’s first vineyard and winery for religious activities. Later, the missionaries gradually migrated to northern California for grape planting and winemaking.
In 1787, Pierre Legaux founded the first commercial winery in the United States in Pennsylvania. In 1798, Dufour established the first local vineyard in Kentucky. Around 1805, the first vineyard appeared in Sonoma County, California.
In 1855, the vineyards in Ohio had grown to 1,500 acres, making it the state with the largest number of grapes in the United States. At that time, Missouri and Illinois each had 1,100 acres of vineyards.
In the late 1840s, German immigrants were the main laborers in American viticulture and winemaking industry. In the 1860s, vineyards in the Ohio River Valley were attacked by black rot, which prompted some vineyards and winemakers to develop in the Finger Lakes region of western New York.
At the end of the 19th century, Pierce disease and phylloxera epidemics ravaged the American wine industry in the western and eastern United States. In 1920, the United States began to implement the “Prohibition Law”, and most vineyards and wineries in the country stopped operating, dealing a heavy blow to the American wine industry.
In 1933, “Prohibition” was abolished. Wine operators tried to revive the American wine industry, but there were many difficulties. At that time, the wine industry was almost over. Many talented winemakers had passed away. During the Depression, consumers demanded cheap, sweet fortified (high alcohol) wines, and by 1935, 81% of California’s production was sweet wines.
After World War II, some state universities in California, Davis and New York carried out research and education on new technologies for grape planting and winemaking, which greatly promoted the planting area of high-quality grapes and the production of high-quality wine in the UnitedStates.
From the 1970s to the 1980s, the “1976 Paris Blind Tasting Event” occurred. The success of winemakers in California in the Napa, Sonoma and other production areas in northern California attracted a large amount of domestic and foreign capital into wine production areas, and has driven the development of the wine industry in emerging regions such as Oregon, Washington and Long Island New York.
In the past 30 years, the American wine industry has promoted the popularization of wine knowledge among consumers, further increasing consumers’ demand for high-quality wine.
Wine Regions in the U.S.
The U.S. wine regions are primarily concentrated in the following areas:
- West Coast: More than 90% of American wine production is concentrated in California, Washington, and Oregon.
- Rocky Mountain region: mainly concentrated in Idaho and Colorado.
- Southwestern United States: mainly in Texas and New Mexico.
- The Midwest of the United States: mainly concentrated in Missouri and Indiana.
- Great Lakes region: mainly concentrated in Michigan, upstate New York, and Ohio.
- East Coast of the United States: Mainly concentrated in western New York and eastern Long Island, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida.
US still wine production in 2023
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The main wine-making varieties of American wine can be divided into three categories. One is the American native wild grape varieties, such as Catawba, Concord, Delaware, Isabella, Niagara, Norton, and Muscadine. The second category is the hybrid varieties of the American genus and Eurasian varieties cultivated by grape breeding scientists, such as Cayuga, Baco Noir, Elvira, Frontenac, Chancellor, De Chaunac, Aurore, Vignoles, etc. The third category is the international mainstream Eurasian varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Vidal, and Pinot Noir. These varieties are mainly distributed in the northern part of the United States.
Climate and Soil
The United States has a vast territory and spans a large latitude, so there are different types of underlying climate and soil, including marine climate, continental and Mediterranean climate, and subtropical monsoon climate in the southern United States. America’s plentiful sunshine ensures a long-lasting growing season, rich and diverse soils that support a wide variety of wine grape varieties and unrivaled flavor variations.
American vineyard soils come in a variety of varieties, sand, clay, loam, granite, volcanic ash, seabed soil, river alluvial gravel: each with its own unique minerality. The soil, climate, and grape growing and winemaking techniques have been passed down from generation to generation, resulting in wines with a unique tradition and an unparalleled choice of flavors and varieties.
Production Area Regulations
The early production area system in the United States was divided according to the boundaries of administrative states and counties. In September 1978, the U.S. Liquor and Tobacco Tax and Trade Administration enacted regulations to establish U.S. legal grape growing areas according to different climatic and geographical conditions. This is the AVA system.
The full name of AVA is American Viticultural Areas. In June 1980, the first Augusta AVA was established in Missouri, the first grape-growing area under the new appellation system. In order to facilitate the labeling of wine, all previous state and county production areas are retained under the new system. According to the US law in April 2007, as of July 23, 2014, there are 214 AVA production areas in the United States.
American wine mostly uses the name of the grape variety used for winemaking as the wine name, but the grape variety selected as the wine name must account for at least 50% of all raw materials. In 1983, the U.S. government raised this content to more than 75%, stipulating that no more than 3 varieties can be used at the same time, and the content of each variety must also be listed. In addition, some fine wines produced by vintners also have their own nomenclature, such as Napa Valley Cabernet and Sonoma Pinot Noir.
Famous Wine Regions
California is the best-quality and largest wine-producing region in the United States. It occupies 2/3 of the west coast of the country and spans 10 latitudes. Many famous high-quality wine producing areas in the United States are concentrated in California, such as Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Central Valley, and Monterey County. These high-quality wine regions are representative of the wine quality of the whole California and even the whole United States.