The history of wine in North America dates back to the 16th Century when the colonising Europeans brought their culture of vine growing and winemaking to the new found land. However it wasn't until the 18th Century that wines were first successfully produced here.
The Europeans took advantage of the vast quantities of native varieties that they found in North America, but discovered that these varieties did not make wines that were acceptable to their palates. They therefore started to import cuttings of European varieties to try to establish new vineyards. These cuttings were a complete disaster. The vines were destroyed by the unpredictable climate, by diseases and by pests. It wasn't until the early 1800s and the chance discovery of a native American / European hybrid that the first commercial production of wine began.
As technology developed, and the understanding of the effects of the various pests and diseases on the vines advanced, it was discovered that European varieties could be grafted onto American rootstocks, thus giving the vine the natural protection of the native vines that had developed resistance to native pests whilst producing high quality wine suitable for European palates. This viticultural breakthrough in the USA also helped to save the European wine industry, as this same technology was used to battle the influx of the Phylloxera pest which almost destroyed the European vineyards in the late 19th Century.
The USA is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, producing 19.2 million hectolitres in 2008. The vast majority (approximately 90%) of this is made in California.The state has very wide variations in topography, soils and macro-climates, making it very difficult to generalise about its suitability to making fine wines. A huge amount of work has been done by the University of California, Davis, into finding out the best techniques for making fine wines, which sites are best suited to each variety and developing different clones to use. This has indirectly led to a huge increase in vineyard plantings in California, and has had a big impact on the improvements in wine quality that have been seen over the last few decades.
The state of Oregon in the Pacific North West is a much cooler climate than California, and is thus suited to the more aromatic varieties such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer. It is also particularly well know for its Pinot Noir.