It’s true. Wine is made in all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. Wine is even made in the District of Columbia if you count the growing trend of urban wineries. So let’s start with Wyoming, at the end of the alphabet.
For 2019 context, according to statistica.com, there are about 10,000 wineries in the United States. American Wine, the seminal book published in 2013 by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy, offered the first — and actually only — in-depth analysis of wines and wineries in all 50 states. At the time, there were more than 7,000 wine producers, nearly half of them in California. By the numbers, the American wine industry is growing quickly: a 43% increase in less than a decade.
Agricultural products — livestock and field crops — are Wyoming’s largest industry sectors. Wyoming is “big sky” country: it has the largest average farms and ranches across all 50 states! With so much land given over to bison, hay, and sugarbeets, there’s not much left for planting wine grapes. Besides, the moose might eat them anyway!
Wyoming’s climate poses a growing hazard for even the most determined farmers. Winters are long and hard. Even taking into account the encroaching effects of climate change, Wyoming doesn’t have much of a spring or fall, or for that matter, a tourist shoulder season! Outdoor lovers can occasionally shift from skiing to camping and rafting in a matter of weeks.
The tourist industry in Wyoming has not quite caught on to the momentum that wineries could add to visitor experiences. Unlike other states, in Wyoming there is no active association of winemakers, or a place to conduct a reliable web search, or even winery ads in the many glossy guides found in every shop in Jackson. It took considerable discovery effort, but to prepare for my recent trip to the Jackson Hole area, I found two durable wineries of note.
A few miles outside of the town of Jackson, where all traffic is a destination on Boyles Hill Road, lies the Schroth family home and Jackson Hole Winery operation. The property was originally a dairy farm, 100 years old this year.
Winemaker Anthony splits his time living and working in Sonoma, CA, and Jackson Hole, sourcing grapes from Sonoma and Napa Counties. The wine production facility sits at 6,229 feet above sea level where the cool mountain air makes it possible for Anthony to shepherd a slow fermentation and aging process. Since 2009, Anthony has been perfecting his craft with classic grape varieties including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.
My friends and I booked a tasting, having previously been alerted by a former JHW employee (thank you Maggie) that June 13 would be Chardonnay bottling day. As we arrived, we were greeted by the lumbering sound of a semi delivering bottles, on late order due to the many trade issues and production backlog affecting glass manufacturers. I confess we entered the experience with low expectations…best to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed. We left with a lovely vision of what is possible to produce in a cool climate with carefully curated grapes and the gentle hand of a winemaker devoted to quality.
If you decide to visit, and I strongly encourage it, this is the tasting lineup we enjoyed while overlooking Spring Creek and the Tetons.
- 2018 Viognier is lightly perfumed and floral in a classic varietal style, lighter body than a Rhône counterpart, with notes of sweet meyer lemon and stone fruits.
- 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, called Alpine Glow, is sourced from Russian River Valley. In color and style falling somewhere between a light pink Provençal wine, and a deeply colored Tavel, this rosé was summer in a glass, fresh and lively with notes of wild strawberries and lime.
- The 2017 Pinot Noir, also made from Russian River Valley grapes, was a lovely cross between traditional Burgundian and new world styles. Tannins were well integrated, and body was medium despite 14.5% abv.
- “Catch and Release” (NV) is made from Zinfandel grapes grown in a single block in Dry Creek (Sonoma), but not from a single vintage. It clocks in at 15.2%, but is fairly mild on the palate.
- “Rendevous Red” is JHW’s signature wine, the first style Anthony made in 2009. The 2017 blend is 50% Cabernet Franc, 40% Syrah, and a 10% mix of Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Syrah. Each grape releases its unique character as you sip through the pour.
- “The Outlaw” is definitely a wine to enjoy with food, and presents on the palate as the winery’s biggest wine. It is a classic left-bank Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Malbec.
The final treat of the day was a pre-bottling sample of Chardonnay with Anthony guiding the way. Aged in 35% new oak, it was lighter than what most wine enthusiasts think of as traditional California style.
A fascinating story — perhaps not entirely a coincidence? — connects Jackson Hole Winery with Table Mountain Winery. Anthony Schroth told us that he had researched the possibility of creating a Wyoming winery while attending college at Sonoma State University. He discovered a senior thesis written in 2001 by Patrick Zimmerer (University of Wyoming).
Long story short, Patrick wrote his thesis about starting a small experimental vineyard on his family’s farm near Huntley, WY (not far from Cheyenne). In 2004, he and his sister, Amie, won $10,000 in a business plan competition. Anthony was inspired!
Today Table Mountain is a 10-acre vineyard on the Zimmerer family farm where they grow hardy hybrid grapes that can withstand the harsh cold. The vineyard has 12 different grape varieties including: Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, Valiant, Marcheal Foch, Elvira, and Marquette. All wines are made with 100% Wyoming-grown grapes.
Although I was not able to visit Table Mountain last week, I’m eager to make the trip. Jackson Hole and Table Mountain wineries are a world (or actually 6 hours by car) apart. But within this tale of two Wyoming wineries lies a full story of winemaking across the western, middle, and southern United States.
Jackson Hole Winery
2800 Boyles Hill Road
Jackson, WY 83002
Call (307) 201-1057 for reservations
Table Mountain Winery
5933 Road 48
Huntley, WY 82218
Call (307) 459-0233 for reservations