California Wineries - An Introduction
The state of California was first introduced to Vitis vinifera vines in the 18th century by the Spanish, who planted vineyards with each mission they established. The wine was used for religious sacraments as well as for daily life. The vine cuttings used came from Mexico and were the descendant of the "common black grape" (as it was known) brought to the New World by Hernán Cortés in 1520. The grape's association with the church caused it to become known as the Mission grape, which was to become the dominant grape variety in California until the 20th century.
The California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century brought waves of new settlers to the region, increasing the population and local demand for wine. The newly growing wine industry took hold in Northern California around the counties of Sonoma and Napa. John Patchett opened the first commercial winery in Napa County in 1859. The vineyard and wine cellar were located in an area that is now within the city limits of Napa.
During this period some of California's oldest wineries were founded including Buena Vista Winery, Charles Krug Winery, Inglenook Winery and Schramsberg Vineyards. Chinese immigrants played a prominent role in the developing of the Californian wine industry during this period-building wineries, planting vineyards, digging the underground cellars and harvesting grapes. Some even assisted as winemakers prior to the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act which severely affected the Chinese community in favor of encouraging "white labor." By 1890, most of the Chinese were out of the wine industry
California has over 427,000 acres (1,730 km2) planted under vines mostly located in a stretch of land covering over 700 miles (1,100 km) from Mendocino County to the southwestern tip of Riverside County. There are over 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including the well-known Napa, Russian River Valley, Rutherford and Sonoma Valley AVAs. The Central Valley is California's largest wine region stretching for 300 miles (480 km) from the Sacramento Valley south to the San Joaquin Valley. This one region produces nearly 75% of all California wine grapes and includes many of California's bulk, box and jug wine producers like Gallo, Franzia and Bronco Wine Company.
The wine regions of California are often divided into 4 main regions-
North Coast - Includes most of North Coast, California, north of San Francisco Bay. The large North Coast AVA covers most of the region. Notable wine regions include Napa Valley and Sonoma County and the smaller sub AVAs within them. Mendocino and Lake County are also part of this region.
Central Coast - Includes most of the Central Coast of California and the area south and west of San Francisco Bay down to Santa Barbara County. The large Central Coast AVA covers the region. Notable wine regions in this area include Santa Clara Valley AVA, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, San Lucas AVA, Paso Robles AVA, Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley and Livermore Valley AVA.
South Coast - Includes portion of Southern California, namely the coastal regions south of Los Angeles down to the border with Mexico. Notable wine regions in this area include Temecula Valley AVA, Antelope Valley/Leona Valley AVA, San Pasqual Valley AVA and Ramona Valley AVA.
Central Valley - Includes California's Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills AVA. Notable wine regions in this area include the Lodi AVA.
Grapes and Wines
Over a hundred grape varieties are grown in California including French, Italian and Spanish wine varietals as well as hybrid grapes and new vitis vinifera varieties developed at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. The seven leading grape varieties are:
Other important red wine grapes include Barbera, Cabernet franc, Carignane, Grenache, Malbec, Mouvedre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. Important white wine varietals include Chenin blanc, French Colombard, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Muscat Canelli, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Riesling, Roussane, Sémillon, Trousseau gris, and Viognier.
Up until the late 1980s, the Californian wine industry was dominated by the Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay. Sales began to drop as wine drinkers grew bored with the familiarity of these wines. Groups of winemakers like Rhône Rangers and a new wine wave of Italian winemakers dubbed "Cal-Ital" reinvigorated the industry with new wine styles made from different varietals like Syrah, Viognier, Sangiovese and Pinot grigio. The Santa Cruz based Bonny Doon Vineyard was one of first wineries to promote these grape varieties in California actively. The large variety of wine grape also encourages a large variety of wines. California produces wines made in nearly every single known wine style including sparkling, dessert and fortified wines.
Introduction provided by Wikipedia