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3 of the Best Emerging American Wine Regions

Don’t overlook wine tasting in Michigan, Maryland, and Idaho

Janice Williams By June 30, 2022
Workers at Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland.
Workers at Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Christine Cruz Richardson.

Hollywood, Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday, McDonald’s, and the Grand Canyon are just a few staples of American culture. But the U.S. is home to more than just sweeping rocky vistas, diehard sports fans, fast food, celebrities, and elaborate turkey dinners. The country is home to world-class wine production, too. 

And not just from the places everybody expects.

While California is the largest and most recognized state wine-producing state, wine is now being made in all 50 states — and Michigan, Maryland, and Idaho, in particular, are worth some attention. 

All about Michigan wine

Michigan, home of the Great Lakes, lies smack between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan along the Canadian border. While most people know the midwest state for its auto and cherry industries, that will change once its wines are better known.

Wine tourism has become a top industry in Michigan,” says John Braganini, president of the family-owned St. Julian Winery. Dating back to the 1920s, it’s one of Michigan’s oldest wineries. “Most of the wineries are small family-owned businesses, but they’re all over the place, and they’ve really helped push the state’s wine industry forward.”

Quick Michigan facts

  • French explorers first found wild grape vines along the Detroit River in 1679
  • Michigan is often tied with New York as the fourth largest wine-producing state in the U.S.
  • There are more than 13,000 acres of grape vineyards in Michigan, though only 3,050 are dedicated to wine 
  • More than 150 commercial wineries are registered in the state

Michigan wine regions

There are five American Viticultural Areas in Michigan. In the northwest lies the Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula, and Tip of the Mitt, the newest Michigan AVA. Meanwhile, wine is made in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA and Fennville AVA in the southwest.

Michigan's top wine grapes

Although more than 50 grape varieties are grown in Michigan, grapes that thrive in cool climates work best; with its cold springs and warm fall weather, the state’s grapes benefit from a longer growing season. They are used for both still and sparkling wines.

“Our wines tend to be more fruit-forward. They’re lighter in alcohol. They’re higher in acid, and they’re typically easier to drink. The style of wine is on the dry side, and a lot of the wine made in Michigan is more like Northern Italy wines and other wine areas around the world that have less harsh climates but lower temperatures,” says Braganini. 

Grapes that are widely grown include Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, and Gamay, although lesser-known varieties are appearing.

“There’s a lot of Grüner Veltliner being planted in Michigan, as well as Albariño and Pinot Noir. A lot of Pinot Noir is used to make some pretty fantastic sparkling wine and rosé,” says Taylor Simpson, co-owner of Aurora Cellars and Good Harbor Vineyards.

Emily Dockery, executive director of the Michigan Wine Collaborative, advises drinkers to keep their eyes out for Pinot Blanc and Blaufränkisch. 

“I think both of these grapes flourish in Michigan. Our winemakers have become skilled in allowing the fruit to speak for itself and letting our vineyards shine in the bottle,” she says.

Michigan wines to try:

bottle of Aurora Cellars Winery Vineyard Leelanau Peninsula Dry Riesling

Aurora Cellars Leelanau Peninsula Dry Riesling 2020 (~$24)

Siblings Sam and Taylor Simpson are at the helm of Aurora Cellars, a winery in Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. This Riesling displays intense peach aromas, while the palate is complex with rich stone fruit character, crisp acidity, and a refreshing long finish.

bottle of Braganini Michigan Meritage Reserve Red

St. Julian Winery Braganini Meritage Reserve 2017 (~$40)

Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are blended together to create this complex and structured medium-bodied red wine by St. Julian Winery. Ripe aromas of black berries are plentiful, and the palate is coated in cherry cola flavors supported by spice, oak, and espresso notes. The wine is silky with round tannins and a long finish carried by fine acidity.

All about Maryland wine

It’s not all about crab cakes and the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, a budding wine region on the East Coast of the U.S. Maryland’s wine industry has seen an explosion of growth within the last two decades.

“There were only about 50 wineries in the state when I started doing tours in 2013,” says Leslie Frelow, founder of the Maryland-based wine tour and concierge service, Vino 310. “The state has incentivized growers to take up grape growing. And many winemakers are exploring the different microclimates and experimenting with the different grape varieties that are attracting more attention than traditional vinifera.”

