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Bottling Sunshine - America’s Wine Season is Underway

This is harvest season in the United States. Giant threshers are cutting broad swaths through golden fields of Midwestern grain. Orchards from New England in the northeast to the Pacific Northwest are filling baskets with apples which, in turn, are filling trucks and trains. And, vineyards from the Florida Panhandle to Alaska’s Kodiak Island are turning mountains of grapes into vats of wine.

Florida? Alaska? It may come as a surprise to many to learn that all 50 American states have wineries. California, with nearly 3,000 has the most by far but, from Maine (10) to Hawaii (three), there is no state that doesn’t have at least a few. Even Alaska, which lies partially within the Arctic Circle, has three wineries, presumably producing chardonnay, which is best served chilled.

“Ah, but,” the connoisseur asks, “how good are these wines from places like Kansas and Alabama?” The question might be better phrased, “How good do they have to be to be?” In the words of Bar Harbor Cellars on the Atlantic coast of Maine, “Our aim is to allow people of all taste persuasions to enjoy a simple glass of wine without pretense.”

The Old South Winery in Nachez, Mississippi isn’t in the least pretentious, nor is its advertising for a rosé it calls Bayou Blush. “Great with turkey, boiled shrimp, roast pork or watching a good movie,” reads their ad. How many Rothschild vintages claim to be good for watching TV?

If sipping while watching sounds a little tame, how about sipping while attending the annual steak fry at Domaine Berrien Cellars in Berrien Springs, Michigan? They brag their Wolf’s Prairie Red has “been known to make us howl.”

Johann Strauss, Jr., dedicated a waltz to Wine, Women and Song, and music continues to be a companion to a glass of wine whether it’s Celtic folk songs at the McLaughlin Vineyards in Sandy Hook, Connecticut or country music and dancing at the Coronado Vineyards in Willcox, Arizona. For those seeking a more dramatic moment to go with their cabernet, there’s a bit of murder and mayhem on the wine list at the Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown, New Hampshire and at the Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania. Drama and a dram, as it were.

California produces 90% of all the wine consumed in the United States followed by Washington State and New York. Though third, New York’s 120 wineries include the oldest vineyards in the United States dating back to 1677 when French Huguenots planted the first vines at New Paltz in the Hudson River Valley. Farther north, some of the sunniest hillsides in the picturesque Finger Lakes region have vineyards draped across their slopes.

Of course, while most people probably think of grapes when they think of the origins of wine, in point of fact, the dictionary says the fermented juice of any fruit or plant qualifies. At the Blueberry Sky Farm Winery in Ripley, New York, elderberries and blackberries, as well as blueberries, are used, as are dandelions, proving that even a common lawn weed can rise to a certain pedigree.

At the Windswept Winery in Udall, Kansas, apples are the fruit of choice, while at the Schnebly Redland’s Winery in Homestead, Florida, wines are made from carambola, or star fruit, avocados, guavas, mangos and passion fruit. Perhaps that’s the passion Shakespeare had in mind when he referred to “the fruit of love” in Twelfth Night.

And, for those who have ever been intimidated by a sommelier, the Montaluce Estate winery in Dahlonega, Georgia operates a Wine University. Graduation day naturally includes a toast or two.