American wine has never been in a better place. Wine is now being made in all 50 states, and the map of exceptional wine regions has expanded well beyond California. From Virginia to Michigan, New Mexico to New York, Texas to Idaho, American grape growers and winemakers are finding exciting new sites for viticulture and, in many cases, unfamiliar varieties that are greatly expanding the boundaries and potential for domestic wine.
On this week’s VinePair Podcast, Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are joined by VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers to give an overview of the current landscape of the American wine industry in conjunction with VinePair’s American Wine Month. They discuss the emerging wine regions in Paso Robles, the Columbia Gorge, and the Great Lakes, and ponder what America’s love of wine tourism will mean for these regions and others moving forward.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam: From the Ritz Cracker display at Publix, I’m Adam Teeter. You don’t get it? But no, really from Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter
Keith: From Brick City, I’m Keith Beavers
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, very confused, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair Podcast. Zach, how are you confused? They had a press conference last weekend where Rudy Giuliani came live from the Four Seasons Total Landscaping instead of the Four Seasons Hotel.
Z: I guess…
A: So I’m coming live from the Ritz Cracker display instead of the Ritz Carlton.
Z: I got you. I feel like we’re like a week and a half late on this joke, though.
A: No, I think it’s good. I still think it’s hilarious. We’ll have to wait to see what it sounds like to the listeners, but anyways guys, so this podcast is all about American Wine Month. The month at VinePair, we’re devoting to all things U.S- made wine. I really want to thank our sponsors Virginia Wine, CakeBread Cellars, Domaine Carneros, and 3 Girls.
And I’m excited to talk to both of you about wine. Keith is our guest host, VinePair’s tasting director, for this week. But before we jump into that, we’ve been doing a pretty fun segment at the top of the show every week now about what everyone’s been drinking recently. I’m assuming you guys have been drinking some dope shit as of what happened last week. So Keith, what about you first?
K: Well, some dope shit is correct, Adam. Well, you know, American Wine Month at VinePair, I’ve been deep, deep, deep into American wine. And I’m really excited. I love Virginia wine, and I’ve been tasting some seriously great Virginia wine, and a lot has been sent to us. And it was kind of great. On Saturday, after the big announcement, I sat and drank a bottle of Jefferson Cabernet Franc from the area in which Thomas Jefferson allocated vineyard space, south of Monticello, to actually try to make America a wine-growing nation. And somebody came and they bought the property and they’re doing great things, and it’s just an amazing, beautiful Cabernet Franc so it kind of made sense. And I listened to the Jimmy Hendrix “Star-Spangled Banner” while I was drinking it.
A: Sweet. Zach, what about you, man?
Z: Well, I’ve also been on the American wine train, as I often am. And I think for me this past week, it was a lot of Willamette Valley Chardonnay. So Pinot Noir in the Willamette gets a lot of press, obviously. It’s by far what’s most widely grown and made there, but I’ve been really excited about Chardonnay from the Willamette and in particular a bottle from a producer called Cooper Mountain. Their old-vines Chardonnay, which I think date back to the late ’70s, some of the oldest Chardonnay plantings in the Willamette that are still in use and it was f****** delicious. So, I didn’t pair it with any music, Keith, I’m sorry. Well, pretty much all that gets played in my house these days are the songs my 2-year-old is obsessed with. So unless you really want to know how well Willamette Valley Chardonnay pairs with songs about bucket trucks and skid-steers, that’s another podcast.
A: Please, tell us more. So for me, that Saturday was a day I busted out the top stuff. And I’d had this bottle of Champagne in my house for a while and we just said, f*** it. So I opened a bottle of 2006 Pierre Jouët Belle Epoque Blanc de Blanc and it was awesome. ‘Cause I went out into the park in Fort Greene. Spike Lee was DJing, which was amazing. There was like a crazy amount of energy. And we just sat in the park myself, my wife Naomi, and Josh, who co-founded VinePair with me.
And we just drank the wine and it was really fun to watch everyone. And then people were sharing, you know, glasses and passing stuff back and forth. We had other things, too, but that was like the bottle that we popped first. You know, and it was just, you know, really memorable. And we actually, like, we brought coupes out with us.
