After devastation by Prohibition, the American wine industry has flourished since the 1960s, and the country is now internationally recognized for a range of varietals. Cabernet Sauvignon heads off the list, along with Syrah, both of which are found in greatly differing regions across the country. And specific locations have carved out a niche in other wines, such as pinot noir in Oregon, and Riesling around the Finger Lakes. But while the wineries highlighted here encourage you to roam from one end of the States to the other, we inevitably keep returning to California, and the two beautiful, world-class wine regions of Sonoma County and the Napa Valley.
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Willamette is a rolling green valley with a coastal climate, sheltered from Pacific storms to the west by the Coast Range and from the desert heat to the south by the Cascades. Its cool climate, rainy winters and long daylight hours make it ideal terrain for producing pinot noir. The best vineyards cover sloping hillsides raised above the valley floor, which provides protection from winter frosts. A world class example of this is the Seven Springs Vineyard, drawing on the Pacific breeze and volcanic soil to create beautiful, velvety pinot noir.
Sonoma County stretches along 55 miles of Pacific coastline, and over 360 wineries have sunk roots into its fertile soil. Among the most characterful is Canyon Road Winery, producing a broad range of wines in picturesque Alexander Valley. Circled by lush green vineyards, the winery itself is housed in an old stone-and-redwood building that was previously a railroad stop in the 19th century. It has a superb tasting room with an outdoor patio overlooking the verdant landscape.
California's Napa Valley is perhaps the United States most renowned wine-producing region, famed for its superlative Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. And To Kalon is among the region's most fabled vineyards, first planted in 1868 by a pioneering viticulturist, who named it after a Greek phrase translating as "highest beauty". And once you've sampled To Kalon's magnificent Cabs, Napa offers plenty of other pleasures to lose yourself in, with a fabulous fine dining scene, luxurious spas and gorgeous golf courses.
The Finger Lakes, several slivers of water lying between New York and Lake Ontario, are surrounded by vineyards offering the best of East Coast wine. The region's cool micro-climate has made it the leading U.S. spot for Riesling, a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany and is known for its hyper-sensitivity to the ground on which it is grown. A great place to sample this local specialty is at the Bully Hill Vineyards, which also produces a wide range of other whites, reds and roses. As well as sampling the wine itself, Bully Hill has an art gallery, a museum, vineyard tours, and a well-stocked gift shop.
Washington state's Walla Walla valley, ringed by the Blue Mountains, has slowly grown into an internationally recognized region for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and is currently forging a reputation for superb Syrah (Shiraz). A recent contender on the Walla Walla scene is Gramercy Cellars, founded in 2005 by Greg Harrington, which creates a range of wines and is at the forefront of the region's Syrah movement. Accompany a few glasses with the winery's brisket, which Harrington smokes himself.
Six generations of the Bogle family have worked in the vineyards of the Sacramento delta, so wine flows in the blood of current President Warren Bogle, who manages a mighty 1500 acres of vineyards. He is helped by his two Bogle siblings, and together this family of vintners produce wine that is sought after around the world. Drop into their tasting room, which overlooks the family ranch, to taste a drop of their range of wines, including a signature old vine zinfandel.
A short drive from Orange County and San Diego, the Temecula Valley hosts an intimate wine culture nurtured by a climate similar to Spain and southern Italy. Unsurprisingly, then, Sangiovese and Syrah are the varietals the region is renowned for. Both are at their best at the Lorimar Winery, a delightful rural winery ringed by fragrant orange groves, with an art gallery and live music alongside its elegant tasting room. Alternatively, drop into the area in late May, during the Temecula Valley balloon festival, when myriad multi-colored hot air balloons drift above the green vineyards.
Monte Rosso is one of California's oldest and most prestigious vineyards, first planted in 1880. Located in Sonoma County, connoisseurs know it for its intense red wines, especially its firm Cabernet Sauvignon and rich old-vine Zinfandel. It stands at an elevation of 2000 feet, planted on the vibrant volcanic soil of Mt Veeder, which offers spectacular views over the vineyard country rolling out below.
Back in Washington's Walla Walla valley, Seven Hills was one of the region's original vineyards, and most Walla Walla vineyards owe it something for putting the area on the oenophile's map. It was once an alfalfa farm, until owner Casey McClellan decided to turn his hand to his own personal passion and swathed his land in vines. His vision worked out, and now Seven Hills is renowned worldwide for its excellent Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-varietal reds.
Back in California's verdant, vine-tangled Napa valley, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was established in 1970 and has grown into a central presence in the US's greatest wine region. The estate played a crucial role in revitalizing the region following the suffocating effects of Prohibition - even as late as the 1960s there were only 20 wineries in the valley - and through the decades since it has gained an international reputation for its estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignons.