The best wines from California

California's extensive and diverse geographic landscape encompasses a multitude of microclimates, soil compositions, and topographical variations. This rich diversity facilitates the cultivation of a wide array of grape varieties, resulting in a vast spectrum of wine styles and flavour profiles. Whether in the refreshing coastal areas or the warmer inland valleys, California's terroir provides the optimal conditions for nurturing a wide spectrum of grape varietals.

California is home to several celebrated wine regions, including Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara County, among others. These regions have solidified their reputation for crafting top-quality wines, each bearing its own unique characteristics and terroir, contributing to California's esteemed status in the world of wine.

Sine Qua Non, a prestigious California winery, is known for its artistic blends, distinctive labels and limited production. These highly sought-after wines reflect their "essential" quality, as the name "Sine Qua Non" implies. But the most famous wine from California is the Screaming Eagle. But the Harlan and Marcasssin are also known for their popularity. While Napa Valley excels in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, some argue that Sonoma County produces the best wines.

Lieferanten in Californien

Alban Vineyards  |  Bernardus  |  Elyssium  |  Francis Ford Coppola  |  L'Aventure  |  Louis M Martini  |  Schramsberg  |  Sine Qua Non
Alle Weine aus Californien

History of Californian wines

In California the wine industry differs from most Old-World countries. Here, most grapes come from specialized farms, while wineries with their own vineyards are exceptions. The dynamic relies on the accessibility of winemaking without vineyard ownership; anyone can set up a winery with inexpensive access and reputation as a talented winemaker. The division of labour between viticulture and winemaking offers winemakers room for experimentation, and therefore, California now embraced a diverse varieties of grapes.

California oddly appreciates the grape aphid now, even though it caused significant damage to many wineries in the region. During the boom of the California wine industry in the 1970s, a significant number of new vines were planted. At the time, the University of California at Davis recommended the profitable AXR 1 rootstock. Only a few wayward vintners remained loyal to the Saint-Georges rootstock, which had proven to be resistant to phylloxera. The majority, however, chose AXR 1, resulting in about three-quarters of the vineyards in Sonoma and Napa being planted with it. But suddenly it became apparent that this strain was susceptible to a phylloxera mutation. The voracious insect devastated nearly all the affected vines, eliminating plantings that contradicted prevailing knowledge on several fronts. Farmers and wineries seized this opportunity to deliberately replant the best vines. This was often accompanied by a significant increase in planting density and the transition to more natural growing methods in many locations.

Terroir of Californian wines

California, located on the west coast of North America and nearly 2,000 km long, is the largest state in the United States after Texas. The eastern part is dominated by the Sierra Nevada and the Mojave Desert, resulting in hot, dry, and rugged conditions. In the central part is the Central Valley, which is up to 90 km wide and is considered one of the most fertile regions. Here fruit and vegetable cultivation are intensive. Numerous agricultural products flourish under the sun, which is rarely hidden behind clouds and high temperatures, thanks to advanced irrigation techniques. When the Spanish discovered California, they didn't call it "caliente fornella," meaning "hot oven," for nothing. Although thousands of acres are planted with vines, the Thompson seedless variety dominates. It is sold primarily as a table grape or processed into raisins.

The climate only moderates when one reaches the coastal region, where mountain ranges stretch to the north south. The Pacific Ocean is relatively cold, leading to constant fog banks along the coast during the warmer season, especially during the crucial summer and early fall periods. Inland, the air warms and rises, allowing fog and cool sea breezes to penetrate where mountains are not a barrier or are lower than 600 m. This affects sunshine and slows grape ripening, essential for intense flavours, if in moderation. Where the Pacific Ocean reigns unimpeded, which covers nearly half of the California coast, it is too cold and humid for viticulture. Conflicting influences from mountain ranges on the ocean create varying depths of haze and wind input inland, allowing winemakers to create a wide range of wines. This climate provides the perfect environment for grape growing, which positively influences the quality of California wines. The wines are distinguished not only by their vast range of microclimates, where the sun that shines all year, but also by the wide variety of grapes grown there. All these factors contribute to the unique character of Californian wines.