It’s like whatever, let’s go full agro here. Just bring the glassware. And it was awesome. I mean, it was just a lot of fun, so that was, that was the most memorable thing I drank last week. Although I will say there was one other amazing experience I had, which was earlier in the day, actually that morning before everything got called, and this is why I was with Josh because I live in Brooklyn and Josh lives in Manhattan, so we don’t normally just find ourselves together when a random event like this occurs and everyone just decides to run out to somewhere and start drinking. But we had a meeting in the morning with Brian, this amazing entrepreneur who founded the sake distillery in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Kura, which now has pretty quickly over the past few years become known as the best Sake distillery outside of Japan. Sorry, sake brewery, and I’d never been to a sake brewery before, actually.
And first of all, the sakes were really delicious, but again, what do I know? I think they were very delicious. I enjoyed them, but I very easily admit that I don’t know a lot about sake, but these pleased my palate. And it was really cool to watch the process until I go back in the back with him and sort of understand how they’re actually making sake. Have either of you ever been to a sake brewery before?
Z: I have, yeah, there’s one down in Oregon that I’ve been to.
A: It’s so interesting to watch what they’re doing. I didn’t realize how many people now are making more artisanal styles. Like, growing more artisanal-style rices in certain parts of the country. There’s a lot of really cool rice coming out of Arkansas, which I never would have thought of, and it was cool to watch. They don’t have the machine there that actually refines the rice. They’re actually able to still take advantage of the fact that there’s a lot of commercial sake distilleries in California. He was explaining all this stuff that we’re used to as Americans that sort of turned us off of sake, like the really warm sake bomb-type stuff.
None of that’s made in Japan. That’s all being made by Japanese companies, but in California, which I also didn’t know. But they have all these facilities where they can refine the rice. So they sell them to other people. But then there’s this one guy who he said is a little nuts, out of Chicago or maybe Indiana who’s started to set up his own sake place as well. And he went and bought his own refining machine. So he’ll take some of the more artisanal stuff and then sell them back to people like Brooklyn Kura.
K: This is insane.
A: It’s crazy. But then they soak the rice forever in water which I didn’t realize. And then the thing I didn’t realize is then they cook the rice and then they let a mold grow on it, and it’s actually the mold that creates the sugars that allows the fermentation.
Z: It’s really cool, too, because it’s like this weird kind of simultaneous fermentation. Well, not really two fermentations, but the Koji is producing the sugar out of the starch of the rice at the same time as yeasts are fermenting the sugar. So as you maybe saw some in-process as I have, it absolutely does not look like something you would want to ingest. It’s horrifying.
A: No, it doesn’t. Yeah. It’s literally like they’re just letting mold grow on rice and then when they go to brew it, it then comes out the way that it is, but he also had us taste some wild stuff. So first of all, another thing I didn’t realize was that sake doesn’t really age. He said that it can, but not in a way that you would think about with wine or things like that. Once it’s basically a cold temperature, it is what it is. He said there’s some funk, there’s some people doing some stuff in Japan where they are letting it sit for years and years. And it just changes. It just may not be the thing that everyone wants to drink. I kind of think it becomes a thing where like at the same time now people have a taste for Brett and stuff. It’s like, you get a taste for that kind of like weird funk that develops after the sake gets old. There’s definitely like a small population of sake drinkers that like that, but not a huge group. But that was super interesting to understand. And then they actually dry-hopped sake. And he poured it for us. And I literally thought that I was drinking liquid grapefruit juice. It was the craziest thing I’d ever tasted. And it was pink because it pulls out the colors from the hops, which is weird because hops are green, but for whatever reason, it ends up a pinkish-orange color, and they almost sell it as a rosé. And then of course they’re doing other stuff too. Like they’re making like a Pét-Nat sake. I was like, here we go.
Z: You really were in Brooklyn.
A: Yeah. I was in Brooklyn. I was in Industry City. But yeah, just shout out to them ‘cause they’re doing really cool stuff, and I thought it was delicious.
K: What was the alcohol on the dry-hopped?
A: It was like 12 percent or something like that. 12, 14. So, I mean it’ll hit you, but not in the way that other things will, it was very tasty.
