This is the best known wine producing State in the US. With a tradition going back to the early 19th century, California has some of the oldest continuing vineyards in the country. The well known Napa and Sonoma Valleys are just two of the many growing regions around the state. The same warm sunny days that attracted so many people to live in this state, help to create a grape grower's paradise. Vintage variation is often less of an issue with California wines than anywhere else in the world. The blisteringly hot Central Valley of California is a huge growing area that produces food of all types. It is also where much wine, of little note, is made. The intense sun and heat can easily overwhelm the vines, so most of the quality growing regions are cooled either by proximity to the ocean, or by being planted at altitude. There is a huge variety of grapes planted throughout California, as growers either attempt to match climate to grape, or simply continue the tradition of planting started by their great grandparents. Some of the largest wineries in the world are found in California, as well as many hundreds of producers that are so tiny only a handful of people ever get to try their wines.
Carneros - A California wine producing region. Situated where the Napa and Sonoma valleys meet in the south, and just north of the Bay. The proximity to the Bay makes the region cooler than its neighbors and as such, many sparkling wine producers have elected to grow here. The region has also proven itself as ideal for Pinot Noir (Pinot is also one of the grapes in most sparkling wines).
Edna Valley - An American Viticultural Area south of San Luis Obispo in California (an area broadly referred to as the Central Coast). One of the few transverse valleys in the US (meaning it points to the sea). This makes the region much cooler than surrounding growing regions and is ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Lake County - North of Napa and east of Sonoma in California, Lake County does not have proximity to the ocean or altitude to cool the vineyards. The warmer growing climate has been a boon for Zinfandel, and has led to some very popular, although slightly sweet, Chardonnay. While it has a long history, it is only recently that the quality of Lake County's wines have become recognized.
Mendocino County - The northernmost wine region in California's North Coast. The quality of the wines from the region have improved greatly in the last few decades, and some exceptional sparkling wine has started to be produced.
Monterey County - Until recently this county in California was better known as the setting for Steinbeck novels than for wine. In the early 1960s large concerns began to make wine of varying quality from the region. The wine improved, and so the number of wineries increased. Today Monterey County is still home to some of the best values in California wines, as well as a few well known, but pricier producers.
Napa Valley - Easily the best known wine region in the US, this area of California has been making wine for generations. Some of the best known names in California wines can be found here, and certainly some of the most expensive. Cabernet Sauvignon based wines have proven to be the most successful, although Chardonnay and many other grapes continue to be planted. The valley floor can be very hot. Too hot for some varieties, and so the hills that overlook the Napa River valley are dotted with vineyards. The legal term Napa Valley also includes several neighboring valleys and mountain sides.
Paso Robles - A wine growing region in California, south of the bay, and south of Monterey as well. Look for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel from this region.
San Luis Obispo - A California wine region that is south of Paso Robles (although technically part of Paso Robles is in San Luis Obispo County) and continues south to Santa Barbara County. This is a wide and general area that has many types of wine, and producers of varying quality. Since the cost of land in Napa and Sonoma Counties has surpassed the budget of many would be grape growers, San Luis Obispo has been growing at an amazing rate.
Santa Barbara - Directly south of San Luis Obispo in California, the city and county of Santa Barbara is a hidden jewel. Two of the main growing regions in Santa Barbara County are the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys. Both of these valleys directly face the ocean, capturing the breezes that make these some of the coolest growing regions in California. For this reason Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay have done very well here. Syrah from the region has also been impressive and Viognier and Riesling, more lovers of cool climates, thrive here as well.
Santa Cruz Mountains - Just South of the Bay and overlooking the famed Silicon Valley of San Jose, the Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a few hearty wine makers who's names are near and dear to all California wine lovers. One of California's longest lived and most respected Cabernet Sauvignon comes from here. The intensity of this cab is due in no small measure to the infertile soils of the region.
Santa Maria Valley - One of the coolest growing regions in California, this valley is located in Santa Barbara County, far to the south of the better known Napa and Sonoma Valleys. California is warm, and it can be too warm for quality grape growing in many regions. Generally, the further south in California you go, the warmer it gets. Santa Maria Valley is efficiently cooled by the ocean breezes making it ideal for the cool loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
Santa Ynez Valley - The charming Danish town of Solvang used to be the main attraction to this valley. Located in Santa Barbara County, California. Tourist now are just as likely to come for wine tasting. The cool ocean breezes keep this valley temperate enough to grow world class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The wineries here are not as numerous as those way to the north in Napa, and the tourist are not anywhere near as common. For those who intrepidly explore, either in person or by popping a cork, this is a region not to miss.
Sierra Foothills - Far to the east of the Pacific Ocean, further even than the great farming expanse of the Central Valley of California, the foothills of the Sierra Mountains begin to rise. Here, where gold was once found and miners clamored for refreshment, a wine industry sprang up in the 19th century. More than a century later, a growing number of wineries have made these foothills their home. Here the venerable Zinfandel vine was planted many generations ago, and now has matured to offer some of the most intense juice anyone has made wine from. Zinfandel reigns here, but new grape varieties are slowly being planted as the region expands.
Sonoma Valley / County - The Russian River has carved a wide and fertile valley for this Northern California wine region. West of Napa, and closer to the ocean, Sonoma is a collection of micro-climates that range from hot and dry, to foggy and cool. Almost every type of wine grape known can be found somewhere in this sprawling region. Some of this may be due to the long tradition of grape growing in the region. In Sonoma, a near legendary figure named Haraszthy planted some of the earliest European grape varieties in California. Generations of immigrants and wine makers followed, giving the region a tradition of wine making that still permeates every nook and cranny of the valley.
Do not reprint without permission