Under-the-Radar North American Wine Countries

wolffer estate.jpg

For more than 10,000 years, wine has been produced around the globe for sacrament, celebration and refreshment. In the Northern Hemisphere, harvest season -- often referred to as crush -- takes place in the autumn and attracts crowds of connoisseurs to famed wine growing regions but most welcome visitors for tastings year-round. In recent years, Napa and Long Island reported wine shortages, making it an ideal time to check out some of my favorite under-the-radar wine regions throughout North America.

Lake Michigan: The Old Mission Peninsula shares the 45th parallel with other wine growing heavyweights such Bordeaux and Burgundy. Lake Michigan’s 600-foot deep waters protect the region’s seven wineries from all sides with cool springs and delayed freezes. The elongated ripening season and rich soil produce crisp white wines of all varieties. The wineries host harvest celebrations beginning in October and stretching into winter for the area’s specialty ice wines.

Upstate New York: With more than 100 wineries and vineyards, the Finger Lakes are New York’s largest wine producing region. Lush vineyards line the lakeshores, protected from spring frosts by relatively warm winters and cold springs. Wineries started popping up after the Farm Winery Act of 1976, creating an influx of tourism and job opportunities in Upstate New York. Visitors from all over the world come back for Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Vitis labrusca (American native) wines.

New MexicoWineries have dotted New Mexico’s landscape since Franciscan monks began planting grapes along the Rio Grande in 1629. The Catholic Church kept many of these vineyards in business during Prohibition, turning the harvests into sacramental wine. A government-sponsored study in the 1970s gave the region a makeover by encouraging the development of hybrid French varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin blanc.

Southern CaliforniaOften overshadowed by the nation’s most famous wine country, California winemaking debuted 500 hundred miles south of Napa Valley at Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1783. Nearby Temecula Valley combines plenty of sunshine, low annual rainfall and mid-morning mists in an early growing season to produce high quality grapes for Pinot Gris, Syrah and other blends traditionally found on Mediterranean vineyards.

British Columbia: Western Canada's plethora of fresh water lakes and cool climate produce high-quality grapes, earning the region the nickname "Napa of the North." Take in views of the glacier-formed Okanagan Lake from among the grapevines which have replaced cherry orchards and nut farms as the area's grape-growing popularity increases.