Top Ten Californian Wine Regions

Top Ten Californian Wine Regions

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  1. Sonoma County, California
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    Although many associate premium California wines with Napa, Sonoma County is currently becoming a major wine destination in the world. Starting in 1812, Russian colonists planted grapes at Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast. In 1823, Spanish Franciscan Father Altamira planted thousands of vines in Sonoma.  When the missions were taken over by the Mexican government in 1834, cuttings from Sonoma Mission vineyards were transported and planted throughout northern California. Today Sonoma County has 15 distinct AVAs with more than 250 wineries and 50 grape varieties including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, and the sought after Russian River, Carneros and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It is estimated that the wine industry and related tourism contributes over $8 billion to the local economy each year, about 40% of the county’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Wine seekers love the laid-back, unpretentious atmosphere of many of the wineries.  The largest judging of American wines in the world, The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, is held yearly in Sonoma County’s quaint town of Cloverdale. In 2013, the event had over 5,500 entries from most of the wine regions represented in the United States.
    Links: Top Ten Sonoma County Appelations, Top Ten Sonom County Wineries, Top 100 Sonoma County Wines, http://sonoma.com/wineries/alphalistings.html, 
  2. Napa Valley, California

    The Napa Valley is undoubtedly the most famous wine region in the United States with more than 450 wineries producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and zinfandel. Commercial wine production in the region dates back to the 19th century. John Patchett established the Napa Valley’s first commercial vineyard in 1858 although Charles Krug is commonly cited as establishing the area’s first winery in 1861.  Inglenook Winery in 1879 was the first Bordeaux style winery in the USA winning gold medals at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. By the end of the 19th century there were more than 140 wineries in the area. Of those original wineries, several still exist in the valley today including Beaulieu, Beringer, Charles Krug, Chateau Montelena, Far Niente, Mayacamas, Markham Vineyards, and Schramsberg Vineyards. Viticulture in Napa suffered several setbacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including an outbreak of the vine disease phylloxera, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. The modern era of winemaking in California began when Beaulieu hired André Tchelisticheff in 1938. He introduced key ideas which included aging wine in small French Oak barrels, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention, and malolactic fermentation. The wine industry in Napa Valley was cemented with the help of the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, establishing this region as a producer of quality wine equal to that of Old World wine regions. Within the Napa Valley AVA, there are sixteen sub-AVAs, Los Carneros, Howell Mountain, Wild Horse Valley, Stags Leap District, Mt. Veeder, Atlas Peak, Spring Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Chiles Valley, Yountville, Diamond Mountain, Oak Knoll, Calistoga, and Coombsville.
    Links: http://napavalley.com/wineries/alphalistings.html,
  3. Temecula Valley, California
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    The Temecula Valley is a small, rural wine region in southern California with a climate similar to that of Spain and southern Italy. The region is one hour northeast of San Diego located in Riverside County. Over 200 years ago, winemaking began in California at Mission San Juan Capistrano fifty miles west of Temecula. The first modern commercial vineyards in Temecula Valley were established in 1968. There are over 40 wineries here. In addition to growing Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, varietals such as Viognier, Syrah and Pinot Gris have recently been added. In addition, Temecula Valley’s hotter climate is particularly well-suited to grapes such as the Rhône varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.  The Annual Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival occurs in late spring.
    Links: http://www.temeculawines.org/,
  4. The Sierra Foothills, California
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    Grapes were introduced to the area in the nineteenth century during the California Gold Rush in the 1850’s in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County. The Sierra Foothills AVA, reorganized in 1987,  includes eight California counties: Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba. The total area of the appellation is 2,600,000 acres, with nearly 6,000 acres of grapevines, one of the largest AVAs in the state of California. The most common grape variety is Zinfandel, but you will also find Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Barbera, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. There are over 100 wineries located within the Sierra Foothills AVA.
    Links: http://www.calwineries.com/explore/regions/sierra-foothills,
  5. Paso Robles, California
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    Paso Robles meaning Pass of the Oaks is located in the coastal mountain range of central California. In the County of San Luis Obispo wine grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionary padres of the Mission San Miguel where wine making artifacts can still be seen. There are over 180 wineries with 26,000 acres of vineyards in this region. Commercial winemaking was introduced to the Paso Robles region in 1882. The Paso Robles wine region gained notoriety when Ignace Paderewski, a famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, visited Paso Robles, became enchanted with the area, and purchased 2,000 acres. In the early 1920s, he planted Petite Sirah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio vineyard that went on to become award-winners solidifying Paso Robles as a premier wine region. Now, in addition to the first plantings of the Rhône varietal Syrah in California, Paso Robles also has the largest acreage of Syrah, Viognier and Roussanne.  Some of the other 40 varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and old vine Zinfandel.
    Links: www.pasowine.com/wineries/,
  6. Santa Cruz Mountains
