North America

Grape growing

  • Wine regions in the U.S. are usually classified according to a system developed at the University of California at Davis known as the Degree Day System. This is a system that compares the sum of the average number of degrees each day above 50ºF between April 1 and October 31 each year.

    Region with less than 2500 degree days are classified as Region I. These tend to be coastal regions where Pinot Noir and white wines are most successful, equivalent to a range between the Mosel in Germany and Burgundy.

    Vineyards classified between 2500–3000 degree days are classified as Region II, and are also often cooler areas close to the coast, roughly equivalent to the climate of Bordeaux at the low end and Piemonte at the high end.

    Vineyards classified as 3000–3500 degree days are warmer Region III, and tend to produce Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and dessert wines, roughly equivalent to Southern France or Central Italy, while those between 3500–4000 degree days are Region IV, and used mostly for fortified wines or lower quality table wines.

    Those classified above 4000 degree days are Region V, and tend to come from the hottest part of the Central Valley.

    The United States is a country with a relatively short wine producing history, and this has both positive and negative influences on the quality of the wine. Many of the vineyards are very recent, and have been planted using the best of modern grape growing technique in terms of canopy management and pruning and trellising systems, such as cordon training and vertical shoot positioning to maximize the amount of light reaching the canopy. In addition, growers are free to make use of techniques such as drip irrigation that have the potential to improve quality.

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  • Today's vineyards are being planted on with virus-free clones on the rootstock most closely adapted to the site. This was not always the case and for many years growers planted on AXR1 on the advice of viticulturalists from UC Davis. This rootstock was insufficiently resistant to phylloxera which led to widespread devastation of California vineyards in the mid 1990s, necessitating widespread replanting.

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  • Cover crops are now often planted between rows to help limit vigor, and more growers are following the example of Dr. Newton and reducing chemical inputs into the vineyard in favor or integrated pest management.
    This entails the use of techniques such as employing predator insects against pests instead of synthetic pesticides. These techniques will take on increasing importance in the U.S. as new pests, such as the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which spreads Pierce's Disease, and the vine mealy bug make more serious inroads into the region's vineyards.

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  • With few restrictions on what grapes can be planted, a wide variety of grapes are grown in the United States, some for qualitative reasons and others because they are high yielding or easy to grow. Among white varieties, it will surprise few people that more tons of Chardonnay were crushed in 2010 than any other, well over 600,000 tons. More would be surprised to learn that French Colombard, with over 300,000 tons, is the second largest, and that the top five is rounded out by Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Burger, in that order. The top five black grapes in terms of the amount crushed in 2010 were Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Rubired, and Syrah.

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  • Sparkling wine has been produced in California since the middle of the 19th century. Inexpensive wines dominate the market, and most are made in California by the Charmat, transfer or carbonation methods. Many different grapes are used to produce these wines, including Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris and Folle Blanche among others. A surprising amount is made from Burger, a grape variety grown in the Central Valley that produces wine of little character.

    Because of the aging process, traditional method sparkling wine is much more expensive to produce than still wine. Pricing is thus a challenge for domestic sparkling wine producers, since they are seldom able to command the same premium as producers of Champagne, even though their costs are close to the same. Quality traditional method sparkling wine is now made at several locations throughout the state. Many believe that the finest areas are the state's coolest and Carneros has long been considered a prime location.

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