I was very impressed and they’re of course trying to make sakes that they’re not encouraging you to then use as a spirits substitute for cocktails and stuff. Their whole goal is to have you drink the sake as it is. And also their big push, too, is to take it out of the American idea that you’re supposed to have it in those little short sake glasses. They obviously serve theirs in wine glasses and in smaller ones, more like what you would think of a white wine or something at a wedding. That’s kind of the way I think of what glass size they use. But he explained to me, too, where the small sake glass comes from, and it has nothing to do with aromas or anything like that. It’s that in Japanese culture, the more you’re serving the guests, the more pleasure it gives you. And so if it’s a smaller vessel, you have to serve your guests more often. And so that’s the only reason the sake glass is small, because we would constantly be refilling your person’s glass. And so that’s you showing yourself as being a very good host. But of course, Americans, as Brian joked, we see that glass and we’re like, “Sweet! It’s a shot.” We just throw it back. But yeah.
Z: This has been super interesting and I look forward to next year’s American sake month.
A: I know. Totally. But yeah, thanks Zach. You didn’t get the Ritz Cracker joke, now you’re just hating on my sake stuff.
Z: No, no I’m just saying let’s transition.
A: Well, yeah, let’s talk about American Wine Month. So I mean, all of us, we’re from different parts of the country. I mean I lived in the South for awhile. Then went to school in the South and moved up here. Zach you’re from the Northwest and then obviously went to school in New York. Keith’s from all over. Maryland, New York. So we’ve all sort of traveled a lot. And I think what’s really interesting about the United States is that first of all, as we know, there’s bonded wineries in all 50 States. As we noted, Zach, before we started the podcast, just being a bonded winery doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re making wine from vinifera, but they are making some sort of wine. But there’s really cool stuff happening all over the country. And I think what’s so exciting about it, is that it shows it’s not just about three or four of the regions that probably everyone knows. And there’s really amazing stuff coming from everywhere. And I guess my question to both of you guys to just start this is: Is there such a thing as American wine? What do you think American wine is? If someone said to you American wine, what would you immediately think of?
K: For me, I believe American wine is wine made from grapes that are not from here, by people that are not from here. We all came from somewhere else to be here, unless you’re an indigenous culture. And I think that American wine for me is defined by the ability to grow vines that are meant for the soils in which they’re grown in. And the wine is made in such a skillful way that it represents that area, whether it’s a Viognier, whether it’s Petit Manseng, whether it’s Cab Franc, whether it’s Grüner Veltliner, it doesn’t matter. In Texas they’re doing Tempranillo, and people dig it, but they’re also making fruit wine, you know? So I see American wine as this sort of Wild West mentality, but now finally with more information about science and technology, focusing more on the soil, more on where we grow grapes, why it’s good to grow them there. And then, making good wine. So that’s how I see it. And we’re not done yet. The Petaluma Gap in Sonoma was awarded in 2017. In Washington State, I just found out two weeks ago, two more AVAs were awarded in the Columbia Valley. So we’re still working on it, but I think that’s kind of what defines it to me.
Z: Yeah. And I think Keith you capture a really important piece here, which is what I often think about as well, which is this idea of — whether you want to use the Wild West metaphor — or to me, it’s just this idea that there was no existing wine culture in this country in terms of growing or consuming until quite recently. And some of what did exist was wiped out by Prohibition and it was slow to recover. And what’s been really exciting for me about American wine is that we are now at a place with the industry where it’s so much more developed and mature than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. So that not everyone has to feel like they have to make a wine that refers to Europe. I mean, yes, the varieties, the cultivars, the clones, and of course the species itself is European in nature, but we are not necessarily seeing wine regions in the United States feel too confined by established European styles by saying, “Oh, well in Bordeaux, they plant these X number of varieties, and so those are the only things we can plant here.” Obviously you still see a lot of that. I don’t mean that those wines have disappeared. Of course they’re still very popular and rightfully so, but you do see experimentation with all kinds of different varieties and people saying, “Well, why can’t I grow a Spanish variety and a French variety and an Austrian variety and a Croatian variety all in my vineyard? I think they’ll work here. I want to make wines that are of these various styles or from these varieties. And I can do that.” And that’s a freedom that just does not exist in most other places. Few other places in the new world have similar spirits, but here in the U.S. we have this almost endless amount of land that could be potentially converted to viticulture, should someone want to do it.
