Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 1.
It's tough to overestimate just how far the United States has come as a wine producer since Prohibition.
If you ever get the chance, head to the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History and check out the corner of its food exhibit entitled Wine For The Table. Just beyond Julia Child's kitchen and cases dedicated to industrialized food production is featured exhibition on the Judgment At Paris, where American rose to prominence in the wine business. In 2015, the U.S. produced 768.1 million gallons of wine and ranks behind only France, Italy and Spain in total production, according to The Wine Institute industry organization in San Francisco.
Though 638 million gallons of that U.S. total still come from California, which would make that state among the Top 10 wine-producing countries in the world if it seceded tomorrow, wine shipments to the U.S. from all production sources — foreign and domestic —grew to 384 million cases in 2015. That's up 2% from 2014 and represents an estimated retail value of $55.8 billion. The U.S. has been the largest wine consuming nation in the world since 2010, but 51.2 million cases of wine exports were worth $1.61 billion to U.S. winemakers last year.
Imagine if the U.S. actually had a taste for wine. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, wine only accounts for about 17% of all U.S. alcohol sales -- lagging behind both spirits (35%) and beer (48%). While the U.S. consumes a lot of wine as a whole, its per-capita consumption of about two and a half gallons per person each year ranks behind more than 50 states and territories. Compared to the whopping 12 gallons of wine the average person in France drinks each year, it isn't even close.
That said, within the last 70 years or so, certain corners of the United States have become fertile wine country and preferred destinations for both winemakers and wine enthusiasts alike. The folks at data, analytics and marketing firm Infogroup found that metropolitan areas that prefer wine to beer tend to have a higher average income and home value, a slightly higher percentage of college graduates, a higher propensity for traveling (especially cruises and foreign travel) and are more likely to join gyms or health clubs and practice yoga or pilates,. They are more likely than their beer-swilling counterparts to attend live theater and listen to classical music, but their purchasing power (income adjusted for the cost of living) is actually far less than it is among more beer-saturated areas.
Infogroup delved into the data in some of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, took a look at the number of wineries and wine shops available per 10,000 people and came up with a list of the following 10 wine-soaked regions of the U.S. If you're looking for a little bit of cheer for your holiday table, your search should start here:
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.343
Really? While Cincinnati's rich beer history in Over-the-Rhine and breweries including Christian Moerlein and Hudepohl Schoenling helped put the city on the map, wine isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you're diving face first into some Skyline Chili. Yet the folks who promote Ohio wine would like to remind you that not only is Ohio home to more than 240 wineries, but its history dates back to Cincinnati lawyer Nicholas Longworth planting Catawba grapes in Cincinnati above the Ohio River in the early 1800s. With five wineries within the city itself, Cincinnati does just fine with wine.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.355
If you've ever had the good fortune of eating at a bistro in West Hartford -- or at one of the better restaurants in Connecticut's Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun casinos -- you know that some of the best wines on the menu don't have to travel far to get to your table. While the Connecticut Wine Trail's 25 wineries grow Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Saint Croix, Vignoles and Foch grapes, there's a divide among its fans. Some, especially those who come through Connecticut on I-95 on their way to somewhere else, prefer the half-dozen or so highway-accessible wineries clustered around Stonington in the Southeast part of the state. Personally, we prefer the more pastoral setting between Routes 7 and 8 near Litchfield and the array of wineries and bed and breakfasts just Northwest of Hartford.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.364
What, do you think all of those lobbyist-bought steaks just wash themselves down? No, friend: in Thomas Jefferson's agrarian Virginia just 30 minutes from D.C., there are more than 250 wineries catering to the District's needs. Also, if you're going to be serving a city teeming with diplomats, dignitaries, ambassadors and members of the foreign service, it helps to cultivate some of the more esoteric grape varieties to make vintages they'll enjoy. Viognier, Petit Verdot and Nebbiolo may not get the attention of a Northeast commuter, but they'll certainly impress a visitors from the regions that grow them.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.397
