Top-notch wine tasting experiences can also be found in places all over the U.S. that aren't popular wine countries. Although the best wine regions across the nation might first come to mind when planning a wine-centered trip, smaller, more underrated areas that have something unique to offer wine enthusiasts tend to get overlooked. The best wineries in the U.S. are worth a visit, of course, but sometimes it's more fun to check out a winery in an area you never imagined would be thriving in wine.
American Wine History
The earliest wine production in the United States can be traced back to the 16th century when the French started settling near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. As more European settlers colonized the U.S. over the next few centuries, they brought common grape vines that are largely used in modern American wine production such as Vitis Vinifera, Vitis Labrusca, Vitis Rotundifolia, Vitis Riparia, and Vitis Vulpina.
As more vineyards started to become established, challenges arose before the wine industry would plateau in the 20th century. Disease, the Prohibition Era, and the Great Depression made it difficult for wine-making to stabilize. It wasn't until the 1970s that wine connoisseurs began to secure steady investments and focus on high-quality wine in big wine states such as California, Oregon, Washington, and New York. And today, there are now around 3,000 commercial vineyards and at least one winery in every state.
America's 6 Best Wine Regions
Before we dive into the most underrated wine regions in the U.S., first check out our list of the best wine regions and wineries to hit.
California is at the top of the list for having some of the best wine regions in the U.S., and when people talk about Napa Valley, they're most likely talking about wine. The region is known for world-class Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines and features some of the best wineries in its cities such as St. Helena and Calistoga. V. Sattui Winery is the most visited winery in Napa and produces more than 60 different wines.
Known for its Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, Sonoma is another wine hotspot among the many that are in the Golden State. With over 250 wineries to choose from, you can't go wrong with visiting just a few. Landmark Vineyards is known best for its small-production Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is a family-owned winery that values sustainability and offers five-course food and wine pairings.
2. New York
Finger Lakes is not only the most famous wine region in New York, but also the largest wine-producing region in the state. Among the 100 wineries that are spread out across 11 lakes is the prestigious Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery by the Frank family. Leading grape growing and winemaking in the region, the Frank vineyard features some of the oldest Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir vines on the East Coast.
A great wine and outdoor getaway, North Fork in Long Island is known as "the Napa of the East Coast." Near the Hamptons, the region is known for Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Visit the Croteaux Vineyard- which specializes in producing only rosé, or Jamesport Vineyards- one of the region's oldest vineyards.
The Lone Star State is the fifth-largest wine producer in the U.S., and most of its wineries are located in the beautiful and breathtaking Texas Hill Country. Just an hour and a half west from the Live Music Capital of the World, Fredricksburg holds the majority of Texas wineries, with over 100 to choose from to visit. Becker Vineyards is one of Fredricksburg's oldest wineries, and Barons Creek offers award-winning red wines. But in true city of Austin fashion, Fat Ass Ranch and Winery sets itself apart by growing Tempranillo grapes and offering unique, experimental food and wine pairings.
Right beneath California, Washington State is second in the nation in terms of wine production. Walla Walla has over 100 wineries that produce a range of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, and was voted the "Best Wine Region" by USA Today's 10Best. L'Ecole No. 41, formerly a schoolhouse, is a must visit their white wines just as much as their reds, and Woodward Canyon Winery is one of the state's founding wineries- known for their Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends.
Although popular for award-winning Pinot Noirs, Willamette Valley also offers incredible Chardonnays, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc wines. The region is flourishing with wineries, featuring around 600 to choose from to visit. It's also located along the same latitude as the city of Bordeaux in France, who is also famous for its Pinot Noir. Check out Brooks Winery- named one of the top 100 wineries by Wine and Spirits Magazine in 2019, or Alloro Vineyard- who produces 100% estate-grown Pinot Noir.
Known as the "Heart of Georgia Wine Country," Dahlonega is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Offering the most incredible mountain views and award-winning wines, the region is smaller, homing 12 wine tasting rooms and eight wineries. Head to Dahlonega Resort and Vineyard for their signature glass of Twisted wine while intaking the magnificent views and other relaxing spa amenities. Or check out the family-owned Accent Cellars for their craft wines.