A: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think the other thing that makes American wine so interesting is that this country is just so big. Every state is almost its own country. So, what works in the Finger Lakes may not necessarily work in Texas. But that’s OK because there’s other things that can work. And I think the thing that started to define American wine for me, which I really like, is that over the last decade, two decades even, there’s become less of a focus by a lot of the really top producers — and then everyone else has followed — of having to make a wine in America that tastes like a wine from the Old World. It’s like no, the Cabernet from Napa tastes like Cabernet from Napa. There’s less of that now. I remember even early on in my wine journey, I would go to the North Fork and the winemaker would say like, yeah, we’re really going for a Right Bank Bordeaux. And now you don’t hear that as much here. Why aren’t we saying no, this is a North Fork wine, right? This is what it is. And becoming more confident that, yes, we can take the grapes from Europe and the wines don’t have to be copies of the wines from Europe to be considered high quality and to be considered best in class and all of those things. They can be their own thing.
K: And what’s cool about that is the fact that what we did was, in trying to emulate European wine, we created our own styles. Which is really kind of cool. I mean, I know the meritage thing never really took where, you know, in California there was this word called meritage. And if you had a meritage if you used all the Bordeaux varieties and stuff, but we ended up making our own stuff and created our own style, which is really awesome.
Z: Yeah. And I think actually to the point that you were making, Adam, as well, I think even more excitingly now, not only do you not hear wineries, and wine producers, wine regions say, “Oh yes, our wines are comparable to the wines of ‘pick your French region of choice.'” But even something like Napa, which is obviously an American wine region, I don’t even hear as many wineries, say, “Oh, we’re making a Cabernet like a Napa Cab.” There is a real understanding that what makes a lot of these parts of the country that are growing grapes and making wine so exciting is that they are their own thing. And yes, there’s going to always be some similarities. I mean, to some extent the character of each of these varieties or blends is going to show through, but it’s cool that whether you’re in Virginia, or Washington, or Oregon, or Texas, or Arizona, or any other place, I think the more that producers in those places can be comfortable saying, “We think we’re making a wine that’s really representative of this place and of these varieties of this place, of this vintage.” Those are the wines that I think all of us get excited about. And the wines that are harder to get excited about are someone who’s trying to make a replica of something that already exists. I mean, yeah. If you can make a wine that tastes like Château Margaux and it’s way cheaper, I guess that’s cool. But really the most exciting thing for me is to make a wine that is clearly and interestingly of the place it’s from. And this country has a lot of interesting, cool places. As you mentioned, Adam, it’s this incredibly vast country with incredibly different geology, climates. All these things that make for incredibly remarkable wine regions. And we’re just still scratching the surface. I mean, Keith, you mentioned how there’s new AVAs being awarded all over. And I mean, I was excited to see that Hawaii has now petitioned for its first AVA. The only wine I’ve ever tried from Hawaii is a pineapple wine, which was actually kind of good. But this is vinifera to be clear. But I think that’s super exciting and like, we don’t know. There’s all kinds of possibilities still out there. And the cool thing about wine is that it rewards exploration and experimentation and taking a chance. Of course, not all of them will work out, but there’s always that possibility.
A: My question to you guys is, over the last decade, we’ve seen new regions in Europe that have always existed, but have popped really big in the U.S. and more money has flooded in. So I’m thinking about, for example, like the Jura right? All of a sudden, a bunch of somms are talking about it and it was everywhere. Sicily, specifically Etna. And then all of a sudden, now you have Burgundy producers buying land there. You have Barbaresco and Barolo producers buying land there. What do you guys think? If there was a region that you think was going to pop next in the U.S. and you think, “Oh my God, this is the region that’s going to pop. And every single person is going to realize how great it is, and there’s gonna be money flooding in there.” Is there one or could you think of one?
