American wine has been produced for over 300 years. Today, wine production is undertaken in all fifty states, with California producing 89 percent of all US wine.^[1]^ The United States is the fourth largest wine producing country in the world after France, Italy, and Spain.^[2]^

The North American continent is home to several native species of grape, including Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia, Vitis rotundifolia, and Vitis vulpina, but it was the introduction of the European Vitis vinifera by European settlers that led to the growth of the wine making industry.^[3]^ With more than 1,100,000 acres (4,500 km^2^) under vine, the United States is the sixth most planted country in the world after France, Italy, Spain, China and Turkey.^[4]^

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American wine has been produced for over 300 years. Today, wine production is undertaken in all fifty states, with California producing 89 percent of all US wine.^[1]^ The United States is the fourth largest wine producing country in the world after France, Italy, and Spain.^[2]^

The North American continent is home to several native species of grape, including Vitis labrusca, Vitis riparia, Vitis rotundifolia, and Vitis vulpina, but it was the introduction of the European Vitis vinifera by European settlers that led to the growth of the wine making industry.^[3]^ With more than 1,100,000 acres (4,500 km^2^) under vine, the United States is the sixth most planted country in the world after France, Italy, Spain, China and Turkey.^[4]^



Main article: History of American wine

The first Europeans to explore North America called it Vinland because of the profusion of grape vines they found. The earliest wine made in what is now the United States was from the Scuppernong grapes by French Huguenot settlers at a settlement near Jacksonville, Florida between 1562 and 1564.^[2]^ In the early American colonies of Virginia and the Carolinas, wine making was an official goal laid out in their founding charters. However, settlers would later discover that the wine made from the various native grapes had flavors which were unfamiliar and which they did not like. This led to repeated efforts to grow familiar Vitis vinifera varieties beginning with the Virginia Company exporting of French vinifera vines with French vignerons to Virginia in 1619. These early plantings were met with failure as native pest and vine disease ravaged the vineyards. In 1683, William Penn planted a vineyard of French vinifera in Pennsylvania that may have interbred with a native Vitis labrusca vine to create the hybrid grape Alexander "Alexander (grape)"). One of the first commercial wineries in the United States was founded in 1787 in Pennsylvania by Pierre Legaux and later followed by Indiana in 1806 with production of wine made from the Alexander grape. Today French-American hybrid grapes are the staples of wine production on the East Coast of the United States.^[4]^

The first commercial vineyard and winery in the United States was established by an act of the Kentucky General Assembly on November 21, 1799.^[5]^ The vinedresser for the vineyard was John James Dufour formerly of Vevey, Switzerland (same authority as above). The vineyard was located overlooking the Kentucky River in Jessamine County, Kentucky and was named First Vineyard by Dufour on November 5, 1798.^[6]^ The vineyard's current address in 5800 Sugar Creek Pike, Nicholasville, Kentucky. The first wine from the First Vineyard was consumed by the subscribers at John Postelthwaite's house on March 21, 1803.^[7]^ Two 5 gallon oak casks of wine were taken to President Thomas Jefferson in Washington, D.C. in February 1805.^[8]^ The vineyard continued until 1809 when a killing freeze in May destroyed the crop and many vines at the First Vineyard. The Dufour family then relocated to Vevay, Indiana after the abandonment of the First Vineyard.^[9]^

In California, the first vineyard and winery was established by the Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra near San Diego in 1769. Later missionaries would carry the vines northward, with Sonoma's first vineyard being planted around 1805.^[3]^ California has two native grape varieties, but they make very poor quality wine. Therefore, the missionaries used the Mission grape "Mission (grape)"), which is called criolla or "colonialized European" in South America. Although a Vitis vinifera variety, it is a grape of "very modest" quality. Jean-Louis Vignes was one of the early settlers to use higher quality vinifera in his vineyard near Los Angeles.^[3]^

The first commercially successful winery in the United States was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid-1830s by Nicholas Longworth, who made a sparkling wine from Catawba grapes. In the 1860s, vineyards in the Ohio River Valley were attacked by Black rot. This prompted several winemakers to move north to the Finger Lakes region of New York. During this time, the Missouri wine industry, centered around the German colony in Hermann, Missouri, took off and was soon second to California in wine production.^[4]^ In the late 19th century, the phylloxera epidemic in the West and Pierce's disease in the East ravaged the growing American wine industry.^[3]^