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    The Santa Cruz Mountains region, producing wine for over 150 years, was the first wine growing area to be distinguished primarily by a mountain range. The 400,000 acre appellation is framed by Mount Madonna in the south and Half Moon Bay in the north. Vineyards encompass 1,500 acres with currently over 70 wineries.  Top varietals here are pinot noir, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, and pinot grigio.  Although this region might be overlooked as it does not produce large quantities of wine, numerous award winning wines have emerged from the area since the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting.  David Bruce Winery was one of 12 California wineries to participate in this now famous event.  Since then, David Bruce wines have consistently taken top honors in competitive tastings.
    Links: www.scmwa.com/‎,
  7. Mendocino County
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    This region, one of the largest in California, is part of the larger North Coast AVA. The first vineyards were established in the 1850’s in the Redwood Valley by returning farmers who failed to find success during the California Gold Rush. Parducci Wines founded in 1931 during Prohibition, remained the only commercial winery in Mendocino until the late 1960’s. As of 2005, ten AVA’s have been designated: Anderson Valley,  Cole Ranch,  Covelo,  Dos Rios,  McDowell Valley, Mendocino, Mendocino Ridge,  Potter Valley,  Redwood Valley, and Yorkville Highlands. The majority of Mendocino County plantings are in the eastern side of the county, clustered around the cities of Redwood Valley, Ukiah and Hopland. The Anderson Valley is one of California’s coolest wine growing regions in the state. Since the 1980’s, the area has been associated with sparkling wine  due to the success of Louis Roederer’s California Roederer Estate. Chardonnay is the county’s leading planting followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot noir. Other varietals include Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbono, Chenin blanc, Gewürztraminer, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Canelli, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Pinot blanc,  Riesling, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Syrah, Viognier and Zinfandel. Because the county is focusing on organic viticulture, it has been designated as “California’s organic wine Mecca.”
    Links:
  8. Monterey County
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    Currently growing in popularity, Monterey County was selected as one of the world’s top ten wine destinations by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in February, 2013. The Spanish mission in Soledad supported the first wine grapes in the region. In the early 1960′s, several successful wineries emerged including Wente, Mirassou, Paul Masson, J. Lohr and Chalone. The 9 AVAs with over 175 vineyards include Monterey, Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, San Lucas, Hames Valley, Chalone, Carmel Valley, San Antonio Valley, and San Bernabe. The northernmost region produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while the warmer regions support over 40 varietals. Monterey’s wine region expanded by 40 percent from 2012-2013, now producing 40,000 acres of grapes generating $630 million a year for the county. Popular varietals include Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs. This regions is know as a “viticultural laboratory’ because there is continual experimentation with new clones, trellising, water management and harvesting systems.
    Links: 
  9. Santa Barbara County
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    Santa Barbara County is unique as the coastal mountains, the Santa Ynez and San Rafael, lie east to west with valleys open to the Pacific Ocean.  The distinct microclimates, some of the coolest in California, create ideal conditions for growing grapes with ample acid, tannins and flavors. There are four official appellations: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and Santa Rita Hills. Within the broad Santa Barbara County designation are several other micro-regions: the Los Alamos Valley region, Ballard Canyon, the Los Olivos District and the Santa Maria Bench. Paso Robles is technically a part of the Santa Barbara wine growing region. Slightly less than half of the grapes grown in Santa Barbara County are used by local vintners and the rest are exported to wineries outside the area.  There are 110 wineries growing outstanding pinot noir and chardonnay.
    Links: http://sbcountywines.com/SBC.html,
  10. San Joaquin Valley
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    The San Joaquin Valley is an agriculturally rich area growing cotton, grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts.  In addition, the majority of California’s wine, table and raisin grapes are grown in this valley. The San Joaquin valley is comprised of four main American AVAs: Fresno County, Fresno Diablo Grande, Stanislaus County, Salado Creek, Madera County, and the Tracy Hills. The San Joaquin Valley was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 150s but remained virtually uninhabited until the 1849 California Gold Rush. The first grapes were planted in the 1850s to quench the thirst of the Forty-Niners who migrated to California during this period. When irrigation was introduced in the 1880s, the agriculture industry began to flourish. The San Joaquin Valley has the richest and deepest soils in the world. The combination of soil and regional weather creates growing conditions that are ideal creating vines that are naturally vigorous. Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon do very well and reds such as Grenache, Tempranillo and Zinfandel shine.
    Links:
  11. Livermore Valley
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    Livermore Valley is part of the larger Central Coast appellation. Livermore winemaking dates back to 1849, when Robert Livermore’s grapes, planted in 1946 produced the first vintage. Charles Wetmore brought recognition to California wines, starting Cresta Blanca Winery in 1882 and winning the grand prize at the 1889 Paris International Exposition with a sauvignon blanc-semillon blend. The Wente family claims to have planted the state’s first Chardonnay in 1916 and is still prominent in the valley today. There are 4,000 acres of grapes and 50 wineries in the valley today. Despite Livermore’s reputation for having a hot climate, temperature surveys show it to be similar to Napa Valley. Bold reds such as Petit Sirah, Syrah, Malbec, Barbera, zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon love this hotter temperature region. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are also grown in the cooler parts of the valley.  Livermore still needs a few blockbuster wines to reach the standard of great California wine regions but all the elements are in place for this to occur sometime in the near future if the current urban sprawl doesn’t consume the agricultural growth of the region.
    Links:
  12. Links: Wine, Top Ten Wine Regions, Top Ten US Wine Regions,

Enjoy!