California has made a name for itself as the state for winemaking within the United States. For many decades now, it’s just been a basic fact that California is the top producing state in the country, and that their wines are the best. Now, they obviously do have the bottles to back it up- those wines are tasty! However, there is science behind why California produces the best wines in America.
One word: climate.
The climate of a region has a direct effect on the way a wine comes out, especially in regards to temperature and seasons. Also, just to clarify, the climate of a region is its overall character, not just some temporary conditions like rainstorms or a heatwave. Cooler climates tend to have smaller grapes that have a more tart and acidic flavor while warmer climates encourage grapes to grow larger which leads to more juicy ripeness.
California has an ideal climate because of the distinct seasons, particularly in regards to the rainfall. Unlike many states in the country, it really can only rain six months out of the year in California (during their so-called winter) which means the summer is warm and dry, allowing the grapes to ripen to their full potential.
However, six straight months of heat and sun would be exhausting for a grape, which is where the large bodies of water come in. There’s a reason that Southern California isn’t as well known for wine production as the regions in the central and northern areas and that is their relation to the large bodies of water, such as the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. They provide cooling winds and the occasional fog which keeps moisture in the air and helps the grapes keep from drying out under the hot sun.
Napa Valley is a name we hear a lot in terms of California winemaking and it is largely due to the “Mediterranean climate” of the region, which doesn’t just refer to olive trees and blue waters but instead to the very long growing season. Mediterranean climates, like that of Spain or Southern France (wine growing capitals of the world), only make up two percent of the entire globe which is why Napa Valley is truly so special.
In addition to the gorgeous sunny days and sparkly waters, California also has plentiful mountains and hills which contribute to the unique terroir, or soil quality, of the various regions. Certain places have volcanic soil and types of clay which add a necessary hydration and aid in the perfect ripening of the grapes.
Next time you pick up a California wine, take note of its region and then look up the geography. See if you can pair the flavor profile to the climatic characteristics!
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