Wisconsin is a midwestern state of the US located on the western edge of Lake Michigan. While winemaking here dates back as far as the mid-19th Century, the wine industry in Wisconsin is small, focusing mainly on the cold-hardy hybrid varieties specifically bred for the colder climes of the northern half of North America. Valiant, Edelweiss, La Crosse and Frontenac are some of the most-planted grapes in Wisconsin vineyards.
Wisconsin covers 65,000 square miles (170,000 sq km), stretching between latitudes 42°N and 47°N. This puts it on par with many of the most famous wine-producing regions of France, but other climatic considerations come into play in Wisconsin's challenging terroir, making viticulture here much less commercially viable. The state's continental climate is prone to extremes, making the majority of its mesoclimates unsuitable for quality viticulture. Icy winters threaten the survival of most vines, with the notable exception of some Vitis riparia varieties.
Wisconsin's best vineyard sites can be found in areas where there is a large body of water to provide warmth in winter and cooling influences in the hot summers. The two sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) located entirely within Wisconsin, Lake Wisconsin and Wisconsin Ledge, are both located near lakes and as a result have longer growing seasons than the more-inland parts of the state.
The first vines were planted in the state's Lake Wisconsin AVA (part of the multi-state Upper Mississippi Valley AVA) in the 1840s by Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian immigrant who subsequently became a pioneering wine grower in California. Wisconsin's challenging climate meant that commercial viticulture was sporadic until the development of cold-hardy grapevines at the University of Minnesota opened up possibilities for Wisconsin growers. Lake Wisconsin was the state's first sub-AVA to be approved, in 1994, followed by the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA in 2009 and the Wisconsin Ledge AVA in 2012.
Along with wines made from hybrid grape varieties, Wisconsin wines are sometimes made from fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and cherries. Many Wisconsin producers also import grapes from as far afield as California, Oregon and New York to make their wines.