California produces over 90% of all the wine made in the USA, and if it were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer. With this information, it is hard to appreciate how young the Californian wine industry is – up until the mid 1960s winemaking was concentrated in the Central Valley and was mainly liqueur and jug wines.
North Coast Region
This region includes perhaps the best-known area of all, Napa Valley, and some of the most prestigious wineries of California. Another area of prestige is Sonoma Valley, which is best known for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, the grape regarded as California’s ‘own’ variety. This region also includes Carneros (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), and Mendocino County (Riesling and Gewurztraminer).
North Central Coast
Some of the most elegant Cabernet Sauvignons are produced in The Santa Cruz Mountains, along with some excellent Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Over in Monterey County, the cool climate produces Chardonnays with unusually high acidity and crisp, citrus flavours.
South Central Coast
Here the mountains lie east-west rather than north-south, and research has shown this to have great potential for producing quality grapes. The best known areas are Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo.
Around 80% of Californian wine is produced here and quantity really is the key. The weather is very hot. Lots of varieties have been created; among the more successful grapes are Ruby Cabernet and Emerald Riesling. In the north of the valley is Lodi where the climate is cooler and better wines are made.
Hot days and cool nights give good fruit concentration and the specialties include old vine Zinfandel and Italian grape varieties.
The vineyards between Los Angeles and San Diago have the pressures of urban sprawl and Pierce’s Disease – a serious bacterial disease which is spread by small insects called sharpshooters.
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Did You Know?
- Common grape vines were first introduced to California in the 18th century by the Spanish, who planted vineyards with each mission they undertook. The wine was used for religious sacraments as well as for daily life.
- The production in California alone is one third larger than that of Australia. If California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer.
- Californian wine entered the international stage at the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition when Californian wines beat French wines in both red and white wine categories.