"New Jersey was a revelation." Linda Murphy is talking about wine. American Wine to be exact, which is the name of the book she has just co-authored with Jancis Robinson, a Master of Wine and leading authority on all things grape related around the world. Linda is a well-respected wine writer and was most recently the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and now writes for Decanter and is the west coast editor for Jancis' website JancisRobinson.com.
In the months and years leading up to publishing of American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States, Linda did most of what Jancis calls "the heavy lifting." She traveled across the country, seeking out unfamiliar varietals in states not known for making quality wine, in what Linda and Jancis have come to call "the other 47." These are the states where wine is being made outside of the big three, California, Oregon and Washington. Wine is now made in all 50 states (yes, even in Alaska where they make fruit wine and also buys grape juice from other states) and there are now more than 7,000 wineries across America.
Jancis Robinson has had her eye on us for quite some time. On the American wine scene that is. Based in London, she's been traveling to the states since 1976 and over the years has seen many changes. She says, "I recently became aware that the quality of wine outside of the big three was actually improving at really quite a dramatic rate." About the same time, the United States became the number one market for wine globally. "I thought wouldn't it be great to have a book that celebrates American wine."
American Wine is a comprehensive overview of wine grape growing and winemaking across the country. Besides facts and figures, you'll also find the history of wine in America, which dates back to the 1500's and stories behind the label of winery pioneers and modern trailblazers. "I write from passion," says Linda, "to tell stories when I find someone doing something different, who is really pushing the envelope, doing something with charity, whatever it might be. I want to tell those stories."
Getting back to New Jersey, Linda was a judge at the 2012 "Judgement of Princeton," a reenactment of sorts of the famed "Judgement of Paris" in 1976 when California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon beat the French Bordeaux and Burgundy.
She was told "keep in mind we have 50 wineries here ten of them are making really good wine." Linda says while the New Jersey wines did not win versus the French wines, they showed well. Three of the top four whites came from NJ, and the best NJ red came in third.
"I was surprised when I went to southern New Mexico and met the Gruet family, who came from Champagne and planted vines," says Jancis. Gruet Winery makes what I think is one of the best sparkling wines in America, and Jancis seems to agree. "They make a very good version of French Champagne at a fraction of the price." You can find it for about $15 a bottle.
"One of my favorite states that was a bit of a discovery is Michigan," says Linda. "There's a lovely city called Traverse City, it's in the northwest part of the state with Lake Michigan surrounding it, with the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula. That's where the amazing Rieslings are grown." Jancis says "who knew that Michigan was producing good Alsatian varietals?" which also include Gewürztraminer and Pinot Blanc.
You might not think of Nebraska when it comes to award winning wine, but Linda does. "We had Brianna at the U.S National Wine Competition in 2012, a Nebraska Brianna and it won Best of Show White." She says "it was stunningly good." That wine was made by Miletta Vista Winery, which suffered a devastating fire in June 2012 and is currently rebuilding.
Urban wineries in places like Oakland, San Francisco, New York and more are not only a new, but uniquely American phenomenon, according to Jancis. "It's all about making wine more familiar. Instead of going to bars you got to the winery, see how the wine is made have a chance to blend your own wine," she says. "Wine is being brought to us now which is great."
As Jancis has been traveling on her book tour, she says of this US trip, "what I've been seeing this time around is far more different grape varieties and even producers, I mean they're just mushrooming aren't they?" She's even discovering newly established wine growing regions, such as the Inwood Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) in northern California. "I need to tell my colleagues, we're all working on the 7th edition of the World Atlas of Wine, not sure we've mentioned Inwood Valley."
After trying so many wines from every state and nook and cranny across America, what do these women want in their wine glasses now? Linda would like to have a Riesling from both Michigan and the New York Finger Lakes region to compare, or a red wine from Virginia. Jancis would like a glass of RdV Vineyards "Rendevous," a red Bordeaux-style blend from Virginia. "It is $75 a bottle but the wine is head and shoulders above most wines being made in Virginia."