close up of a wine glass on the table
Photo: Shoeib Abolhassani

For wine lovers, travel opens up amazing new frontiers of knowledge and opportunities to sample the best wines from around the world, as well as local specialties they might never otherwise encounter. As a result, when wine enthusiasts start to plan their vacations, the thing they look at first isn’t necessarily how hot the sun is or how long the beach is, but what the local wine culture is like.

Now, when it comes to winemaking, Alaska might not be the first place that comes to mind. However, this northernmost state of the United States has a thriving wine scene that produces some truly remarkable and unique wines. Thanks to its unique terroir and climate, this extraordinary region produces a series of distinct flavors, interesting and unusual grapes, and various styles of wine. The history of winemaking in Alaska is surprisingly rich, and an Alaska vacation package focused on wine is a deeply rewarding experience.

The Peculiar History of Winemaking in Alaska

The history of winemaking in Alaska dates back to the late 1800s when Russian settlers first attempted to cultivate grapes and make wine. These harvests tended to be basic and unrefined, and it was not until the 1970s that modern winemaking techniques were introduced, leading to the establishment of several wineries across the state. Since then, Alaska's winemakers have embraced the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the region's extreme climate, to produce a cavalcade of fascinating and unusual vintages.

close-up of a green vineyard in the sundown

Climate and Terroir of Alaska

Alaska's climate is characterized by long, cold winters and short, cool summers. While this may not seem conducive to grape cultivation, certain regions in Alaska benefit from the moderating influences of nearby bodies of water, as well as unique microclimates, which lend themselves to grape cultivation. There are also several surprising facets of the Alaskan climate that aid the grape-growing process and contribute to the development of the distinct flavors and characteristics found in Alaska's wines. The extended daylight hours during the summer months, known as the "midnight sun," provide ample sunlight for the ripening of grapes.

Unveiling the Extraordinary Grapes Grown in Alaska's Unique Climate

Unsurprisingly, due to the challenging climate, the grapes grown in Alaska are a little different from those from more traditional winemaking regions. Winemakers in Alaska tend to focus on cultivating cold-hardy grape varieties that can withstand freezing temperatures, like Marquette, Frontenac, La Crescent, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. These varieties produce wines with unique flavor profiles that showcase and epitomize the region's terroir.

close-up shot of wine bottles in a cellar

Classic Wines from Alaska

  • Ice Wine

Alaska's freezing temperatures provide the ideal conditions for producing ice wine, a rare, luxurious style of dessert wine made from grapes that have been left to freeze naturally on the vine before harvesting. The freezing concentrates the sugars and flavors, resulting in intensely sweet and luscious wines. Alaskan ice wines are highly sought after for their complexity and richness, often showcasing flavors of honey, apricot, and tropical fruits.

  • Fruit Wines

Alaskan wines are not all about the grape, either. Alaska is renowned for its fruit wines made from locally grown berries and fruits, like blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries, which are harvested and transformed into delicious and vibrant wines that capture the essence of Alaska's wilderness. These fruit wines offer a refreshing and unique taste experience, quite unlike traditional wines.

  • Alaskan Honey Wine (Mead)

Mead is an ancient fermented beverage made from honey and one of the most popular wines that Alaska has to offer. Thanks to the abundance of wildflowers that grow naturally in the state’s vast wilderness, there are plenty of nectar sources for bees, which contribute to a diverse range of honey flavors that create a delicious and complex range of Alaskan meads. From traditional dry meads to fruit-infused varieties, Alaska's meaderies offer a delightful exploration of this ancient beverage.

Final Thoughts

Lots of love,