14 Amazing California Wine Regions

When it comes to wine in California, it’s easy for people to get overwhelmed.

There are approximately 2600 California wineries, spread over 100 AVAs.

AVA (American Viticultural Area), is a wine-growing area that has been designated. It is similar to the French wine appellation system. AVA-labeled wines must contain at least 15% grapes from the designated area.

California is hot and sunny. However, the Pacific Ocean breeze and many different Terroirs, including mountain ranges help wine grapes thrive.

Cool-climate grapes such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir will be found along the coast. California Cabernet is a world-famous wine that can be found in hotter areas.

1. North Coast

The North Coast AVA, located north of San Francisco is home to America’s most renowned wine regions.

These include:

Sonoma Valley

Napa Valley

Russian River Valley

Carneros

Stags’ Leap District

Although it is called the North Coast, the wine area lies at a few hundred meters above the sea level. This AVA is distinguished from hotter and dryer inland areas such as the Sierra Foothills by its name.

A) Mendocino County

Mendocino County is the region with the most wine-growing potential. It has a cool climate thanks to the Pacific Ocean breezes, and the Mendocino mountain range.

The cooler regions produce the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. It is also a good place to grow white grape varieties like Pinot Gris and Riesling.

The Mendocino region’s warmer regions produce robust reds from Syrah and Zinfandel in the best conditions.

Anderson Valley is a well-known wine region in the county. It produces sparkling, red and white wines.

B) Lake County

Lake County is located east of Mendocino, north of Napa, and Sonoma.

California’s largest freshwater source, Clear Lake, and its volcanic topography make outstanding Cabernet red wine.

You will also find Sauvignon Blanc white wines here.

C) Napa County

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Napa County, located 35 miles away from San Francisco’s downtown, is the most famous wine region in the country. This is due to its Napa Valley.

Napa Valley also hosts:

The oldest winery in the county is the Beringer Vineyards

Charles Krug Winery is named after the pioneering winemaker.

Robert Mondavi Winery

Mondavi is regarded as a pioneer in Napa’s modern wine business and one of the first to advocate varietal labeling.

The Valley is most well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, but you can also find Merlot and Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

The eponymous winery is located in Napa County’s Stags’s Leap District. It produces rich Cabernets that are flavored with blackcurrants.

The cooler climate of Carneros AVA means that you will primarily find sparkling and still wines made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

D) Sonoma County

The prolific Sonoma County is located in the southeast. It forms California’s main wine country, along with Napa.

The county is divided into Northern Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast.

Northern Sonoma, which includes the famous:

Alexander Valley is known for its fruit-driven Cabs. It also hosts the Silver Oak Winery.

The Russian River Valley is known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chardonnay wine.

Sonoma Valley is one of California’s most renowned wine regions. It produces some of California’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noir wines.

Further inland, the warm and sunny climate allows Zinfandel- and Cabernet Sauvignon-winery vineyards to flourish.

The county’s overall preference for Cabernet Sauvignon is a strong one, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc flourishing in cooler climates.

Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing substitute to Chardonnay.

2. Central Valley

The Central Valley is more known for its quality than quantity, but there are two noteworthy wine regions: Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.

A) Sierra Foothills

The Sierra Foothills is one of the most important AVAs in America. It lies at the Sierra Nevada mountain range’s northwest foothills, separating California and Nevada.

The cool winds from the mountains balance out the sunniest days in California.

This is because grapes are subject to temperature fluctuations, which means that they ripen slower, giving rise to more complex flavors and aromas, while still maintaining a high level of acidity.

The Sierra Foothills’ warm climate at high altitude makes it ideal for growing Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera, the Italian grape variety.

B) Lodi

Lodi is located east of San Francisco. It’s sandwiched between Stockton, Sacramento and runs parallel to the Sierra Foothills.
Lodi is home to more than 40% of the state’s Zinfandel vineyards, making it the Zinfandel Capital of the World.

Lodi has many other varieties of grapes, including:

Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Barbera, Graciano
Whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Albarino, Riesling

3. Central Coast

The Central Coast stretches from San Francisco Bay to Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean to Central Valley.

It isn’t easy to compare wine-growing conditions, grape varieties, and wine styles.

This region is home to some of the most popular AVAs, including Paso Robles and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Many wines are also produced by Sine Qua Non, a cult winery.

A) Monterey County

Monterey County is located between Monterey Bay and San Luis Obispo County.

