Introduction to California Wines

California wines are the most well known wines from the United States and compose almost 90% of the total US wine production.  California produces so much wine that if it was an independent country, it would be the worlds 4th leading wine producer.  Wine and California have been together since the 18th century, when Spanish missionaries took root.  Every mission had their own vineyard to produce wine for religious purposes as well as personal use.  However, California did not achieve international recognition until 1976 when Californian wines defeated French wines in at the Judgment of Paris Wine Competition in both red and white wine categories

It is difficult to pin down many of specific regions of wine in California because there are currently over 1200 wineries ranging from extremely small to giant corporations.  Additionally, California has many diverse geologic regions, climates, and terroirs.  In total, there are more than 430,000 acres of vines and more than 100 AVA’s or American Viticultural Areas.

California did not achieve international recognition until 1976 when Californian wines defeated French wines in at the Judgment of Paris Wine Competition in both red and white wine categories.

The easiest way to define regions is by geographic location:

North Coast

The North Coast Region is any area north of San Francisco Bay.  The most notable areas within this region include Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lake County, and Mendocino

Central Coast

This is the area that is south and west of the San Francisco Bay and stretches down to Santa Barbara County.  The most notable areas within this region are Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, San Lucas, Santa Maria Valley, and Livermore Valley

South Coast

The South Coast is the region located south of Los Angeles all the way down to the Mexico border.  The highlights of this area include Temecula Valley, Antelope Valley, Leona Valley, and Ramona Valley.

Central Valley

This region spans the Central Valley and surrounding areas.  The Sierra Foothills and Lodi are the standout areas in this region.

Throughout these regions, over 100 varieties of grapes are grown.  A majority of the grapes have origins that trace back to France, Italy, Spain, as well as new hybrid varieties.  The leading varieties in California are also the most commonly recognized varieties throughout the United States and include: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Many California wine crafters still use the Old World or European wine styles, many have opted for the simpler New World approach that emphasizes a simple and fruit dominant wine.  Since California always has reliable warm weather, vineyards are able to be harvested when the fruit is very ripe.  This is why the wines are often very fruit forward and often contain a higher alcohol level.  Many California wines post an alcohol content of more than 13.5%.

California has also become well-known for its dessert wines and sparkling wines as well.  The first instance of sparkling wines in California dates back to the 1880’s when the Korbel Champagne Cellars were founded.  They primarily use a Riesling, Chasselas, Muscatel, or Traminer grape for their sparkling wines, however the use of the Chardonnay grape is popular as well.  Todays sparkling wine creators have done their best to create a unique style of sparkling wine rather than imitate traditional champagnes.  Traditional high-quality champagnes are yeasty, whereas California champagnes focus on clarity and creating a light fruitiness, without an imposing or heavy fruit flavor.

When finding the right California wines for you, it can be a long journey to the top.  With so many varieties already becoming standard, it hard to imagine what the future holds.  California wine crafters are constantly experimenting with new types of wines and new hybrid grapes to create their next world-renowned wine.

Sonya Lee

Since a child, Sonya has been traveling from the corners of Canada to the far east Asia. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she led a normal family life with her brother, mother and dad. A well received job opportunity in Hong Kong for her father put the compass in action from a young age. Sonya loves good food, and I mean GOOD simple food. She loves an occasional drink, be merry and enjoy the good times. Having recently healed herself from a large ruptured cyst, her favorite foods include fresh carrot juice, grilled vegetables, sauteed portabello mushrooms and truffle french fries. Her philosophy? Healthy food makes a healthy body. Read more on the Editor page. When she's not fretting over WAFT, she runs a small design agency called mowie media and shares the good times with her dog, Monster and 3 cats Sabi, Kaeli & Misty.

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