Prohibition in the United States began when the state of Maine became the first state to go completely dry in 1846; it culminated in the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920 which forbade the manufacturing, sale and transport of alcohol. Exceptions were made for sacramental wine used for religious purposes and some wineries were able to maintain their facilities under those auspices. Others resorted to bootlegging. Home winemaking also became common, allowed through exemptions for sacramental wines and production for home use.^[10]^

Following the repeal of Prohibition, American wine making reemerged in very poor condition. Many talented winemakers had died, vineyards had been neglected or replanted with table grapes, and Prohibition had changed Americans' taste in wines. Consumers now demanded cheap "jug wine" (so-called dago red) and sweet, fortified (high alcohol) wine. Before Prohibition dry table wines outsold sweet wines by three to one, but after the ratio was more than reversed. In 1935, 81% of California's production was sweet wines.

Leading the way to new methods was research conducted at the University of California, Davis and some of the state universities in New York. Faculty at the universities published reports on which varieties of grapes grew best in which regions, held seminars on winemaking techniques, consulted with grape growers and winemakers, offered academic degrees in viticulture, and promoted the production of quality wines. In the 1970s and 1980s, success by Californian winemakers help to secure foreign investment dollars from other winemaking regions, most notably the Champenois "Champagne (wine region)"). Changing taste in the American palate has also helped to foster this growth, with 668 million gallons (25.3 million hectoliters) of wine being consumed in the United States in 2004. Today the American wine industry faces the growing challenges of expanding international exports and dealing with domestic regulations on interstate sales and shipment of wine.^[11]^

Wine regions

There are nearly 3,000 commercial vineyards in the United States, and at least one winery in each of the 50 states.^[12]^

  • West Coast – The majority of American wine production occurs in the states of California, Washington and Oregon.
  • Rocky Mountain Region – Notably Idaho and Colorado
  • Southwestern United States – Notably Texas and New Mexico
  • Midwestern United States – Notably Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota
  • Great Lakes region "Great Lakes region (North America)") – Notably Michigan, northern New York and Ohio
  • East Coast of the United States – Notably New York State, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina.

Production by state

Production of still wine per state in 2012 was as follows:^[13]^

Appellation system

For more details on this topic, see American Viticultural Area.

The early American appellation system was based on the political boundaries of states and counties "County (US)"). In September 1978 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (now Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) developed regulations to establish American Viticultural Areas (AVA) based on distinct climate and geographical features. In June 1980, the Augusta AVA in Missouri was established as the first American Viticultural Area under the new appellation system.^[14]^ For the sake of wine labeling purposes, all the states and county appellations were grandfathered in as appellations. There were 187 distinct AVAs designated under U.S. law as of April 2007.^[15]^

Appellation labeling laws

In order to have an AVA appear on a wine label, at least 85% of the grapes used to produce the wine must be grown in the AVA.

With the larger state and county appellations the laws vary depending on the area. For a County Appellation, 75% of the grapes used must be from that county. If grapes are from two or three contiguous counties, a label can have a multi-county designation so long as the percentages used from each county are clearly on the label. For the majority of U.S. States the State Appellation requires 75% of the grapes in the wine to be grown in the state. Texas requires 85% and California requires 100%. If grapes are from two to three contiguous states a wine can be made under a multi-state designations following the same requirements as the multi-county appellation.

American wine or United States is a rarely used appellation that classifies a wine made from anywhere in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.. Wines with this designation are similar to the French wine vin de table and can not include a vintage year. By law this is the only appellation allowed for bulk wines exported to other counties.^[16]^

Semi-generic wines

An example of American wines using semi-generic labels of burgundy, chablis, etc.

