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Berger: Good wines made across the continent


A few years ago, the editor of a national magazine based in Washington, D.C., asked if I could write a monthly wine column for him.

We chatted about the idea, and during the conversation I said that among the topics I found fascinating about wine was the many places in the United States where fine wines were being produced.

He asked for an example, and I said that right in his own backyard, Virginia was making some stellar wines.

"Virginia!?" he said, nearly gagging. "Virginia makes (terrible wine)!" His actual phrase was much less polite.

I asked when he had last tasted a Virginia wine. He said about 15 years earlier. Well, I said, times have changed and many wineries in Virginia today are making stellar, world-class wines.

We never agreed on a way for me to write a wine column for his magazine, and I was convinced he believed I was an idiot for thinking that Virginia was really making fine wine.

It's not surprising in light of the fact that some of the best wines made in the United States today are even disparaged in their own hometowns.

Yet I have seen wines from all over North America come of age in the 35-plus years I have written about wine. Today there are terrific wines being made in places some people didn't even know had wineries. Here are just a few.

New York: Most wine lovers now know of this state's great rieslings, notably from the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. But recently we have seen a leap forward by red wines as well as a number of others, such as sparkling and dessert wines.

Pennsylvania: A handful of upscale wineries, headed by Chaddsford in the Brandywine Valley and Galen Glen in the Lehigh Valley, are making splendid wines.

Michigan: Statewide, a vibrant wine industry is making great strides. The leaders are in the north, such as Left Foot Charley, Chateau Grand Traverse, Black Star Farms, Brys Estate and Bel Lago. Although riesling once was Michigan's calling card, today the state is developing a wide range of excellent wines.

Minnesota: The state is so cold in winter that it has had to develop grape hybrid varieties that survive below-freezing winter temperatures. Today, mainly using what are called the Minnesota grape varieties, Minnesota's wine industry is growing rapidly and many of its wines are delicious.

British Columbia: Perhaps the most vibrant non-mainstream wine region in North America is this phenomenal area. White wines dominate this region, but we have seen great strides with reds of late. British Columbia makes some of the world's finest yet unknown wines.

And this is but a smattering. Colorado, New Mexico, Missouri, Texas, Ohio and even Georgia and South Dakota are making some spectacular wines.

The problem is that very few of these wines will ever be seen outside their own areas.

America's wine-shipping laws today look like a bowl of spaghetti, and it's virtually impossible to get any of these wines without visiting the places where they are grown.

Until these laws can be resolved to benefit the consumer, we may well be saddled with beliefs similar to that Washington magazine editor.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.