While Napa Valley gets the most attention, winemakers are busier than ever around the nation, says blogger Jeff Siegel, who founded DrinkLocalWine.com with Dave McIntyre, wine critic for The Washington Post. Siegel says the regional wine movement, which began in the late 1970s, has blossomed, thanks to better farming techniques and a growing interest in locally sourced products. Next week marks Regional Wine Week, and the two wine experts share with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY some of their favorite areas for visiting and tasting.PHOTO GALLERY: Winemakers across the U.S.A.MORE 10 GREAT: Themed lists and expert picks
Finger Lakes, N.Y.
Known for its parks, waterfalls, and, yes, lakes, this upstate region has more than 100 wineries and several wine trails. The area’s known for Riesling, a grape that’s usually very sweet. “They’re developing a regional style. That’s quite exciting,” McIntyre says. Many bottles feature a bar graph on the back label to indicate the wine’s sugar level. 585-394-3620; uncorknewyork.com
In the latter part of the 19th century, this central Missouri German settlement was the center of one of the world’s great winemaking regions. Wineries shut down with Prohibition and only began to return about 30 years ago. The area’s famous for the Norton grape, a native American hybrid. “It makes a strong, powerful red wine,” Siegel says. 800-932-8687; visithermann.com
Washington, D.C., area
The countryside surrounding the nation’s capital has seen a huge growth in vineyards. McIntyre likes the wineries near Frederick, Md., and nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, which grow Bordeaux-style red grapes. “The quality has taken off in the past decade,” he says. Across the Potomac, nearby Loudoun County, Va., has more than two dozen wineries. Many grow viognier, a flowery aromatic white grape. 800-237-9463; marylandwine.com; loudounwine.com
Traverse City, Mich.
Winemakers have long been drawn to this scenic coastal area along Lake Michigan, originally known for fruit wines. Over the years, vintners have found that German-style Riesling grapes do particularly well here. “They’re very good at matching grapes with climate,” Siegel says. “And they make some fabulous wines.” Recently the area has begun to produce sparkling wines as well. 800-940-1120; visittraversecity.com/wine-country-18/
Yadkin Valley, N.C.
In the past decade, former tobacco farmers have begun to plant grapes in western North Carolina near Winston-Salem. And McIntyre says the results are promising. A winery started by NASCAR driver Richard Childress has gotten the most attention, but several others are producing good Merlots and Chardonnays too, he says. 336-366-4734; yadkinvalleywineries.com
Grand Junction, Colo.
The high desert country of western Colorado has a microclimate perfect for vineyards. Standout wines have been Cabernet Franc and Riesling. “They’re making great progress deciding what vines grow best at altitude,” Siegel says. There’s even a wine-tasting train from Denver that runs a few times a year to the area. 800-962-2547; visitgrandjunction.com
The vineyards north of Atlanta are relatively new, but coming on strong, says McIntyre, who learned to appreciate the wines when he was judging contests for the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association. “You have people there who are doing the right things with grapevines and turning out a good product.” Vineyards are growing Bordeaux-style Cabernet and Merlot, and even producing nice sparkling wines, he says. 706-878-9463; georgiawine.com
Hill Country, Texas
With more than 200 wineries, Texas has become a leading state for vintners. And the scenic area near Austin and San Antonio is the center of the action. Winemakers have learned that grapes from other warm-climate areas do well here, including Spanish Tempranillo, French Syrah and Italian Sangiovese, Siegel says. With all the attention, the town of Fredericksburg has become a mini-Napa with fine restaurants, shopping and bed-and-breakfasts. 866-621-9463; texaswinetrail.com/index.html
Southern Arizona has proven to be a surprisingly good place to grow grapes, Siegel says. The Sonoita area, about an hour south of Tucson, has high elevation, which keeps summer temperatures from getting too hot, although at other times growers must contend with hail and frosts. The best wines are red blends with warm-climate grapes — similar to those from Paso Robles, Calif., Siegel says. “They’re very fruity and higher in alcohol.” 480-306-5623; arizonawine.org/sonoitaWineTrail.html
Thomas Jefferson was one of the first to try winemaking in America, and the Founding Father’s legacy still influences growers near his home. “You can drive out the main gate of Monticello, and within five minutes get to two leading wineries, McIntyre says. Viognier and Petit Manseng make memorable whites, while Petit Verdot, a red from Bordeaux, is also popular. 877-386-1103; visitcharlottesville.org