K: Yeah. I mean, what’s cool about Washington State is it seems to be a really big — what is it, the second largest wine-producing region in the country? And there’s been some very significant investments there starting from back in the day. And I think we’re already seeing investment in Virginia. So to think of a brand new space —
A: No. I’m not saying brand new because you look and Etna existed forever, right? It just, all of a sudden, who knows what it was? It was someone saying like, “Oh my gosh, these are like Burgundy. And all of a sudden, everyone just started dumping money. Right? And it became the thing people were talking about. I’m just wondering, what are a few regions in the U.S. we think that there could be or, maybe there isn’t yet. Maybe there is, I agree with you that the thing I think is most ripe for it is Washington. And that’s honestly just because for whatever reason, Zach might think I’m kissing his a** right now. But for whatever reason, like that stage has flown under the radar for a really long time for no explainable reason.
Z: Allow me to explain why.
A: Please, because the explanation I’ve always heard is that Oregon just got there first or whatever, and people start talking about the Pinot Noirs, and people just forgot that Washington was there, but I’m sure there’s a better explanation than that.
Z: Well, I think that the biggest thing that’s changed about the wine industry in my time in it, and the way that consumers tend to think, is one of the things that worked against Washington for a long time was that it had no clear cut variety or style of wine that was the signature. And there’s certainly plenty of famous and highly priced Washington Cabernets and Cabernet-based blends. Pre-“Sideways,” there was a lot of emphasis on Merlot and I think Washington Merlot is actually really an exciting wine, for sure. But the strength of Washington is almost like the strength of the U.S. in a microcosm. It’s the diversity and it’s all the different things that can be made. And we’ve only, I think just in the last few years reached a place where in the American wine market, there’s actual interest in a lot of different kinds of wines, a lot of different varieties, a lot of different styles.
And so there are still the diehard “I only drink Pinot Noir. I only drink Cabernet. I only drink Chardonnay” folks, but most wine people that I meet these days or talk to, they’re interested in trying something new. And that’s where I think Washington has an incredible possibility, which is to say, “Hey, we are growing over a hundred different varieties.” There are people focusing on all kinds of different things in this state. There are wineries that focus exclusively on Spanish varieties. There are wineries that focus exclusively on white wines from the Rhône Valley and south of France. There are wineries that do just about everything in their own way in various different sizes. And the thing, to come to your question about a region, Adam, I actually think that one of the most exciting places in the country and a place that I think the same kind of people who got excited about the Jura are, or will be excited about, is the Columbia Gorge. And the biggest reason for that is that it is such an incredibly unusual appellation and growing region for Washington. So it’s on the border between Washington and Oregon. And unlike the vast majority of Washington, it’s actually relatively cool and a little bit more wet. So it isn’t as much of a sort of high desert environment like much of Eastern Washington. It’s much more like the Loire Valley in France in terms of its climate, but with a very different geology and a lot more elevation. And so you’re seeing people make amazing whites from both well-known varieties like Chardonnay, but also Grüner Veltliner. People are doing interesting things with Tocai Friulano and then you’re also seeing a lot of interesting cool- climate style reds, which has not been a big thing in Washington State for sure. But there’s interesting Pinot Noir there. There’s amazing Gamay, you’re seeing people do fun things with Cabernet Franc. And, and as you move to the eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge, you do get a little bit more of what we associate with the rest of Washington. So a little bit hotter, but you still have that real river influence. So it is its own area. And what’s cool is you have all the other things that I think draws people to places like the Jura is the producers are all pretty small. There’s no big wineries. So the wines are niche there, and they’re small production. And unfortunately it makes it hard to find some of those wines around the country, for sure. But for people who are interested in exploring, it’s an area where there’s a lot of interesting small- to medium-sized wineries who are doing fun things. And that’s definitely one area, again, because of my proximity is part, that I think is ripe for more discovery around the country.
K: Well, I think based on your question, Adam, this is I mean what it sounds like to me is the United States, we’re still working on it. You know, we have a lot of work to do because in 1980, the first AVA was awarded to Augusta, Mo. And then eight months later in 1981, the first AVA in California was awarded to Napa Valley. And since then, we’ve had 224 AVAs across the country. And for a long time, like I said earlier, people were forcing vines into soils that didn’t really work so much. But I think it’s not really about what the next exciting region is. I think it’s more about how we, as an American wine drinking culture, approach the places that exist. Maybe for example, Temecula has awesome wine. No one knows Temecula. Paso Robles.
A: I was waiting for it.
