“Thank you for your wine, California,
Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruits.”
~ The Rolling Stones, Sweet Virginia
In that short phrase, a world of images arises. The cultured beauty of the Napa Valley. The wild hills and wilderness surrounding vineyards in far northern California. Cool coastal vineyards, fog rolling in. Grapes growing on golden hills dotted with wildflowers and oaks.
Northern California is a land of two seasons: wet and dry, green and golden. It’s larger than life, with giant, towering redwoods, crashing surf, mountain peaks, bears, mountain lions, and whales.
The wines that come from California started when Spanish explorers and Franciscan fathers started traveling north from Mexico, and planted vineyards next to their missions for sacramental wine. The gold rush brought a flood of people, also thirsty for wine, and that drove more planting. But Prohibition brought the entire industry to a crashing halt, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that California again began planting vineyards and making wine.
In 2012, California had almost 4,000 wineries. Some are tiny, buying grapes from others for their wines. Others are huge, such as Gallo, the largest wine producer in the world. Six grape varieties are planted the most: chardonnay, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, merlot, and pinot noir. Over 800,000 acres are planted in wine grapes, from our own Trinity County, all the way to Temecula Valley, south of San Diego.
California’s a big state, with 163,696 square miles of mountain peaks, lush valleys, rolling hills, and windswept coasts. Deserts, river lands, forests, and alpine meadows, make up an incredibly diverse climate and geography. The one thing all these areas have in common? A wealth of sunlight. This creates wines of great ripeness, meaning that California wines are the extroverts in the room.
Because California’s climate is generally mild and steady, vintages don’t mean quite as much as they do in Europe. So far, at least, California doesn’t get rot-producing rains at harvest, deep frosts during spring, or cold summers. This isn’t to say that a particular winery’s wines taste the same from year to year. It’s just that California has the weather on its side, more than other countries.
A mellow climate, good soils, and a diverse geography, means California wines come in a huge variety of styles and grape varieties, with better and better wines being made each year.
À votre santé!