Essentials Series: Californian Wines
Throughout this Essential Series, we’ve covered only European nations, as they’re the foundations of wine production and winemaking, but now we’ve come to the biggest winemaking region in America. California produces 85% of America’s wine and is the number four producer in the world after France, Italy, and Spain.
Much like the other advancing industries within California, winemakers in the state are focusing on sustainable and environment-friendly production methods, like drip irrigation systems. Due to the constant state of drought, California wineries use this highly conservative watering method to control exactly how much water is used on the vineyards, which not only saves water but also produces a more concentrated, higher-quality fruit.
California is a huge state, and there are wineries and vineyards throughout the whole thing, although some of the regions are more notable and produce more wine than others. You may have heard of a couple, like the Napa Valley and the Central Coast region, as these are pretty massive and encompass many of the state’s most popular wineries.
The Napa Valley is home to over 45,000 acres of vineyard. While the region does produce many varietals like Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, it’s most known for the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabs of Napa started with inspiration from Bordeaux by importing Bordeaux grapes and learning French winemaking techniques. These days, a Napa Cab has its own personality:
- Fruit flavors of black currant, ripe plum, black cherry, and licorice
- A depth of flavor that starts as fruity and moves to dusty and floral
- Medium level of tannins without overpowering the rest of the palate
- A strong sense of oaky presence
Meanwhile, in neighboring Sonoma County, there is no varietal that reigns supreme. Sonoma Valley is the birthplace of California’s winemaking industry, and its oldest grapes are Zinfandel, although the Cabernet Sauvignon carries importance, with Syrah and Malbec making their own appearances as well. The thing about Sonoma is the climate: parts are flat and wide with mild temperatures and cool breezes, while others are low valleys covered in fog.
You may have heard of the Central Coast, which is a rather large region that spans a huge part of California, from the southern part of San Francisco down to Santa Barbara. The most widely planted variety across this entire area is Chardonnay, as the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean provides the cool temperatures that this green-skinned grape needs to thrive. The varying climates as you move inland and north help produce the different varieties of Chardonnay that are known throughout the state, like the crispness in the Santa Maria Valley
Southern California isn’t known so much for growing wine but they sure do know how to enjoy it down there. Temecula Valley is one of the most concentrated areas of wineries that are made for touring and tasting. The warm temperatures make it a prime growing location for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, and less appealing for the Pinot Noir.
California wines are as diverse and rich as the state’s culture. All the way down the coast you can find beautiful wineries and amazing bottles of wine that differ from their peers from a few miles away.