Over the past 40 years, east coast wine producers have looked to California for cues on how wine ought to be done here. This, of course, turned out to be a tragic mistake because the Mid-Atlantic climate has much more in common with France than it has with California. In fact, I think it’s taken us a few extra decades to find our way because we’ve looked to California instead of France.
I submit that if America were a French colony, world class wines would have been made on the east coast for the better part of the last century.
The good news though is that many east coast producers are really beginning to understand our climate and soils. This understanding decides what grape varieties to plant where and how to farm. The industry is booming as a result. The improvements in quality and investment over the past decade are seismic.
I would even go so far as to say that I believe that the east coast will play a major role in the future of American wine. Why?
Today, California produces 90% of American wine. But farming in California is becoming increasingly difficult because there is a very real water crisis.
In John Steinbeck’s timeless novel, The Grapes of Wrath, farmers flee Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to California in search of good farmland. Climate projections have caused some cynical farmers to consider, albeit frightfully, a reverse scenario.
California is the past and the present of American wine, but it can’t be solely responsible for the future. At least not to the degree that it has been. Water is kind of a big deal.
But don’t get me wrong. California is home to innumerable iconic wines. Wines that I love. My premise isn’t qualitative or hostile; it’s just that it ultimately comes down to two main factors: water and money.
So what now? Many farmers are moving operations to the Pacific Northwest. And all the while the east coast is over here, booming. New York now has 320 wineries, Virginia 250, and Pennsylvania 180.
So yes, I believe that the east coast will play an increased role in the future of American wine.
Maryland, specifically, is wildly undervalued. In the year 2000 there were 15 wineries in the state, today there are 85 and counting. I think Maryland has some of the most interesting soils in the mid-Atlantic. Not everywhere, but in specific places. And soil is pretty much everything. That's why forward thinking winegrowers are seeking out the best vineyard sites.
Yet, we have our own challenges. It's not a lack of good vineyard sites, or the ability to grow grapes fit for remarkable wines. It’s that not enough people are committed to doing it – and doing it right. And by that I mean that there's a shortage of planted acreage and, as a direct result, so much wine being made from fruit grown elsewhere.
Thankfully, there is a band of producers in Maryland making a compelling case that truly unique and world-class wines are made in Maryland.
My point: The East Coast is the future and there are good reasons to get behind Maryland wine.