K: There it is. I am in love with that AVA. I think it’s an absolute phenomenon that it kind of flies under the radar because there’s a few brand names that are jiving on the American market that you can find in supermarkets in wine shops. But there’s also stuff that you can’t really get outside of Paso. Just like there’s things you can’t get out of Temecula, and things you can’t get out of Columbia Gorge. So I think that one of the things — and again, we’re in a pandemic and it’s different, but that’s not gonna last forever.
I guess what I’m saying is, we get to go to these places and see what these skilled winemakers are making. And I think the next thing with American drinking culture is to explore the diversity of the wines in the area. Let’s get people into Long Island Grüner Veltliner. And the thing is if you can’t get it, well the DTC, the direct-to-customer thing, is getting a little bit better. I think that celebrating what’s fun, and that in doing so we can actually educate the American wine consumer on more varieties, different kinds of cultivars and stuff. Like what’s Grüner Veltliner? Well, it’s this Austrian variety and it’s really awesome in Long Island, you know? So I think that’s where we should go next.
A: Yeah, I think, what’s difficult for people and I would say, you know, the best advice I could give about American wine is, don’t be scared to take a risk. And don’t turn your nose up just because you hear of a state and you’ve never heard that it makes wine before. Because I guarantee you there’s someone in that state making really great wine. Like when I’ve heard people be like, “Oh, Connecticut, they make wine? That can’t be good. Or New Jersey, New Jersey makes wine?” I mean I literally have not, which is a shame, ’cause I’m so close to New Jersey, there’s apparently a lot of amazing wineries in South Jersey. Yeah. You’re in New Jersey in Brick City, or Pennsylvania in Lancaster County, where my wife is from. She’s from Lancaster the city, but in the county, there’s an Amish guy that ripped up his farm and planted vineyards. And honestly, he makes a Merlot that’s amazing.
Z: I think the other area to think about and I’m super excited about, Adam — I think you and I like jokingly mentioned this way back in one of our very first podcasts – but it was like a lot of the states around the Great Lakes area where I think there’s really interesting potential, whether it’s in Michigan or potentially even in Wisconsin. As things start to change climatically, and as places get a little bit warmer potentially and drier during the summer, I think one thing that America doesn’t have a lot of are classic wine regions that are near large bodies of water that are not oceans. And when you compare that to Europe, the Finger Lakes are the one exception and we think the Finger Lakes are super exciting in part because of the possibility that that kind of viticulture provides. And I think you could see some really interesting wine coming out of those States in the next 10 to 20 years. I know one of the challenges for a lot of those areas is that traditionally they get so cold over the winter that there’s only a few varieties you can really plant that are cold-hardy. But, I think you’ve seen more and more development in understanding rootstocks and, and ways to shelter vines. That’s an area that I have my eye on. I think I’ve tried a couple of Rieslings from Michigan. That’s the extent of what I’ve tried from the Great Lakes, but, I’m really excited to see if there’s more investment and interest in putting some time into those.
K: Left Foot Charley and his no-residual, no-RS, no-residual-sugar Riesling from just North of Traverse city is just incredible. And what’s awesome is his winery is located in an old asylum. They took this asylum up in Michigan and then it closed down and they were repurposing it. It’s really intense.
A: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a lot of opportunities, right? I mean, we’ve talked about Virginia a bunch. Obviously they sponsored American wine month, but we’ve been hot on Virginia for a long time. I think there’s a potential for it to be one of the great wine regions of the country. And especially on the East Coast, there’s a lot of stuff happening there that’s really exciting. And especially as the vintners are getting more up into the mountains, into the actual Shenandoah Mountains, they’re finding the cooler temperatures. They just have to deal with more stuff, and that’s the thing that’s going to be difficult, right? As some of these wine regions expand, how much are we going to be willing to also be OK with some of the things they need to do to be able to make good wine?
