California

Californian wine accounts for an impressive 90% America’s total wine production and it’s not to be sniffed at! The land mass is nearly three-quarters the size of France and if California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer with 1,200 wineries ranging from small boutique wineries to large global corporations.

The first vineyards were planted here by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century to make wine for mass (they must have had a lot of churches?) and a century later a wine industry started to take root with the Californian Gold Rush bringing an increasing population and a demand for table wine!  The boom began in Northern California around the counties of Sonoma and Napa – where some finest wineries can be visited today.

What’s on in The Napa Valley

A number of events take place in Napa County throughout the year. The Napa Valley Wine Auction takes place in June, whilst July sees Calistoga host the annual county fair. The Festival del Sole, a food, wine, art and music festival, occurs across the Valley during the summer. Napa is also home to a film festival in November, the BottleRock music festival in May and a number of farmer’s markets in towns across the county.

The Wines of The Napa Valley

California

Californian wine accounts for an impressive 90% America’s total wine production and it’s not to be sniffed at! The land mass is nearly three-quarters the size of France and if California were a separate country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest wine producer with 1,200 wineries ranging from small boutique wineries to large global corporations.

The first vineyards were planted here by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century to make wine for mass (they must have had a lot of churches?) and a century later a wine industry started to take root with the ‘Californian Gold Rush’ bringing an increasing population and a demand for table wine!  The boom began in Northern California around the counties of Sonoma and Napa – where some finest wineries can be visited today.

Napa Wine Region

California’s Napa Valley is one of the world’s newer wine regions (especially relative to the European Old World), yet stands today as one of the absolute best. A little piece of the Old World exists in the Mediterranean climate, which is utterly unique in North America and makes the region ideal for growing grapes. Throw in a magnificent Western American landscape, a sterling reputation and arguably the finest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the world, and it’s no surprise why the Napa Valley stands tall as one of the world’s first and foremost wine tourism destinations.

Grapes were first grown in the Napa Valley in the mid-19th century, with the region becoming established in the commercial wine trade over the next fifty years or so. Phylloxera decimated the area in the early years of the 20th century and Prohibition, which was introduced in 1920, suppressed winemaking in the region even further, but the work of local winemakers after the Second World War helped the wines of the Napa Valley to flourish.

The Napa Valley stretches across 43,000 acres of vineyards, from Calistoga in the north to Carneros in the south. A range of grapes are grown in the region: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay are amongst the most prevalent, but the region’s opulent, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons are easily the most popular and renowned wines.

Sonoma Wine Region

Sonoma County is big and beautiful – one of California’s largest producers with over 400 wineries and just a cork’s throw from San Francisco which make is perfectly located as part of a longer holiday. With more than 400 wineries and miles of stunning coastlines and acres of redwood forest this wine region has humble roots and world-class recognition and silently produces almost twice as much wine as Napa Valley. The three main wine growing regions which a wine lover is likely to visit includes the Dry Creek Valley, The Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Valley.

Grapes were planted in Sonoma county as early as 1812 by Spanish missionaries, several thousand grape vines in fact; known as the ‘Sonoma mission vineyards’ and cuttings were carried throughout the northern California area to start new vineyards. By the 1850s when the Californian state was annexed by the US Sonoma’s wine harvest was already an established and profitable part of the agriculture.

In 1855, a Hungarian named Agoston Haraszthy purchased the Salvador Vellejo vineyard and renamed it Buena Vista, taking home more than 100,000 grape cuttings to Europe.  Many of the immigrants to the area were Northern Italian or from other wine-growing regions of Europe.

In the 1920s there were 256 wineries in Sonoma County, with more than 22,000 acres in production. Commercial winemaker suffered however during the Prohibition period when fewer than 50 wineries survived. But from the 1960s consumption steadily grew again. Today about half of the wineries are less than 20 years old.

California’s vineyards are split into four main regions

The North Coast – Includes most of North Coast, California, north of San Francisco Bay. The large North Coast AVA covers most of the region. Notable wine regions include Napa Valley and Sonoma County and the smaller sub AVAs within them.

Central Coast – Includes most of the Central Coast of California and the area south and west of San Francisco Bay down to Santa Barbara County. The large Central Coast AVA covers the region. Notable wine regions in this area include Santa Clara Valley AVA, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, San Lucas AVA, Paso Robles AVA, Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA and Livermore Valley AVA.

South Coast– Includes portion of Southern California, namely the coastal regions south of Los Angeles down to the border with Mexico. Notable wine regions in this area include Temecula Valley AVA, Antelope Valley/Leona Valley AVA, San Pasqual Valley AVA and Ramona Valley AVA.

Central Valley– Includes California’s Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills AVA. Notable wine regions in this area include the Lodi AVA.

The Styles

California produces wines made in nearly every single known wine style including sparkling, dessert, and fortified wines.  There are seven leading grape varieties in California (and over 100 grape varieties grown) these include:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Chardonnay

Merlot

Pinot Noir

Sauvignon Blanc

Syrah

Zinfandel

Well spotted if you’ve noticed that these are French, Italian and Spanish varietals – up until the late 1980s the Californian wine industry was dominated by the Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. More recently a new wave of wine makers brought new wine styles made from different varietals such as Syrah, Viognier, Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio typically more fruit dominant.

New World Styles: California’s year-round sun drenched climate ensures very ripe fruit is used in the wine making process The wines tend to be described as more full bodied and buttery with typically higher alcohol levels (many over 13.5%) compared with its European counterparts.

Sparkling & Dessert Wines: The ‘Korbel Champagne Cellars’ were founded in Sonoma in the 1880s – the first winery to adopt a method Champenoise to make sparkling wine from the Chardonnay grape here. This method is now widely used amoungst the premium quality producers in the region.

California wine trips

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