Not many people think the US is a wine producing nation. Although grapes can be grown in many areas of the US, California is responsible for over 90% of the total wine production in the US. So big is the wine producing industry in California that if it
was its own country, California would be the world's fourth largest wine producer! Because of California's diverse climate and geography, more than one hundred varieties of grapes can be grown, meaning the range of California wines is quite diverse.
History of California wines
Grapes were first introduced to California by Spanish missionaries who planted their own small vineyards to use to make wine for religious sacraments. The vine cuttings they used were from Mexico, which were first introduced by Heran Cortes in the early 1500s, and were a descendent of the original "common black grape". Because of the association of this strain of grape, it was referred to as the "Mission Grape" and was the dominant grape grown for Californian wines up until the beginning of the 20th century.
The demand for locally produced wines increased greatly during the California Gold Rush during the mid-19th century. From this demand, the Californian wine industry took off in northern California, particularly around the areas of Sonoma County and the Napa Valley. By the turn of the century, there were approximately 800 wineries making wine from the nearly 300 varieties of grapes. However, 1919 introduced Prohibition to the US. This meant that wine-producing vineyards had to tear up all their vines and destroy cellars. Some wineries managed to get around this by converting their vines to produce table grapes or to grow grapes for the grape juice industry. Others were able to still produce wine for religious purposes, but this was kept in a relatively small quantity. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, most wineries were out of business and only 140 managed to survive.
It took many decades for the Californian wine industry to recover. By the 1960s, California had a reputation for producing good sweet Port wines. This era also brought in new winemakers from overseas that focused on quality. Over the years, the reputation for producing high quality wines increased and gradually became known overseas. This reputation was solidified in 1976, when several California wine producers were invited to Paris to take part in a blind tasting to compete against some of the best wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. The result of this was that not only did they prove once and for all that California can produce some great wines, but they took the gold medal in both the red and white categories.
Wine Producing Regions of California
At present, there are approximately 1730 square kilometres of planted vines grown throughout California. The wine producing regions are divided among four major regions.
1) North Coast - this includes most of the north coast of California. The most well-known regions include the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
2) Central Coast - this area includes most of the central coast of California and the areas south and west of San Francisco Bay down to Santa Barbara County.
3) South Coast - This area includes a portion of southern California south of Los Angeles to the Mexican border.
4) Central Valley - This is the largest wine region , including California's Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills.
There are more than 100 grape varieties grown in California today, with many originating in France, Italy and Spain. The most common grape varieties grown today are : Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel. There are also numerous other lesser varieties that are grown in lower quantities. This means that there is a huge variety of wines. Today, California produces nearly every single style of wine, including sparkling, fortified and dessert wines.
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