NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Partaking in a winery "flight" has become extraordinarily popular in recent years as part of fall weekend getaways and day trips for Americans. You don't have to be an oenophile -- the official term for a wine enthusiast -- to sniff out the ingredients to a successful day off among the vineyards: Rent a bike, grab a vineyard map from the local chamber of commerce, and set off for an afternoon's adventure including a a fine-dining lunch at one of the vineyards and varieties of wine -- ranging from blackberry to cherry to pear -- that you may never have expected to be growing on vines so close to your beer-centric home.
With the U.S. wine industry's vines spreading all across the 50 states, we're well past the days when sampling a flight required a flight to California.
According to Cary Greene, chief operating officer of Wine America, The National Association of American Wineries, a trade and lobbying organization for the industry, there has been a dynamic growth in the number of wineries since 1980, when the country only had between 600 and 700 wineries, to more than 8,000 today.
North Dakota may be best known these days for its growing oil and gas drilling industry in the Bakken shale -- the primary reason for the state's low unemployment -- but less know is that its land is fertile in other ways: North Dakota became the 50th state to open a winery in 2003, which means that no matter where you live, distance is no longer an excuse for not visiting at least one winery.
“Every state is producing great, unique wines,” Greene says.
We’ve put together a list of the top producing wine states, according to federal statistics. These are the states producing wine for consumption and does not include the states bottling, but not producing, wine. And to do away with the obvious, of course Calfornia is No. 1 and its northern neighbors of Oregon and Washington aren't far behind, but you'd be surprised by some of the states that are stomping grapes these days.
Hoosiers not only know their sports, they can produce some pretty good wines. Indiana produced 1,122,617 gallons of wine in 2011 and it has 40 wineries making Vignoles -- sweet and often served as dessert wine (one of Indiana’s wines just won in this category at the Indy International Wine Competition), as well as good sparkling wines.
Norton is the state grape of Missouri and has been in use since the 1840s. If you’re looking for a unique wine, Missouri may be the place to visit. It has a long history of being one of the top producing wine states and produced 1,163,179 gallons of wine in 2011. There are 86 wineries in the state, according to Wine America, making for a worthwhile destination for locals and nationwide wine enthusiasts.
8. North Carolina
Tobacco road is apparently also on the grapevine. North Carolina has always been a popular vacation place from the Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic coast and Cape Hatteras, and wine is one more reason to plan a trip to the state. There are three major viticultural areas: Yadkin Valley, Swan Creek and Haw River Valley, and with 74 wineries throughout the state making 1,381,370 gallons, there's a lot of variety.
If you're a Madonna fan, the closest you may ever get to the diva is her dad or sister serving you a glass of wine at the family vineyard. Michigan is the place. Sure it's cold, but that hasn't stopped Michigan, even in the colder areas of Michigan, from becoming a growing destination for classic European and heartier varieties of grapes. The region is well-known for its Rieslings and sparkling varieties of wine. There are 112 wineries producing 1,540,149 gallons in the state, and the area around Traverse City (where Madonna's dad is preaching the benefits of good wine) is well recognized for its wine making.
Ohio has a bit of a "jack of all grapes" complex when it comes to its wine industry. “This is a place that really hasn’t settled on one particular grape, but there are some great wines,” says Greene. One of the wines the state is known for is the Bordeaux, which can be found at a number of the state’s 108 wineries. Ohio produced 1,568,378 gallons of wine in 2011.
Kentucky might be better known for its bourbon, but the state also produced 2,196,055 gallons of wine in 2011. Kentucky has a wide variety of grapes and wines and the state’s wine association claims to satisfy both the knowledgeable wine drinker and the occasional-glass-of-wine-with-dinner types. The state has 44 wineries.
Oregon's variety of climaites, from its cooler, wet regions in the center and near the coast, to its dryer southern stretches are great for producing a wide range of bottles, including Pinot Gris, Merlot and Pinot Noir. The state’s 295 wineries produced 5,479,553 gallons in 2011.
One of the top wine producing states for years, Washington is still a younger wine region than California. “Racier,” is how Washington wines are typically described compared to the U.S. wine industry's standard bearing state. Finding good Merlots and Petite Sirah wines is a good bet in Washington, but just about any variety can be found at the state’s 451 wineries, which produced a whopping 24,656,796 gallons last year.
2. New York
You have to head upstate around the Finger Lakes region to find where a lot of New York’s white wine is being produced, though the North Fork of Long Island within an hour and a half of New York City is spreading its vines too. The Finger Lakes area is known for its Riesling, fine sparkling and Gewurztraminer wines, while the Long Island region is better known for its Bordeaux and Petite Verdot. While Washington may be better known for its vineyards, New York eclipsed Washington in 2011 production, with 25,183,355 gallons barrelled by the state’s 239 wineries.
No surprise here. Wine has been California’s sustaining gold rush. The state is known for its vast diversity, from Old World Italian and French grape classics to everything in between. The state has been growing grapes and producing wine for over 100 years and no other state comes close. Consider the state has 2,025 wineries that produced 605,619,613 gallons of wine in 2011, compared to New York State in No. 2 position with a "mere" 25 million gallon pour.
--By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
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