California Wine Countr(ies)

Baby Grapes in Paso Robles
Baby Grapes in Paso Robles

I decided to do this quick overview because a coworker retired last week and indicated that she and her husband are going to be spending a week in Wine Country.  I asked her which one, and she looked at me blankly.

“Napa, of course. Is there another?”

She didn’t ask that facetiously, but as someone who only knew Napa and had no idea that California has “wine countries” throughout the state.  She recently had taken a look at the blog and noticed that I said quite a bit about Paso Robles.

“Where’s that?”

I told her that it was in the Central Coast of California, and she still didn’t quite understand.

“Central Coast begins at about Santa Barbara and ends at about Santa Cruz. Paso Robles is in the middle. The Central Coast has highly rated wines, including some that rank higher than many in Napa.”

I think that with her curiosity piqued, she will be checking out the Central Coast as she and her husband discover that it’s not all Napa!

Readers Digest Explanation of Wine Country

Newton Vineyard Napa
Newton Vineyard Napa

California wine country actually begins at the border in San Diego County, which, according to the San Diego County Vintners Association, sports over 50 (yes, that’s not a typo) wineries throughout the region. San Diego is part of the greater South Coast AVA which includes the counties of Riverside, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Orange. There are any number of wineries scattered throughout these regions; one of the oldest is actually in San Bernardino County under the Cucamonga Valley AVA.  Temecula and the recently created Malibu-Newton Canyon AVA are all under the South Coast AVA.

Further north, we begin to approach the Central Coast AVA, which, in my opinion, could easily be separated into a South Central Coast (Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, and other AVAs in the region), Central Coast (San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and its associated AVAs) and North Central Coast (Monterey, San Benito, San Francisco Bay, and other AVAs in the region). The SLO/Paso Robles part of the Central Coast is so vastly different from the coastal influences around Santa Barbara and Monterey that being included in the same AVA just doesn’t make sense.  But I’m not suggesting a change at this time. We just survived the 11 AVA breakup, so I’m good with things as they are.

Further north, we run into “Wine Country,” the lauded wines of Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Lake County, and the AVA that’s the furthest north, Mendocino County.

Lodi is located in the zone between the North Coast and the Central Valley (which is not an AVA).

All of these AVAs have any number of sub-AVAs and districts throughout.  For instance, although Paso Robles was just divided into 11 districts, at 72,000 planted acres of vineyards, it dwarfs Napa’s 44,000 planted vineyard acres. Napa, by the way, supplies only about 4% of the overall wines from California, but easily garners 95% of the attention!

I can’t forget the “unofficial” regions such as Ventura, which rests in the twilight zone area between the South and Central Coasts, but has about a dozen wineries and is rapidly gaining attention as a credible wine country.

Humboldt County has vineyards near the redwoods and is probably one of the most challenging areas to grow grapes next to the desert areas of San Bernardino County.

While many of the wines from the Central and North Coasts are readily available in many retail outlets, the wines of the South Coast and some of the outlying areas are only available online or directly from the winery. Which means that you will be forced to visit their wine countries in order to buy many of the wines.  I’m good with that.

There are associations connected to just about every larger wine region, so if the links above don’t quite give you the info that you need, a quick Google search will bring up all kinds of information. Be careful though; I found many “wine” sites that were woefully out of date.

So Cheryl, there you go! Enjoy your retirement and I hope that you and your hubby get to visit some of the great wine countries of California, even Napa!

 

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