Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, occupying just 1215 square miles (3140 sq km) in the country's far north-eastern corner. Both cool-climate vinifera and hybrid grape varieties are grown in the maritime-influenced state, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Vidal.
Rhode Island contains just one AVA (not surprising, given that nearly 30 AVAs have surface areas larger than the entire state) – the rather general Southeastern New England, which it shares with Massachusetts and Connecticut. There are around 11 wineries spread across the state.
Rhode Island is located between Connecticut and Massachusetts on the northern shores of Long Island Sound. Despite its name, the state is far from being an island; it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean only on one side of its slightly uneven rectangular shape. The origins of the name date back to early migrant days and the merger of the two colonies called Providence Plantations and Rhode Island. At that time, the name referred only to the island now called Aquidneck upon which Newport sits.
In the 1660s, the early American colonists were actively encouraged by King Charles II to grow wine grapes in the area now known as Rhode Island. (Charles II of Spain made viticulture illegal in Mexico just 30 years later). Viticulture developed steadily until the arrival 250 years later of Prohibition, which effectively annihilated wine production in most US states, including Rhode Island. It was not until the mid-1970s that signs of recovery were first observable, following the American wine revolution and widespread government support for viticulture.
The maritime climate in Rhode Island owes much to the Atlantic Gulf Stream, which brings warm waters up from the Equator via the Straits of Florida. The effect of the Gulf Stream is twofold: it prevents the Rhode Island winters from becoming too cold and also allows the ocean-moderated summer temperatures to rise to high, yet comfortable, levels. This makes the growing season in Rhode Island longer than in more-inland parts of New England, and constant sea breezes help to temper the effects of high humidity by keeping the canopy dry.