The cooler climate is due to the Bay and ocean, which means more Pinot Noir vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

The mountains, however, are more dependent on temperature control at higher altitudes and have a warmer climate that is ideal for Syrah, Merlot and Cab Sauv grapes.

B) San Benito County

San Benito County is located inland between Gabilan Mountains and Diablo Mountains.

Here, the climate is moderate with cool winds from the Pacific Ocean.

The primary grapes of this AVA are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chardonnay, also known as Burgundy’s heart and soul.

C) San Francisco Bay

The California wine country is very dependent on the San Francisco Bay.

Many rivers, including the Russian, Napa, Mokelumne and Sacramento, drain into the Bay, providing cooling temperatures for their AVAs.

The AVA is a wine region that stretches from San Francisco City, Northern California, to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley in South California.

The eastern end of the Livermore Valley is where you’ll find Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc premium wines.

Although many grape varieties are planted here, the most common is Cab Sauv, followed by Zinfandel and Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

D. San Luis Obispo County

San Luis Obispo County is located halfway between Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. It boasts some of California’s most renowned winemaking regions.

Fog covers vineyards throughout the day, which allows cool-climate viniculture to thrive.

Many winemakers would not consider Edna Valley or Arroyo Grande to be ideal areas for wine growing. The ones who did have a great experience with sparkling wines and crisp whites made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Paso Robles AVA can feel the full California sun and produces some of the most robust Zinfandel and Cab Sauv wines.

This county also has Merlot, Syrah and Grenache Rhone grapes, and Mourvedre.

E) Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara County is a rectangular area on the California Central Coast. It has the Pacific Ocean to its west and south.

River valleys and hills line the coast, making it a great place to grow grapes and terroirs.

Six regions currently hold the AVA status.

  • Santa Maria Valley
  • Santa Ynez Valley
  • Sta. Rita Hills
  • Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon
  • Ballard Canyon
  • Los Olivos District
  • The Santa Maria Valley, which is cooler than the rest of the country, is perfect for cold-climate grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Gleichzeitig, Cab Sauv, Grenache and Syrah can thrive in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

4. South Coast
The seat of California wine growing, the South Coast stretches from Ventura County to San Diego County. It also borders Mexico.

Zinfandel, the main wine grape in this region, produces dense red wines.

A) Antelope Valley

North of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley, located in California’s High Desert. Because of its hot climate and low rainfall, altitude is important here.

Wineries in this area need cooler temperatures and higher elevations to grow grapes. Here you will find Zinfandel and Tempranillo vineyards, Syrah, Syrah, as well, as Viognier.

B) San Pasqual Valley

The first California wine region to receive the AVA status was San Pasqual Valley.

The warm and dry climate north of San Diego is ideal for Rhone grapes like Syrah, Viognier and Mourvedre. Here you’ll also find small amounts of Merlot, Sangiovese and other Rhone grapes.

Orfila Vineyards is the only winery in this area. It’s close to San Diego and a popular destination for weddings.

C) Temecula Val

“Temecula,” the largest AVA on South Coast, is loosely translated from Native American to mean “where the sun breaks through mist”.

The Valley is located in a low-rainfall region. However, the mist hangs around until mid-morning. The Ocean breeze also creates hot days and cool evenings, which are all perfect conditions for grape-growing.

The Temecula region is home to many grapes such as Tempranillo and Syah, Sangiovese and Pinot Gris.

Over 40 wineries are available for visitors.

Let’s take a look at the finest wines that the Golden State has on offer.

The Top 13 California Wines That You Should Try
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How do you choose which wine to buy?

No worries!

Here are our top 13 Californian wines from across the state.

  1. 1997 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($6,557)
  2. 1974 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains ($2,999)
  3. 1994 Harlan Estate, Napa Valley ($2,110)
  4. 2010 Sine Qua Non-Cumulus Vineyard, ‘Next of Kyn’ Central Coast ($677)
  5. 2002 Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon from Shafer Vineyards,
  6. Stag’s Leap District ($565)
  7. 2007 Moraga Vineyards Estate Red, Los Angeles County ($177)
  8. 2015 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Ascent Syrah, Sierra Foothills ($102)
  9. 2013 Turley Wine Cellars Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel Lodi ($99).
  10. 2016 Leoness Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Temecula Valley ($99).
  11. 2015 Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif in Suisun Valley ($70).
  12. 2018 Bedrock Wine Co. Esola Vineyard Zinfandel, Amador County ($47)
  13. 2015 Klinker Brick Winery Old Ghost Zinfandel, Lodi ($43).
  14. 2014 Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel Lodi ($28).

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