When it comes to wine regions in the United States, California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys tend to garner most of the attention. However, the Midwest is home to several American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), each of which designates a unique grape-growing region defined by a particular climate and geography. In fact, the largest AVA is located in the Midwest—designated in 2009, the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA spans almost 30,000 square miles across Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, an area nearly 40 times the size of the world-famous Napa Valley AVA. Other Midwest AVAs include the Ozark Highlands, Indiana Uplands, and the Ohio River Valley.
Throughout the region’s AVAs are wineries that produce high-quality, award-winning wines. The following are just a few examples.
Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri
Dating back to 1847, Stone Hill Winery was once the second-biggest winery in the United States. During the late 1800s, the winery earned a number of gold medals at world fairs and grew to produce some 1,250,000 gallons of wine each year. Although the winery now produces approximately 300,000 gallons per year, it continues to earn awards, including more than 4,000 medals since 1988.
Stone Hill Winery’s signature grape is Norton, the official state grape in Missouri, which yields award-winning, full-bodied red wines. The winery’s 2012 Cross J Norton and 2011 Norton both won the prestigious Missouri Governor’s Cup. Aside from Norton, Stone Hill excels at producing hybrid grapes, including Chardonel, Vidal, and Vignoles.
In addition to offering tours and tastings, Stone Hill Winery serves American and German cuisine inside the Vintage Restaurant, which is located inside a restored carriage house and horse barn. Hermann, the historic town where Stone Hill Winery is situated, boasts several other wineries and a quaint downtown area with shops and restaurants, making it a great destination for a day or weekend trip.
Ackerman Winery in Amana, Iowa
The oldest winery in Iowa, Ackerman Winery was founded in 1956. The winery stands out as the producer of unique sweet fruit wines, including wines made from pomegranate, mango, elderberry, blueberry, and red raspberry. Ackerman also produces wines made from locally grown produce, including dandelion and rhubarb. Also offering more traditional wines, Ackerman makes both Pinot Grigio and Edelweiss.
Every year, Ackerman Winery wins a number of awards for its fruit wines. In 2018, the winery has already garnered more than 50 awards, including a gold medal for its blackberry wine at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and a Best of Class award for its cherry wine at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.
Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery in Traverse City, Michigan
Located on Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery sits on 91 acres of land at the 45th parallel—the exact midpoint between the North Pole and the equator. The winery benefits from just the right amount of sunlight, fertile soil, a moderate climate, and breezes off Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan. All these geographic and climatic conditions facilitate grape growing.
Brys Estate produces a wide selection of varietals, with Riesling the most common at 2,000 cases per season and Pinot Noir the second most common at 1,200 to 1,500 cases each season. Despite being a relatively new winery, Brys Estate has won over 350 awards for its high-quality wines.
Visitors can choose from a variety of wine tasting options, including a self-guided tour of the tasting room, barrel room, cask room, and production areas. Brys Estate also offers an estate tour and tasting aboard its Wine Wagon, which seats seven people.
One of the most unique features of the estate is the new Upper Deck, a 1,800-square-foot elevated wooden deck where visitors can enjoy views of the vineyards spreading out before them. In addition, the deck connects to a bridge which allows guests to walk over five rows of Chardonnay vines as they take in the views of the estate and sample the wines made from the vines below.
Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery in Galena, Illinois
Dating back to the 1970s, Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery produces 22 grape varietals and makes more than 40 different wines for a total of 60,000 gallons of wine each year. The winery has won a number of awards, including the Best of Show award for its Secret Garden Viognier at the 2017 Illinois State Fair.
In addition to producing wine, Galena Cellars makes cider, with its Unconditional Surrender Sweet Cider earning Best of Class and a gold medal at the 2017 Indy International Wine Competition, where its Peach Wine and Unconditional Surrender Hard Cider also won gold medals. Visitors can sample these wines and ciders not only at the main estate, but also at tasting rooms in downtown Galena and in Geneva, Illinois.
As you sample the wines from the above Midwestern wineries, take note of the diverse selection of wines, especially the sweet wines, which are the result of the region’s rich agricultural heritage. You’ll find that the grapes and fruits grown in this region yield delicious wines and ciders that can compete with those from more well-known regions. They may even earn a spot on your list of favorite wines.