Current U.S. laws allow American made wines to be labeled as "American Burgundy" or "California champagne "Champagne (wine)")", even though these names are restricted in Europe. U.S. laws only restrict usage to include the qualifying area of origin to go with these semi-generic names. Other semi-generic names in the United States include Claret, Chablis "Chablis (wine)"), Chianti, Madeira, Malaga "Malaga (wine)"), Marsala, Moselle "Moselle (wine)"), Port "Port (wine)"), Rhine wine, Sauternes "Sauternes (wine)") (commonly spelled on U.S. wine labels as Sauterne or Haut Sauterne), Sherry and Tokay "Tokay (wine)"). European Union officials have been working with their U.S. counterparts through World Trade Organization negotiations to eliminate the use of these semi-generic names.^[16]^

Fighting varietals

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Fighting varietal is a term that originated in California during the late-1970's as a marketing response to combat overt pressure from European wine producers. The term was coined to separate traditional domestic jug wine, whimsical brands, and imports, from premium wine production in the U.S.^[17]^

The U.S. dollar in the early 1980's was trading with such historic strength, it was dominating world currency markets, eventually leading to the first coordinated agreement between Central Banks in 1985 to intervene and depreciate the Dollar in what is now termed the Plaza Accord. European wines with centuries of history supporting them found it easy to compete with wine production in the U.S. on quality since the U.S. had only decades in real development of its vineyards and wine production techniques. With better quality and lower price, European wines had a substantial advantage over domestic producers and could have crippled the development of the country's fine wine business without a change in tactics.

While European consumers understood the types of grapes grown in their regions, U.S. wine consumers found European labeling standards confusing. California wineries saw that as the opportunity and coordinated together to use varietals, the grapes in the bottle, as a means of educating the consumer and making the product easier to understand.

The actual term was coined referencing the "fight" against imported wines in the U.S. market using "varietals" instead of brands or regions for content identification.

While many different people have been given credit for the origination of the term, it is unlikely a conclusive author will ever be confirmed.

Other U.S. labeling laws

In the United States, at least 95% of grapes must be from a particular vintage for that year to appear on the label. Prior to the early 1970s, all grapes had to be from the vintage year. All labels must list the alcohol content based on percentage by volume. For bottles labeled by varietal at least 75% of the grape must be of the varietal. In Oregon, the requirement is 90%. American wine labels are also required to list if they contain sulfites and carry the Surgeon General's warning about alcohol consumption.^[18]^

Three-tier distribution

Following the repeal of Prohibition, the federal government allowed each state to regulate the production and sale of alcohol in their own state. For the majority of states this led to the development of a three-tier "Three-tier (alcohol distribution)") distribution system between the producer, wholesaler and consumer. Depending on the state there are some exceptions, with wineries allowed to sell directly to consumers on site at the winery.

Some states allow interstate sales through e-commerce. In the 2005 case of Granholm v. Heald, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down state laws banning interstate shipments but allowing in-state sales. The outcome of the Supreme Court decision was that states could decide to allow out of states wine sales along with in state sales or ban both altogether.^[19]^

Convenience stores are a large distributor of wine in the United States. In 2010, the aver­age monthly per-store sales of wine jumped to nearly \$12,000 from \$9,084 in 2009. The average gross margin dollars from wine increased to \$3,324 from \$2,616 in the year prior, with gross margin percentages up to an average 28.2 percent in 2010, versus 27 percent in 2009.^[20]^

Largest producers

As of 2005 The largest producers of American wine.^[21]^

  1. E & J Gallo Winery - Accounts for more than a quarter of all U.S. wine sales and is the second largest producer in the world.
  2. Constellation Brands - With foreign wine holdings Constellation is the largest producer in the world and includes Robert Mondavi Winery and Columbia Winery in its portfolio
  3. The Wine Group - San Francisco-based business which owns the Franzia box wine label, Concannon Vineyard and Mogen David kosher wine.
  4. Bronco Wine Company - Owners of the Charles Shaw wine "Two Buck Chuck" line which accounts for nearly 5 million of Bronco's annual average 9 million cases per year.
  5. Diageo - UK based company with American holdings in Sterling Vineyards, Beaulieu Vineyard and Chalone Vineyard
  6. Brown-Forman Corporation
    • Owners of the Korbel Champagne Cellars brand
  7. Beringer Blass - Australian based wine division of Foster's Group and owner of the Beringer wine and Stags' Leap Winery brands
  8. Jackson Wine Estates - Owners of the Kendall-Jackson brand

Further reading

  • Clarke, Oz. Oz Clarke's New Encyclopedia of Wine. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1999.
  • Johnson, Hugh. Vintage: The Story of Wine. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
  • Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. NY: Scribner, 2005.

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