The regions in California

There are several regions (AVA) in California

  • The North Coast AVAs. The North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) stands as a significant hub for winemaking in the United States. Nestled in Northern California, just north of San Francisco, it boasts a storied past dating back centuries when European settlers brought their grapevines and nurtured the wine-making aspirations in this fertile land. The main grape varieties in the North Coast are Cabernet Sauvignon, or as you can also call it ‘’the king grape’’ of the region. Napa Valley, often regarded as the crown jewel of California's wine regions, is famed for its superb Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, however some would say the best wines are produced in Somona County. Sonoma County borders Napa Valley has a diverse range of weather and soil types. It makes a wide range of wines such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc. The region is well-known for its picturesque vineyards and beautiful wineries.
  • The Central Coast AVAs. The Central Coast, spanning from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, benefits from the Pacific Ocean's influence, creating an extended, cool growing season with coastal winds and fogs. While white grapes were once dominant, red varieties are now gaining ground. With 40 distinct AVAs, including Paso Robles, Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey, and Santa Barbara, this region is gaining renown for its intriguing wines.
  • The South Coast AVAs. The South Coast AVA in California covers five Southern California counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego. It includes smaller sub-appellations reflecting different climates and geology, the area benefits from coastal proximity, resulting in wines with excellent acidity and delicate aromas due to significant day-night temperature variations. Particularly suited for Burgundy varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the South Coast AVA is home to smaller wineries, making it a haven for individualists and Burgundy enthusiasts.
  • Central Valley AVAs California's Central Valley, though less renowned, is a crucial grape-producing region, contributing a large share of the state's grape yield. Many wines from here bear the simple "California" label. Situated about 100 miles inland, this region is favoured by vineyard owners for its fertile soil and climate diversity, suitable for various crops beyond wine grapes. The hot, arid climate here can result in high yields, but grape suitability varies with microclimates and proximity to cooling influences like river deltas. Generally, grape varieties with high acidity, such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Barbera thrive here.
  • In the Sierra Foothills AVA, differing weather and soil conditions offer more flexibility for grape selection. Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Viognier prosper here, even when they may not in other parts of the Central Valley.

In the late 1970s, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) established a comprehensive system for the legal recognition of wine appellations known as American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). These newly defined AVAs were primarily based on geographical attributes. Notably, an AVA could be situated inside another AVA.
As of august 2023 California recognized 149 AVAs, which are half of the AVAs in the United States. Most of the wine regions are in the four primary AVAs, which are in the North, Central, and South Coasts, as well as the Central Valley, each with its own distinct combination of climate, soil, and varietals.

Labels of Californian wines

The requirements for labelling wine in California vary depending on a variety of circumstances, including the wine's geographical origin and composition. The following are the important labelling regulations in California:

  • California Appellation Label: All grapes used in wines labelled "Appellation in California" or any geographical subdivision of California, such as a County or a group of two or three counties, must come from California. This rule is stricter than federal standards, requiring that any wine bearing a California appellation be made exclusively from the grapes cultivated in California.
  • County Appellation Label: If a wine is labelled with the name of a California County, at least 75% of the grapes must come from that County, and the wine must be completed in California.
  • Two or Three Counties Appellation Label: All grapes encompassing two or three counties in California must be obtained from the listed counties. The percentage of grapes from each County must be mentioned plainly on the label, and the wine must be finished in California. A total of three counties may be listed.
  • AVAs in California (for example, Sonoma County or Napa Valley): Labels with regional designations like "Sonoma County" or "Napa Valley" must follow strict criteria. If an American Viticultural Area (AVA) is wholly within Sonoma County, the label must indicate this. Also the use of words such as "Napa" or "Sonoma" as well as any AVAs within Napa County is strictly regulated. These terms may not be used on wine labels unless the wine meets federal labelling rules.
  • Labels Combining a Varietal and an Appellation: When a label combines a varietal and an appellation, 75% of the grapes used in the wine must be of the specified grape type, and all these grapes must come from the specified appellation.
  • Labels with a Vintage Year and an Appellation: For labels with a vintage year and an appellation, at least 85% of the grapes used in the wine must come from the specified vintage year. The percentage needed increases to 95% if the appellation is an AVA.


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