So, you know, in Virginia, they have to deal with a lot. And there’s a lot of humidity and stuff like that. And so being 100 percent organic is almost impossible, whereas it’s very easy in Napa. So is “sustainable” going to be enough? Right? Are we gonna be OK if they spray once or twice a year? ‘Cause they have to. I don’t know what it’s like in Texas. I just know Texas is super hot, but maybe it’s a dry heat. I don’t remember where it becomes a dry heat. So there’s gonna be things they have to do. There’s gonna be things that they have to do if we want to be able to have some of these different wine regions succeed. I think it’s crazy that we haven’t seen more. You look at certain regions like New Mexico, right? And the success of Gruet, and how amazing those sparkling wines are. And the fact that we haven’t had others yet, or I’m sure there are, but just other people haven’t followed in a really dramatic way. It surprises me to be honest. And that’s why I asked my original question, which was, you know, where do you guys think the money is going to come from, or what region do you see your money flooding into? And I wonder if it has a lot more to do with bias, right? Because there’s this amazing sparkling wine being made in New Mexico. And yet all the brands aren’t flooding in to be like, “We should be doing that, too. Look at what they’re doing.” This is a quality of wine that we can’t believe they’re being able to produce. And at this price point. Whereas when someone says, you know, Italy and Etna and everyone is like, “Oh yeah, of course Italy! Yeah. Dump the money in.” Or all of a sudden it’s like that bias of well, of course, it’s the Old World. And so they’ve always been making wine. So yeah, we all forgot about this region, but it’s always been there and is it easier for some people to accept for whatever reason when honestly, if you can produce great wine in a region, like why does it matter how long that region has been producing wine? Especially because if you look at the Sicilian history of producing wine, for a very long time, it was very, very bad. So how did that change? And the only thing that I can think of is the bias, that European bias.
Z: And I think the other piece of this is one thing we haven’t talked about and I don’t mean to get into a long conversation about, but a part of the American wine experience also has to do with tourism and visiting wineries. And I do think that one of the reasons you’ve seen a bias towards certain parts of the country is because those are places that are convenient for tourists, that are otherwise accessible, that are beautiful. And it may be the case that the beauty of the high desert in New Mexico, I think is actually very striking, but it’s not as much of an obvious tourist destination as Napa Valley. It also doesn’t have the density of other stuff to do. So I’m not saying there’s some reason, there’s a bad reason for that. And I think sometimes it’s hard to disentangle in the U.S. the difference between regions that are great wine destinations and great wine-producing regions. And those two things can be synonymous, but they’re not always, and some of the places that I’m excited about as regions that could produce great wine may never be places that are high on anyone’s travel list.
And that is also true in Europe, to be fair. I mean, I love the wines from Emilia-Romagna and I love the food from Emilia-Romagna in Italy, but it is not a pretty place. It’s basically flat and full of pig s***. And so, not every winery, and not every wine region is going to be beautiful or easy to access. But I think what we should be asking of these regions, whether they’re new or old, is that they be focused on quality and on producing the best wine they can. And it’s our job as journalists, as drinkers, to find those wines, to talk about them when they do merit discussion and to mention if it’s a great tourist destination or not, but you know, we’re all finding obviously in this year without tourism that there are other things that matter.
K: Well, the thing is the Finger Lakes is not easy to get to. And the Niagara Escarpment is not the easiest thing. It’s seven hours from New York driving, but it has become one of the national focuses of one grape: Riesling. But I think we can do it. It’s just a matter of, like Adam said, the bias. We need people to focus on it. And that’s the thing. In Europe, Sicily was mostly known for bulk wine, but there was always a small producer making awesome shit in Sicily. There’s always somebody down in Victoria making great wine and then one day is like, “Oh my gosh, I actually have people seeing me now.” It just takes a long time. And Gruet, it is unfortunate, but that was a very special thing where this guy from Champagne, the family comes over and sees potential there. And I wonder if they found the best spot for those, but nobody wants to compete with the amount of amazing wine they make there. Or Arizona, I mean, I had an amazing Malvasia from Arizona, and the AVAs in Arizona are not too far away from the large cities. So I think it just takes time, and we are a young nation. We’re only 240-something years old. We had 10 years of Prohibition. We weren’t really getting back into dry red wine and even white wine at all until the late 1960s. We’re still kind of figuring it out.
