California, which in wine terms is virtually a country on its own, is the most important state in America by miles when it somes to wine , accounting for over 80% of all the wine produced in North America. If you add the two other West Coast States, Washington and Oregon, this rises to over 90%. Further south, Texas and Arizona are both stepping up to the plate, whilst up in the North East in New York State, some creditable wines are also being produced. Although these are the main wine growing states, there are some excellent wines being made in many others all over the country and these are likely to improve rather than the other way round. View our selection.
America’s regulation and research
Wine is made in all fifty states, with the regions being regulated as American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) which are based on climate and geography. The University of Davis, California, pioneered much of the new technology that has turned the wine world on its head over the last forty years, and they have made a huge contribution to the increased understanding and development of both viticulture and vinification. The American wine industry is ever restless and questioning, so it is likely that there will be much to get excited about in the future.
Although the USA has many grape types of its own, in all the main wine growing states European varieties predominate. How fortunate, then, that when so many European vines were wiped out by the scourge of Phylloxera in the late 19th Century, America saved the day. Virtually all European vines are now grafted onto American root stock which is Phylloxera resistant, and when these were imported into America they thrived.
American wine regions
Almost the size of France and bigger than many wine growing countries, California is the USA’s most important wine region by far, producing nearly 90% of all the wine made in North America. Nearly 1000 kms long and dominated by the Pacific Ocean, California is made up of a series of diverse viticultural zones, and the range of wines and styles to be found here is considerable. The best known region is probably Napa Valley, followed closely by Sonoma and then Mendocino County. There are vineyard areas that stretch right down the coast to Santa Barbara in the south and each has its own style and character. Wine has been made in California since the 18th century and it is no coincidence that the University of California at Davis has one of the best wine facilities in the world; they were in the forefront when it came to developing all the new technology that so revolutionised wine making. Many different grape types are to be found here (Californian wine farmers are never averse to trying out new combinations) including most of the classic European favourites but also varieties, such as Zinfandel, which are Californian through and through. Here is a wine ‘country’ which turns out some of the very finest and most expensive wines in the world, but also offers plenty of generous, fulsome, relatively inexpensive wine. In short, something for everybody.
Zinfandel: planted extensively in California where it makes rich top class red wines through to the semi sweet blush style. Grown to a limited extent in Australia. In general, wines produced from Zinfandel are easy, uncomplicated and for immediate drinking. In Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy, it is known as Primitivo.
An AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Coastal region of Mendocino County, California. Barely 15 miles long it runs along Anderson Creek, and other tributaries of the Navarro River, from Yorkville through Boonville to Navarro. Noted for its Alsace varieties such as Gewürztraminer, but also for Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Good sparkling wines are made here. Favoured by many prominent wine winegrowers, including Louis Roederer.
A Californian AVA in Sonoma Valley, which runs north of Healdsberg towards the border with Mendocino County. Influenced by the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River, this is a warm area although the nights are cool. One of the largest and most highly planted areas in Sonoma, Alexander valley is suited to many different grape varieties but is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sangiovese. The wines have a reputation for warmth and charm rather than longevity.
America’s most prestigious AVA, which lies in California, north of San Francisco. Produces some of the best Cabernet and Chardonnay in the world which are serious rivals to those from France. Runs north to south, with the southern, open end, being cooler due to its proximity to the ocean and the northern, closed end, being much warmer. Within the valley there is a wide variety of soils, giving the vine grower plenty of choice. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, many other different vine types are cultivated here including Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel. The region is broken into a number of sub-regions, of which Stags Leap (southern end, Cabernet and Merlot), Oakville (top region, with some of the USA’s grandest wine estates situated here), and Rutherford (some of the Valley’s best Cabernet’s) are amongst the most prominent.
One of the most important vine growing areas in California, lying north of San Francisco between Mendocino County and Napa Valley. There are sixteen separate AVA’s here, each with its own climatic conditions ranging from warm to cool, each making wines with their own distinctive character. The main grape varieties in Sonoma are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon , Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. The potential for making good sparkling wines in the Carneros AVA was recognized some time ago and several Champagne Houses, Moët and Chandon and Taittinger amongst them, have bought land there and are making Champagne style wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Yorkville Highlands, North America
An AVA lying to the south of Mendocino County in California. The days are hot and dry but, due to the elevation, the nights are cool. The poor soils have good drainage forcing the vine to dig deep to find water, so the grapes have great concentration. Amongst the red varieties grown, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir are particularly suited to these conditions, and amongst the whites, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier succeed especially well.
A large Californian AVA (American Viticultural Area) which runs from Santa Barbara in the south up to San Francisco Bay. It encompasses several other smaller AVA’s, notably Santa Barbara, Monterey and Santa Clara County. Chardonnay looms large, accounting for around 50% of the fruit produced, but there are many other varieties grown there as well.
A Californian wine region that lies along the coast south of San Francisco. The climate and terrain is varied, with some valleys lying west to east channelling breezes from the Pacific Ocean. There are five separate AVA’s within Santa Barbara County, each with its own micro climate. With some areas being warm and some cooler, a wide variety of grape types can be cultivated with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc amongst the whites, and with the reds including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache.
Oregon lies north of California and south of Washington State. It has a long established wine industry and numerous AVA’s of which the best known is Willamette. The climate, which is greatly influenced by the Pacific, is relatively cool allowing the cultivation of Pinot Noir (for which Oregon is best known) Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling. There are many others and Oregon has much to offer.
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