Quick Maryland facts

  • The first mention of Maryland-made wine was recorded in 1648
  • Philip M. Wagner first popularized French-American hybrid varieties that could thrive in Maryland in the 1940s
  • There are more than 1,000 acres of wine grapes planted in Maryland
  • More than 100 commercial wineries are registered in the state

Maryland wine regions

Most of Maryland’s wine production is located in two main areas — in the center of the northwest area of the state, in the Piedmont Plateau, and in the eastern region of Maryland, within the hillside valleys around the Chesapeake Bay. It is there where Maryland’s three AVAs are found, including Linganore, Catoctin, and Cumberland Valley. 

“We have three different climate zones in a tiny little state and three different soil zones. The east is warm and flat with sandy soils. Western Maryland is mountainous. And then there’s the Piedmont, where we are in the middle, which is hilly and a little cooler than some of the other places but warm enough to grow a range of grapes,” says Ed Boyce, winemaker and owner of Black Ankle Vineyards.

Maryland’s top wine grapes

Only a handful of classic V. vinifera wine grape varieties grow in Maryland, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese. 

“There are only about 10 red varieties we can grow well out here, and they make some pretty great blends. The Bordeaux varieties are some of the best wines we make in Maryland,” says Boyce.

Wines made with hybrid grapes like Serval Blanc, Chambourcin, and Vidal Blanc are also popular with drinkers. 

Maryland wines to try:

bottle of Robin Hill Farm Vineyards Maryland Rooted Chenin Blanc

Robin Hill Farm & Vineyards Rooted Maryland Chenin Blanc (~$24)

For much of the mid to late 1900s, Robin Hills Farm & Vineyard focused on tree, shrub, and commercial hog farming. In 2012, the property moved to grape growing and winemaking. This Chenin Blanc is just one of the varieties Robin Hills produces. The wine is light and off-dry, exuding fragrances of green apple and nectarine that evolve onto the palate along with a hint of sweetness.

bottle of Black Ankle Vineyards Viento Frederick County Red

Black Ankle Vineyards Viento Frederick County Red 2020 (~$45)

This medium-bodied blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, produced by Black Ankle Vineyards, is rich with dark fruit flavor. The wine is bursting with intense aromas of black cherry, plum, and vanilla, while the dry palate displays notes of black pepper and tobacco. Chewy tannins emerge, while a line of fresh acidity keeps the wine balanced through the elegant finish.

All about Idaho

Potatoes may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Idaho. But believe it or not, the Pacific Northwest state has been making a name for itself for wines that offer concentrated flavors and naturally high acidity.

Quick Idaho facts

  • The first wine grapes were planted in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1864
  • There are more than 1,300 acres of wine grapes grown in Idaho 
  • There are 69 registered commercial wineries throughout the state

Idaho wine regions

Idaho’s first AVA, Snake River Valley, was established in 2007, and it’s where most wines are produced. It stretches across about 8,000 square miles in the state’s southwest region along its namesake river. The area is also home to two subregions, Eagle Foothills and Lewis-Clark Valley, which were established in 2015 and 2016, respectively. 

Idaho's top wine grapes

Idaho has a continental climate of hot days and long cool nights through the growing season. 

For a long time, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir were the main varieties, But as temperatures have warmed due to climate change, other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Malbec have found a place, along with popular Rhône varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Roussanne.

“Because we’re a burgeoning industry, we’re still in a phase of choose-your-own-adventure,” Moya Shatz Dolsby, Executive Director at Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission, told SevenFiftyDaily in a 2018 interview. “We’re not ready to hang our hat on just one thing, and quite honestly, that’s what makes it so attractive to the growing number of people coming here to make wine.”

Idaho wines to try:

bottle of Sawtooth Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon Snake River Valley

Sawtooth Winery Old Vine Snake River Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (~$18)

Sawtooth Winery produces this fruit forward and spicy Cabernet Sauvignon in the heart of the Snake River Valley. The wine is rich with wild berry aromas. Complex flavors of plum, violets, and oak come alive on the palate, which is integrated with fresh acidity and smooth tannins. The finish lingers.

bottle of Ste. Chapelle Snake Rivery Valley Idaho Panoramic Redfish Lake Syrah

Ste Chapelle Panoramic Redfish Lake Syrah 2020 (~$35)

Ste Chappelle has produced wines in the Snake River Valley since 1975, long before the region reached AVA status. This medium-bodied Syrah is a concentrated melody of fruit and spice. The bottle opens with fragrances of black cherry and dried herbs while an orchestra of plum, leather, and toasted spice come into play on the palate. The long and lingering finish rounds out with clean acidity and fine tannins.