And I think that it makes sense that we would attach ourselves to “OK, well, Pinot Noir that’s Willamette. OK, I’m gonna do that.” “Cab that’s Napa. I’m gonna do that.” “Riesling, that’s Washington — well, now it’s New York. OK.” And we needed that. That’s kind of how the point system came across as these are things that America needed at a time when we were just trying to re-understand what we lost for 10 years. And I think that it’s just a matter of time before we really get a sense of this, but there’s an excitement that has to happen to make it happen when Virginia has been making wine for a long time. Jim Law has been there since like what, 1978? And Adam, you and I got to know Jim Law, like what, six years ago?
A: Eight years ago. I mean, before I started VinePair. Yeah I mean like eight or nine years ago, I think you’re the one who introduced me to him or somehow we found him together. And he’s highly respected, but then again he doesn’t care about being known outside of Virginia.
K: Right, but he mentored a bunch of people who do care. And you know, of course Barboursville helped, too. That’s I guess one of those investments where Barboursville was like, “OK. We see there was a family. We see what’s going on. We see we want to invest in that area.” I just think it’s going to take some time, but what’s cool about it is it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting. I think that in the future, we’re going to have more wine coming from the United States that is going to be more diverse and more fun to explore. I mean like, I’m going to go back to Paso real quick, Adam, if you’re cool with that.
A: No, please go back to Paso.
K: Paso is in this little plain area, and it used to be a place where the whole story is, outlaws could go into Paso and not be bothered ’cause it’s in this little patch of nothing. And actually, it was founded by two dudes and Jesse James’ uncle, actually. And it is this place that has always been sort of disconnected from everybody else. And when it became known to the rest of the United States, it was known mostly for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. But when I went to Paso, I drank, there’s a grape called Clairette that is a blending varietal from France. I drank a Clairette that was 15 months on the lees, like a Muscadet. And it was absolutely delicious. I had a Picpoul de Pinet, which is another native grape from the southern part of France. I had a Falanghina that was absolutely stunning. And it was made in skin fermenting as an orange wine. My mind was blown. So I had to go there to actually enjoy it. And I’m hoping that at some point we can actually figure out, like you said, Zach, figure out this tourism thing. That’s who we are as a country. Tourism is what we do. And I hope we can figure it out because there’s so much to be had in these small little pockets of America and these little AVAs. I mean, I know Paso is huge, but I’m telling you like other places that might have stunning, amazing wine, like Malvasia from Arizona, but it’s just not on the market.
A: No, I think Zach’s point about tourism is really important, ‘cause I do think that’s what’s helped a lot of the regions, and I think that that’s what then causes your mind to be blown because you show up there and you have a great meal and every wine region needs one good restaurant, you know what I mean? Just something to tie it together, because I remember when I first went to Paso, driving down the coast, and like no winery really had a place to tell us to go to for lunch. This was eight or nine years ago. And there just wasn’t really an answer. So we wound up going to what was an OK cafe and, I was like, “Oh man, there’s such potential here.” Once they get that high-end restaurant, or once they get that place where it all goes together, because that is what Napa and Sonoma have going for them. That is what other regions have going for them, is just this ability to give you that one 360-degree experience.
K: And now Paso finally has it.
A: Exactly. And so, I think that matters, as annoying as that is. It does. But there’s just so much stuff, I mean, just talking we could talk for another 45 minutes about it, so much stuff about American wine is really exciting right now. And the best thing is to just get out there and try to drink it. And if you can’t get out there now because of the pandemic, totally understandable. So get online and just read as you were saying, Keith. Yeah. And hit up DTC, read our reviews. We try to write about a lot of different wine regions. If you’re an American wine region that we don’t write about, get in touch with us. We want to taste your wine, send it to us. Send it to Zach too, ’cause you know, he’s in Seattle. But yeah, I mean, we want to taste your wine. I mean, I think we have no bias here, and I think that’s the thing that’s most important for anyone thinking about getting into these other regions is, don’t go in with bias, because I’m promising you, there’s someone in these regions who is producing really, really great juice.
K: I’m getting a Müller-Thurgau from Oregon coming in tomorrow.
Z: There you go.
A: Crazy. Well, guys, this has been an awesome conversation. Keith, thanks for being our guest co-host this week. Zach, I’ll see you right back here next week.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits, VinePair produced by myself and Zach. It is also mixed and edited by him. Yeah, Zach, we know you do a lot. I’d also like to thank the entire VinePair team, including my co-founder, Josh and our associate editor, Cat. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.