East Coast vs. West Coast: A Wine Rivalry

Many people may think that East Coast vs. West Coast rivalries are reserved for hip hop music or sports teams, but the argument of which coast has the best wine has been a point of contention for many. Fueled by the musings of connoisseurs, viticulturalists and ampelographers whose assertions on the quality of wines rely on factors like climate, grape species, hybrids, and crossings, initially you might have the impression that the American east vs west coast wine feud is only between the wine-making industries in the midst of an intensely highfalutin’ rivalry, but many others like bloggers, wine enthusiasts and every day wine drinkers are getting in on the discussion/argument.

Some commentators are quick to assure us that there simply is no room for argument, and certainly no such a granular issue as the soil composition factor. To wit, blogger John Troutman writes in an post for corkd.com that, “To date, there’s simply no argument; the eastern states have proven inferior in the grape growing game.”[1]

Others are quick to disagree of course, like Lindsay Pomeroy, writing for vinvillage.com, who points out that not only does the American wine-making industry owe its origins to east coast vineyards, but that in fact the east coast has the ability to “grow a larger range of grape species in general.”[2]

If you look at it by the numbers, since roughly the mid-1800’s the west coast has had the largest number of wineries -- California alone has 900![4] -- and, consequently, leads the nation in wine production by volume.

Owing to traditional reverence by the Europeans, the Vitis Vinifera family of grape varieties are the long-held favorite of west coast winemakers and are the base of most of your more typical premium wines; Cabernets, Chardonnays, Merlots, Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs, etc.

On the east coast, however, in New York State alone there are three different species altogether (Vitis Labrusca, Rotundifolia, and Riparia) that are equally versatile and have given rise to some of the world’s more unique and celebrated flavors, such as the “foxy” Catawba, the Concord reds, and the increasingly popular icewines of the Niagra variety.

It’s also worth mentioning that while it is true the harsher climate of the American northeast complicates the growth of the Vinifera varieties, thanks to recent innovations in growing techniques it is not impossible to find them in production on the east coast as well -- increasingly so in fact.

However long it remains true that the west coast leads the nation in wine production by volume, what is also true is that the east coast is catching up, just look at the high marks received at The Long Beach Grand Cru where NY wines took 10 best-of-class, 26 gold, 55 silver and 24 bronze medals[4]. East coast wine lacks nothing by way of comparison in quality vs. West coast wines, and some would argue that west coast varieties lack the “distinctiveness” that makes east coast wines so special.

The value in the quality and variety of east coast wines is clear. New York’s own Finger Lakes region alone boasts some 96 of New York’s 231 wineries[5], and produces some of the world’s most celebrated wines, ranging in price from under $10 to upwards of $50 depending on vintage, etc.

So in the end, taste is subjective. But value doesn’t have to be. As New Englanders are fond of saying, "buy local!"

[1]Jon Troutman, “Wine Wars: East Coast vs. West Coast,” cork’d,Oct. 18, 2010 (http://content.corkd.com/2010/10/18/).
[2] Lindsay Pomeroy, “East Coast vs. West Coast Wines,” VinVillage,Dec. 31, 2007 (http://vinvillage.com/vin-de-cru/East-Coast-vs-West-Coast-Wines).
[3] Source: USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/graphics/life/gra/uswine/flash.htm).
[4] Bill Down, “10 NY wines best-of-class in California competition” Drinkingny.wordpress.com, July, 7th, 2012 (http://drinkingny.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/10-ny-wines-best-of-class-in-california-competition/).
[5] Howard G. Goldberg, “Finger Lakes Wines,” New York Times,Feb. 15, 2008 (http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/w/wines/finger_lakes/index.html).

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