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About 90% of the wine in the United States is produced in California. Of course, the history of North American wine is much younger than that of the old continent, but it is still interesting to see how producers in the region are more open to innovation and experimentation than more traditional European producers.
Generally speaking, however, it can be said that Californian producers take French wines, particularly those from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, as their reference model.
History of wine in California
The history of wine in California begins a few centuries ago - in the 18th century Spanish missions introduced wine production into the American economy - and it has always been characterized by a strong alternation between periods of glory and periods of recession, due both to natural events - the invasion of phylloxera in the 1980s of the last century was disastrous - and political - think of the ban in the 1920s of 900.
It can be said that the great success of Californian oenology began in 1960, with huge economic investments by many entrepreneurs. The lack of strong traditions to follow did not hinder producers, but rather gave them the freedom to adopt modern practices and technologies that allowed them to achieve significant production in a short period of time.
In California today, almost all types of wines are produced, from white to red, from dry to sweet, as well as excellent sparkling wines.
The grapes used in the production of Californian wine are mainly international grapes, many of which are of French and Italian origin. The only native grape variety is Zinfandel, vinified in white. According to some research, zinfandel, genetically identical to the primitive, had already been known in California since the 19th century.
The territory of California
The area devoted to viticulture in California exceeds 300,000 hectares. Wine production, obtained mainly from black grapes, reaches 17 million hectolitres per year. Climate plays a fundamental role: it is not by chance that California is often considered as the "Mediterranean of the New World".
We can divide Californian wine production into 8 important areas
Napa Valley : About 90 km from San Francisco, only 4% of all Californian wines are produced there. The most common grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon, while for white wines, the most commonly used varieties are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Sparkling wine is also produced using the Champagne method. In the Napa Valley territory, there are also some sub-areas, including Mount Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Stags Leap Distric.
Sonoma County : it is a region known mainly for white wines produced with chardonnay, reds produced with cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir and sparkling wines, also produced here using the classic method. Productions with zinfandel, syrah and viognier are also important. Sonoma County also includes sub-areas: Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley.
Los Carneros : The region is famous for its sparkling wines based on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and for its Merlot and Pinot Blanc wines.
Mendoncino : the cool climate of this region has favoured the cultivation of less common grapes, such as fiano, montepulciano, arneis, gewürztraminer, riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot bianco, petite syrah and grenache noir. Chardonnay and pinot noir are also very common and used for the production of sparkling wines. This is an area of prime importance for organic viticulture.
Lake County: The grape varieties found in this region are practically the same as those of Mendoncino.
Sierra Foothills: The most important production areas in the region are El Dorado and Amador. It is mainly cultivated with syrah, zinfandel, small syrah, barbera, black grenache, mourvèdre, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, but also with Italian varieties like sangiovese and barbera.
Rivermore Valley: located south of San Francisco, it produces Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah and Zinfandel.
Central Valley: an area that extends from San Francisco to Los Angeles, within which there are several sub-areas (Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey County, Mount Harlan, Carmel Valley, Chalone, Paso Robles, York Mountain, Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley). The most common grape varieties are chardonnay, riesling, viognier, muscat canelli, muscat orange, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, grenache noir, mourvèdre, syrah, cinsaut, pinot noir, zinfandel.
Curiosities about Californian wine
In 2016, the prestigious and influential Wine Spectator magazine declared a Californian wine, Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013 from the Lewis winery**, as the best wine in the world.
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