Looking at California's Wine Regions - dummies

Looking at California’s Wine Regions

By Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Wine grapes flourish throughout much of California — in wine regions as far north as Mendocino County in the upper third of California, as far west as the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and as far east as the city of Fresno.

Napa Valley and Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, are of course world-famous wine destinations. But the last 30 years have also witnessed the emergence of Santa Barbara and Monterey along the state’s central coast and Anderson Valley in Mendocino County — to mention just a few of the new hot spots for California wine.

Centuries of experience have proven that the place where grapes grow influences their nature and therefore the nature of the wine made from them. California’s climate, soil, and topography vary from one part of the state to the next. Like the differences in growing conditions, the differences in wines from region to region can be subtle or dramatic.

California’s wine producers didn’t always take the issue of regional differences, or terroir, as seriously as they do today. However, those who make fine wine all over California now have real respect for the individual distinctions that make one vineyard different from the next and that make every wine region unique. Grape growers and wineries in specific regions have banded together, funded research, and shared their experiences to better define and understand the intricate nature of their own region’s terroir.

The most important California wine regions include the following:

  • North Coast:

    • Napa Valley

    • Sonoma County

    • Mendocino County

    • Lake County

  • Sierra Foothills

  • Central Coast:

    • Monterey County

    • San Luis Obispo County

    • Santa Barbara County

Although plenty of California wines come from the grapes of multiple regions rather than from the grapes of a specific region (the labels of these wines simply state the wines’ origin as California), a wine’s region of production is an increasingly important consideration in buying fine wine from California. The following figure depicts California’s main wine regions.

The wine regions of California.
The wine regions of California.