- USA Overview
California is the nucleus of wine production is the USA although there are a number of now very well established regions in other States across the country. Please see below a brief summary of what to expect and navigate around the other areas from the interactive map to learn more.
Winegrowing in California covers a vast area of the State. However it is only those vineyards planted close to the Pacific and those nestled into the foothills of the Sierra Mountains that generally produce the wines for which the State is rightly considered among the best sources in the wine world. The key to the coastal vineyards are the cool breezes and sea fogs that drift in through coastal gaps. These dominate the summer months along the state’s coastline all the way from Mendocino 100 miles north of San Francisco and south towards Santa Barbara
Mendocino and Lake Counties
Like the vineyards of Sonoma to the south Mendocino is entitled to the catch all North Coast AVA. It is mostly cool and particularly suitable for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Anderson Valley produces a number of restrained, stylish examples and is also an excellent source of sparkling wine. To the north-east are the warmer AVAs of Redwood Valley and Potter Valley impressive Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet are grown here. Lake County and the Clear Lake AVA, Guenoc and Benmore Valley sub-AVAs are located to the east, across the Mayacamas Mountains.
Large sprawling area which has its own AVA and is a fine source of a plethora of styles and grapes.
This is really the heartland of North Coast vinegrowing and it includes the warm red-grape areas of Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley to the northeast. Tremendous Zinfandel and Syrah can be found in both AVAs. To the east is the Knights Valley, with fine Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. South of Healdsburg is the vast Russian River Valley AVA a source of exemplary Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and, in the warmer eastern sites, very good Syrah and Zinfandel. To the far west impressive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also produced and take the Sonoma Coast AVA. To the south-west is the distinctly cool Sonoma Green Valley AVA, a source of some top-quality sparkling wines. To the south-east of Santa Rosa and nestled into the Sonoma Mountains is the Bennett Valley AVA, offering exciting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot.
The Sonoma Valley AVA is located to the south of Santa Rosa. The valley is bordered by the Mayacamas range to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west. The western range has its own AVA, Sonoma Mountain, and provides impressive examples of restrained Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. In general the better reds are planted in the warmer northern sections of the AVA while the southern sector that borders Carneros produces stylish whites as well as good Pinot Noir.
Napa & Carneros
The Napa Valley is from a qualitative perspective California’s most important region and one that is justifiably world famous. It is a source of some the best and most expensive red wines in the world.
Calistoga’s vineyards are the warmest and most northerly in the Napa Valley, To the west are the Diamond Mountain District and Spring Mountain District AVAs and to the east the Howell Mountain AVA. A number of exceptional Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and meritage blends are produced.
The central section of the Napa Valley is the heart of its best benchland vineyards for top reds. This takes in an area that runs from St Helena in the north to cooler Yountville in the south and encompasses the AVAs of Rutherford and Oakville.
To the east of Yountville are the AVAs of Stags Leap District and Atlas Peak. To the west Mount Veeder provides sturdy reds with Zinfandel and Syrah increasingly successful as well as Bordeaux style reds; some fine, tightly structured Chardonnay and peachy Viognier are also produced.
Part-Sonoma County and part-Napa County, Carneros AVA is a key source for sparkling wines. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also successful and, more surprisingly, in warmer mesoclimates so is Syrah.
The huge geographical area of the Sierra Foothills encompasses Amador County and stretches into the Sierra Mountains. The AVAs here are El Dorado, Fiddletown and the Shenandoah Valley. The area is mainly a source of top old bush vine Zinfandel but a number of Italian varieties, particularly Barbera, also enjoy some success as do a number of Rhône styles and varieties.
The coastal vineyards of the Central Coast are all entitled to use that catch all appellation for wines sourced along an area stretching from San Francisco, south almost to Los Angeles.
Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and the Bay
Santa Cruz is the principal AVA taken for the best wines. The area includes a whole range of mesoclimates and runs from the southern San Francisco Bay south to Santa Cruz and inland south-east almost to San Benito County. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are successful in Santa Cruz as well as warmergrown Cabernet Sauvignon.
This extensive area gives its name to an AVA that stretches down from the coast almost to Paso Robles. On the coast just to the south of Monterey are the Carmel Valley and, further inland, the Santa Lucia Highlands AVAs. Source of some of the most impressive recent bottlings of Pinot Noir. To the south are the AVAs of Arroyo Seco and San Lucas.
San Luis Obispo County
Four AVAs are contained within the San Luis Obispo County boundaries. Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley are both relatively cool. The former is a fine source of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, whereas the Edna Valley has also provided some excellent Rhône styles and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Paso Robles is warmer and this is generally red wine territory with very good Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah. York Mountain to the west of Paso Robles is also cooled by altitude.
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara County is to the north of Los Angeles and follows the coastline. AVAs include Santa Maria to the north of the county with fine Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, Santa Ynez which is good for fuller reds and the recently established Sta. Rita Hills, also a source of top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Central Valley and the South
The vast Central Valley is where the bulk of California’s wine is produced and the wine is as you would expect, cheap and of generally fairly modest quality. The odd good red does emerge and there are some decent fortifieds. South of Santa Barbara and right into Los Angeles itself some good to exceptional wines are produced, although many are from bought in grapes. To the far south towards San Diego is the region of Temecula. Nothing of note has yet emerged.
Best known of the Oregon regions is the Willamette Valley source of very good Pinot Noir as well as fresh aromatic whites and good Chardonnay. Because of the size of the region and its variation in soil and climate six new smaller AVAs have also now been established. These are the Yamhill-Carlton District, the Ribbon Ridge, the Chehalem Mountains. The Dundee Hills, McMinnville and the Eola-Amity Hills. There are several other AVAs to the south, including the Umpqua Valley with some exciting reds and whites, Red Hills Douglas County and in the far south of the state Rogue Valley with some striking Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris and Applegate Valley. In the north-east both the Columbia and Walla valley AVAs extend over the state line, although there are few wineries based on the Oregon side.
The vineyard area is vast and dominated by the giant Columbia Valley AVA, within which there are two sub-AVAs, the Yakima Valley to the west and the Walla Valley in the east. A newly established AVA close to the coast is Puget Sound, yet it appears to be too cool and damp to provide wines of any substance. The Columbia Valley by contrast is dry and necessarily irrigated. Excellent Bordeaux and Rhône-style reds are produced along with good Chardonnay.
The Other States
The most state away from the west coast is Virginia with the key AVAs Middleburg and Monticello. New York State is also important, the notable appellations are Finger Lakes, Hudson River, Long Island and the North Fork of Long Island. A few numbers of good wines are also made in Arizona in Cochise County and the Sonoita AVA. Maryland is also a good small source, while Idaho is significant for volume.