Travel & Leisure Travel, Food & Drink

A Taste of the States: Discover the Top Vineyards in the U.S.A.

Vineyards across the United States are producing vintages that have oenophiles traveling far and wide—take a tour of some of the finest here

F Scott Fitzgerald set swathes of The Great Gatsby—his classic 1920s tale of life amid America’s super-rich—around the grand mansions of Long Island, New York, playground of the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Hearsts. But while the glorious houses remain, the area has found new renown for some of the top vineyards in the U.S.A.

Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn
Boasting amazing views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan across the New York’s East River, The Red Hook Winery on Pier 41 in Brooklyn uses grapes from vineyards across the state, including Long Island.

California is the Goliath of American wine-making, commanding around 80 percent of production and 90 percent of exports. But as Goliath found out, big doesn’t always mean best, and some of the finest contemporary wines come from the dozen other states that breach the 100-plus winery mark.

Discerning wine lovers may know of Oregon’s superb Pinot Noir, plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Washington State. But how about the four centuries of wine-producing heritage in Virginia, or the “Napa of the Midwest” around Michigan’s Great Lakes?

Winery Road. Barboursville Vineyards. Virginia. USA
Winery Road is the home of Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia, which occupies 900 acres (364 ha) parallel with the Blue Ridge to the west, and grows many different varieties of grapes. Image: Alamy

Such American Viticulture Areas (A.V.A.s) tick boxes associated with many objects of desire. Limited supply confers a sense of exclusivity, while off-radar status brings a thrilling sense of discovery. That said, states like Virginia actually began wine production back in the 17th century, when early settlers including Spanish missionaries planted imported European vines to try and provide a taste of home—only to find their vines destroyed by New World pests such as phylloxera.

Discovering native grapes resistant to these blights transformed early U.S. wine production to such an extent, however, that a Virginia wine made from the indigenous Norton grape was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873.

New York, New Wines

Paumanok Vineyards in Long Island, New York
At Paumanok Vineyards in Long Island, New York, vines are densely planted to produce more concentrated fruit and therefore higher-quality wines.

The most elevated wines from America’s off-radar states riff on classic European grapes. Leading Long Island producer Paumanok is a case in point. “Our maritime cool climate lets us produce wines with classical Old-World moderation in alcohol,” says winemaker Kareem Massoud. “Their aromatics are impressive and the typicity is evident.”

Our maritime cool climate lets us produce wines with classical Old-World moderation in alcohol—Kareem Massoud

Paumanok’s Apollo Drive Petit Verdot was rated 92/100 by influential critic Robert Parker, while its Tuthills Lane Cabernet Sauvignon scored 93. The 2010 Tuthills Lane Merlot, meanwhile, is a current premium pick (for $205) at top Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park.

Another fine example, The Red Hook Winery, can be found on the wine lists of London restaurants such as Pétrus and The Lanesborough alongside wines from the state’s other great A.V.A., the stone-and-shale terroir of the Finger Lakes.

Virginia’s Vines

RdV Vineyards in Virginia
Virginia producer RdV is a favorite of Raj Vaidya, head sommelier for Michelin-starred Daniel Boulud's eponymous Manhattan beacon: “We work closely with RdV in our restaurant in Washington D.C., and list them here too.” Image: Gordon Beall

Chris Parker at the Virginia Wine Academy has helped place the state’s wines at the likes of British royal wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, plus Heston Blumenthal’s London restaurant Dinner.

The finest come from the Monticello A.V.A., named after Thomas Jefferson’s historic home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Petit Verdot stands out, with bottles from producers such as Barboursville up to $80 from the winery—but boasting qualities Parker sums up as “wonderfully scented—violets, bright, ripe, black and red fruit, deep color, polished, vanilla, cedar, smoke.”

Amazing Arizona

Connor Hotel in Jerome, Arizone
The Caduceus Cellars tasting room is located next door to the historic Connor Hotel in the former mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Image: Alamy

The Texas High Plains and Hill Country are among America’s most unexpected A.V.A.s, producing fine expressions of Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Tannat. None, though, hit the heights of another state more familiar to western film fans than wine-lovers—Arizona.

Arizona A.V.A.s such as Sonoita are producing superb wines from Italian heritage grapes. The 2014 Nagual del Marzo from Caduceus, for example, is worth buying a case of—a Sangiovese-dominant blend with Barbera offering violet, cherry, and tobacco on the nose, and cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and cloves on the palate.

Measured Michigan

Black Star Farms in Michigan
Black Star Farms is also capitalizing on Michigan being a hotspot for ice wines—oenophiles have been smitten by its 2013 A Capella Riesling, with its apple and apricot notes with honey undertones.

Around 150 wineries dot various peninsulas around Lake Michigan, producing stellar wines at vineyards such as Black Star Farms. Its 2017 Arcturos Dry Riesling was voted the world’s best at an international competition in Australia in 2018, scoring 98/100 to beat more than 560 rivals from Germany, France, Australia, and New Zealand.

“Our climate and soils create incredible conditions for vineyards,” says proprietor Sherri Campbell Fenton. “In the spring, Lake Michigan holds back early development, protecting bud break from early frost. In the fall, the lake keeps vineyards warmer and holds back the frost that may occur inland.”

Idyllic Idaho

Grapes on the vine in Snake River Valley
Popular grape varieties grown in the Snake River Valley in Southwest Idaho are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, and Syrah. Image: Alamy

The so-called Gem State doesn’t yet breach the 100 wineries mark, but A.V.A.s such as Snake River Valley are rivaling neighboring Oregon—though the terroir echoes distant lands. “Spain and Idaho are close enough in soil characteristics to make similarly great wine,” said the state’s wine ambassador Jim Thomssen in a recent post for the Sunny Slope Wine Trail website, adding: “Idaho is making wonderful Tempranillos.”

Yet at the acclaimed Sawtooth vineyard, it was Meredith Smith’s 2017 Classic Fly Series Petit Verdot—with aromas of dried strawberries, cherry, and boysenberry—that was voted the state’s most recent best red.

On the Market

Rocking Horse Ranch in Columbia Falls, Montana, U.S.A.

Rocking Horse Ranch in Montana
Rocking Horse Ranch overlooks the Swan Range of mountains and, along with its established vineyards and modern winery, has plentiful accommodation for guests, making it a wonderful rural retreat.

Located on 275 acres (111 ha), Rocking Horse Ranch is nestled at the base of the stunning Swan Range of mountains, and has a wide array of amenities that include a winery and vineyard, pool, driving range, barbecue and entertainment stage, as well as multiple guest homes. Mooring Creek also winds its way through the property, which is on the market with PureWest Real Estate and close to an international airport and Glacier National Park.

Red Lily Vineyards in Jacksonville, Oregon, U.S.A.

Red Lily Vineyard's winery
Red Lily Vineyards is a small cuvée winery located in Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley, the only sub-apellation of the Rogue Valley A.V.A.

This state-of-the-art winery has a case capacity of 5,000-plus and spans 5,200 sq ft (483 sq m). On the market with Luxe Christie’s International Real Estate, it has storage for barrels and cases, an office, a covered crush pad, a tasting room with kitchen, and outdoor seating. Three vineyards produce terroir-driven, cuvée wines and there is also a four-bedroom, three-bath primary home and a guesthouse, plus barns and a shop.

Banner image: RdV Vineyards in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia. Jeff Mauritzen