As fans of the Shawangunk Wine Trail in New York's Hudson River Valley and the spiced holiday wine produced by Brotherhood -- the nation's oldest continuously operating vineyard -- we know that NYC has a great selection of local vineyards to cull from. However, knowing that New York City's sheer size makes wine from Long Island, the Finger Lakes region and even Connecticut in demand -- and that New York's cosmopolitan bars and restaurants pride themselves on a broad selection of the world's finest wines -- we also aren't surprised in the least that the city has made wine a $4.8 billion industry in its home state alone. Also, Dutch settlers planted the state's first wine grapes in Manhattan roughly 400 years ago.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.466
When they aren't guzzling energy drinks or protein slurry named after dystopian Charlton Heston films, the folks in Silicon Valley have their pick of more than 150 wineries within 35 miles of their homes. The Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation isn't just some spinoff of Napa or Sonoma -- it's one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the country and the oldest in California. If the tech community can pry itself away from creating the next middleman app for just a moment, it might find the time to appreciate what is easily the most underrated corner of California wine culture.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.686
Rochester doesn't like to brag about its proximity to the Finger Lakes, but it probably should more often. While it's great that it was the city that gave us Kodak (until digital photos began dismantling it piece by piece), Xerox (thanks again, digital era) and Nick Tahou's Garbage Plate (bunless cheeseburgers over potatoes and macaroni salad -- which has aged better than either Xerox or Kodak), it should really be crowing more about the more than 120 wineries just to its south. The Finger Lakes account for more than 85% of all the wine New York State produces and makes whites like Riesling and Gewurztaminer better than any of the fledgling appellations that have sprung up in the Northeast since. Much as Rochester doesn't brag about its rich history of professional soccer or its spot between growing hubs in Buffalo and Syracuse, maybe it just wants to keep that Finger Lakes wine all to itself as well.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.69
Yes, it's not far from Napa or Sonoma, but it doesn't need them. The 120-mile Sacramento Valley to the north of the city is wedged between mountain ranges to keep ocean-influenced weather at bay and produces 7,300 acres of wine grapes. Chardonnay is the region's standout, with roughly 1,700 acres dedicated to it, though Zinfandel grapes follow just behind with 1,300 acres. While it accounts for just 2% of all the grapes crushed for wine in the state, the 16 wineries in the valley alone are a boon for wine tourists and a blessing for locals.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.712
No, rain-saturated Seattle isn't particularly great for growing wine grapes, but just 30 miles away in Woodinville, it's another story. Though it's also home to a ton of distilleries, cideries and breweries -- which included, until just recently, the bulk of Redhook Ales production -- the so-called Woodinville Wine Country contains more than 100 wineries along the Sammamish Slough. It includes the mammoth Chateau Ste. Michelle, which dates back to 1954 and grows grapes all over Washington State, but it's also dotted with dozens of small tasting rooms and restaurants. Teeming with inns, bed and breakfasts, and, now, the Anderson School hotel in nearby Bothell that was recently converted from an actual schoolhouse by the McMenamins brewpub chain, Woodinville is worth the trip out from Seattle and definitely worth more than a night's stay.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 0.73
Yes, this is where we finally talk about Napa, Sonoma and all of the wineries and Michelin-star-laden restaurants at the Bay Area's disposal. However, one of the best parts about enjoying wine in San Francisco isn't renting a car and some cheap hotel rooms and embarking on your own version of Sideways. It's realizing that modern logistical improvements have made it easier to truck some of those Napa and Sonoma grapes to San Francisco itself so wineries can spare you the hour's ride out.
Wineries and wine shops per 10,000 residents: 1.545
Yes, it's a huge beer town, too, but its position within striking distance of both the Columbia River and Willamette River valleys provides it access to more than 250 wineries. There are urban wineries within the city proper that truck in grapes, do crushes and hand out cases to members. There are wineries within the Columbia River Gorge that host concerts and have their own hotel spaces -- or refer their guests to some of the Gorge's grand lodges if they don't. There are towns along the Willamette Valley, like the one this piece's author lives in, that attract visitors from all over the world during harvest season just so they can get a taste of that year's varieties. From the Oregon's trademark Pinot Noir to sparkling wine and Sake, Portland is as soaked with wine year-round as it is with rain for roughly ten months out of the year. And if you think Portland divides up its wine and beer people neatly, guess again: The Ponzi family that founded the city's BridgePort Brewing Company more than 30 years ago also owns multiple wineries throughout Oregon.