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California - The New World's champion


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California is the undisputed king of New World wine production – in terms of volume, awards, and global prestige. Scores of Old World producers ranging from Louis Roederer to Paul Masson have purchased vineyards and set up shop in California’s Napa Valley, Anderson Valley, Santa Clara Valley, and elsewhere. It is a state larger than Italy, and more than half the size of France. More than 500,000 acres are currently planted with wine grapes, and the number grows every day.

Mission grapes were originally planted by the Spanish in the 1700s, and wine was produced in California within a decade of the first European settlers. When the Gold Rush hit in 1849, the demand for wine increased a hundred fold, and new wineries sprung up all over the state. European experts were brought in, and began staking out the areas best suited for grape production – regions such as Sonoma County and Napa County which are still known today as the premiere growing areas.

The modern age of California wine began in the 1970s, and the state truly came into its own in a 1976 blind tasting in France – the so-called Trial of Paris. In this competition, in which California wines were tasted alongside the best French offerings, the New World swept both the red and white wine categories, and overnight California became a major player on the world stage.

Today, California is home to more than 3,300 wineries, ranging from mass-market ‘jug wine’ producers such as Gallo, to small-production, extremely-expensive ‘cult’ wines such as Screaming Eagle. Prices range drastically, from $2 boxes to $400 bottles, and it can be difficult to keep up with the constantly shifting landscape of wineries, winemakers, and vintages.

California is divided into 107 specific regions (American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs), which in turn are part of roughly 20 larger AVAs, which in turn are part of four major regions in the state: the North, Central, and South Coasts, and the Central Valley. Of these, the North Coast region is most well known, and wines from these AVAs command the highest prices. The North Coast includes Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, Dos Rios, Dry Creek, Yountville, and other top-brand regions.

Wine tours and a larger tasting industry can be found throughout the state, but the highest concentration can be found in Napa County, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, Santa Maria Valley, and Temecula.


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Visit California for the wine and the weather