Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EXAMINE North AMERICA; A Continetal Divide

We all know that California is by far this continent's largest wine producer and that Napa's appellations of Oakville, Rutherford and Stag's Leap are among its most prestigious American Viticultural Areas(AVA's). Those facts have a lot to do with a persistent number of early immigrant families who became large bulk wine producers, as well as a hand-full of late-20th century dreamers and visionaries who believed that they could make some of the best wines in the world.  But, did you know that Sonoma County makes much more wine than Napa or that this Nation's second leading wine production state by volume is New York?

Canada's largest winegrape growing region is in Ontario VQA, surrounding the shoreline of the Great Lake by the same name, and on the Northern shores of nearby Lake Erie.  Ontarios's Northern lattitudes of 40-45 degrees are in the same band as the great wine growing regions of Europe, and its viticultural aspect benefits from a temperate climate and the moderating effects of those great bodies of water. Head three thousand miles West, crossing the continent, and your in Canada's other principal winegrowing region, British Columbia.  Of the four(4) Viticultural Areas in BC, the Okanagan Valley VA is the largest, and benefits by being on the lee side of the Coast Mountain Range, and extended daylight hours during its short growing season. On the shores of Lake Okanagan, one of BC's four(4) designated viticultural areas,  Mission Hill Winery, remains an industry leader, featuring a typically broad selection of vinifera and hybrid varieties.

When most of us think of Canadian wine we think of Ice Wine, that painfully laborious gift of nature that comes from harvesting frozen, raisins of grapes and extracting the water from them prior to fermentation.  But, did you know that the only grape varieties allowed in this process of Canadian pride were Riesling and Vidal, a hybrid of Ugni Blanc(Trebbiano in Italy) X Rayon d'Or(French-American hybrid), and surprisingly Cabernet Franc? Although produced in many countries(including the U.S) with similar late season growing conditions, Canada produces about 75% of global totals of this clean, non-botryized nectar.

 Across Lake Ontatio to the South, New York state grows most of this nation 's supply of Concord grapes (vitis lambrusca), along with French hybrids and European vinifera, like Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Notably,  Upper New York States Finger Lakes AVA region is the home of Pleasant Valley Wine Company of Hammondsport,  America's first Bonded winery in 1860.  Along with Lake Erie, Hudson River, and Long Island AVA Regions, the New York premium grape volume exceeds production of Upper Mississippi Valley AVA. This newly recognized region, established by the TTB in 2009,  is America's largest AVA, at over 29, 000 square miles! Also prominent is New York's neighboring  Ohio River Valley AVA which covers four(4) adjoining states! Down South, Texas Hill Country AVA and its sub-divisions is  second in regional acreage nationally at just over 9 million acres. By comparison, our beloved Napa Valley AVA is just over 225,000 acres in size, but has significantly more influence on the marketplace. Size does not really matter here, after all this is not the Cote de'Nuit in Burgundy!

From Napa to New York, including warm growing Paso Robles AVA, within the larger Central Coast Regional AVA and the cool reaches of Washington's Puget Sound AVA, the North American continent is a study in vineyard extremes.  Wine consumers also demonstrate those limits, as wine consumption continues to be dominated by West Coast and East Coast wine lovers, generation after generation. With quality, distribution and availability never better than it is today, perhaps with each glass we are beginning to close the Continental Divide.

Raise a glass!

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