Boasting beautifully complex topography, the California wine region is the largest in the United States. Covering an astounding 1370 kilometres, it is made up of a combination of mountains, plains, valleys, and plateaus, allowing for incredible variety. With such an extraordinary terroir, the state of California has been involved in viticulture for a good 200 years.
California’s first wines were planted by missionaries during the 18th century. The vines they started off with were grapes of the vinifera variety, also commonly planted in Central and South America by European missionaries and settlers.
Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II resulted in the Californian wine industry taking quite a knock. However, it managed to strive through these difficult years and eventually made a comeback in the 1970s. Today, California produces a whopping 90% of all American-produced wine.
Significant variations in soil and climate throughout the California wine region allow for the growth of a fabulous range of varietals. Certain varietals prefer warmer weather, such as Cabernet Sauvignon. Other varietals grow better in the cold, closer to the coast, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the principal wines made in the area. In addition, some of the most commonly used California wine vines include a few Vitis vinifera – also known as European vines – such as Pinot Noir, as mentioned, Merlot, and Syrah.
A testament to the region’s diversity and potential is the increase in the production of sparkling wine in the area. In fact, a few very well-known producers – including Moet & Chandon’s Domaine Chandon, among others – have opened wineries in the region recently. Two of the most popular areas to produce sparkling wine in the California wine region are the Napa Valley and the Anderson Valley.
Producing 211.9 million cases of wine in 2011, the Californian wine industry is made up of an astounding number of wineries – some large, producing affordable wine to Americans, and others small, boutique producers selling high-priced products overseas.
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