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The Most Underrated Wine Regions in the US
Why visit an underrated wine region? Ken Lineberger, CEO and president of Waters Edge Wineries in Cucamonga, California, shared with us why wine lovers should consider visiting lesser-known wine areas. "These regions harken back to the romance of wine tasting," he says. "In the most popular regions, large corporations have bought most of the wineries and they are managed as an investment. The wineries in these alternate areas still feature the owner's family members pouring the wine, talking about the terroir and the rich history of the locale."
Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco is Paso Robles, one of California's newer wine regions. Although it's up and coming, the region has been producing wine since 1886 and has over 200 wineries. Lineberger considers this region to be underrated and highlighted what makes it note-worthy, saying, "The Paso Robles area is on the central coast of California and offers warm temperatures to excel at making Cabs, GSM's, and Viognier. This region is the closest to the way Napa looked 40 years ago - many farm wineries still owned and managed by local families."
Calcareous Vineyard has glass-walled tasting rooms and is known to have excellent Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sculpterra Winery is best known for Pinot Noir and has a gorgeous sculpture park to walk through.
Just 45 minutes north of San Diego lies the scenic Temecula. The area boasts a diverse range of varietals, from Italian to Rhone but is often overshadowed by the bigger cities that make up Southern California. But Lineberger elaborates on what makes this growing region special, saying, "The winemakers in this area have matured over the last decade, and they are producing spectacular wines at many wineries now. The region has exploded with dozens of wineries that have been added each year over the past decade."
Check out Baily Vineyard & Winery or Doffo Wines- named 2018 Winery of the Year by the Temecula Valley Xenia Hospitality Awards- which are a couple of the best wineries in Temecula Valley
In Charlottesville, Monticello has some major history when it comes to wine, dating back to the 1770s when Thomas Jefferson attempted making wine at the Monticello estate which is now the center of Central Virginia's Monticello American Viticultural Area. Known for Viognier, the region is made for white wine enthusiasts and history fanatics alike. Barboursville Vineyards was constructed by Jefferson for his friend, Virginia's Governor James Barbour, and shortly after assimilated with the viticultural traditions of the Zonin family, creating the winery's distinct work through eight generations.
Old Mission Peninsula
Although known as the "Napa of the Midwest," the Lake Michigan Shore region is often overlooked, despite having over 100 wineries. Old Mission Peninsula has 19,200 acres of vineyards that grow mostly vinifera grapes, producing Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, and offers some of the best upcoming wineries. The area is also known for good cool-climate wines. Ciccone Vineyard and Winery is actually owned by Madonna's father, and Left Foot Charley is gaining popularity for its Riesling and Pinot Blanc.
Snake River Valley is a small wine region that gets overshadowed by its neighboring state Oregon's massive wine regions. Made of 15 wineries and 46 vineyards, the area is best known for Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Telaya Wine Co. sits on Boise River and is known for its Syrah-based blends, and Cinder Winery is known for its Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, and rosé.
Interestingly, the Midwest is made for white wine enthusiasts, as Iowa struggles to make red wine. But the state is home to 200 commercial vineyards and seven wineries, and is known to grow high-quality grapes. Many wouldn't think of Iowa initially when considering popular wine regions in the U.S., but places such as the award-winning Snus Hill Winery and the Penoach Vineyard and Winery are popular to visit for wine lovers who happen to visit the state. Both are small and family-owned, presenting a peaceful, rural atmosphere.
In the small state of Ohio, there are actually 208 wineries across the state. Winemaking is traced back to the early 1820s, and during the mid 1860s, Ohio was actually homed one of the most popular wine industries in the country. Known for the Catawba grape, the state thrived in wine until the Prohibition Era, from which it never recovered. But while it may not be as popular as in wine as it used to be, Ohio still has some note-worthy wineries such as Markko Vineyards.
What are your favorite wine regions to visit? Share your experience with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
READ MORE: Oregon Wine Country: Mapping the Beaver State's Wine Tasting
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