Savvy Wine Region of March – California
by A.J. McClellan, Certified Sommelier and Founder of Roots and Water
California is a clear leader in the world of wine. Over 635,000 acres of prime California land is dedicated to over 100 different incredible grape varieties, accounting for over 80% of all U.S. wine production. With thousands of wineries to choose from (more than 4,200), California is not just the country’s top producer, but fourth in the world with more than 242 million cases of wine sold with a retail value of $3.6 billion.
In the late 1970’s, the U.S. finalized a new system known as the American Viticultural Areas (AVA) to demarcate appellations based on distinctive geographical, physical, and climatic features. California’s first AVA was granted to Napa Valley in 1981. As legal appellations, an AVA is only an indication of geographic origin, and does not require producers to adhere to any additional guidelines in the vineyard or the winery. Every bottle of California wine on the market lists the geographical origin where the grapes were grown. In some cases it will be the state of California itself, a county within the state, or the specific AVA. For a wine to carry an AVA name on its label, at least 85% of the grapes must be grown in that AVA. If a county is listed on the label, that number is 75%. And any wine simply stating that it is from “California” indicates that 100% of the grapes are grown in the Golden State.
The major winegrowing regions of California are divided into four large AVAs: North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast, and the Sierra Foothills. Each of these includes a number of smaller AVAs—for example, Napa Valley AVA and Sonoma Valley AVA are both located within the North Coast AVA. Most of the fine wine districts are in these two major AVAs, near the coast, where fog and cool sea breezes mitigate temperatures and create a large diurnal swing from warm days to cool nights.
Napa County, home of Napa Valley AVA, is California’s preeminent fine wine region and the birthplace of a classic style of American Cabernet Sauvignon. Approximately 4% of California’s vineyard acreage is in Napa Valley, and it encompasses 16 sub-AVAs, named for the surrounding mountains and towns of the valley. The valley stretches northward from the San Pablo Bay past the principal towns of Napa and St. Helena to Calistoga, with its width narrowing—from five miles wide at the town of Napa to one mile wide at Calistoga—and temperatures warming perceptibly as one travels north. Cool ocean air funnels through the Petaluma Gap into the San Pablo Bay and upward through the valley. Napa Valley’s vineyards stretch from zero to over 2,000 ft. above sea level. The valley is formed by the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, which mark the border with Sonoma County, and the Vaca Mountains on the east. The valley has a remarkable diversity of volcanic, alluvial and maritime soil types, ranging from well-drained gravel loam to dense clays to the thin, rocky soils of the hillside vineyards.
Sonoma County lies between Napa County and the Pacific coast where altitude, cold ocean air and persistent coastal fog combine to keep temperatures down. The AVAs of Sonoma cover a much larger area than the AVAs of Napa and there is a wide variation in climate and soil throughout the county. The Russian River Valley AVA, which follows the river southwest, is one of the most highly regarded regions within in Sonoma. The Burgundian grape varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most prominent in this region.
The bulk of California’s wine is produced in the state’s vast, hot Central Valley, an extensively irrigated agricultural area divided between the northern Sacramento Valley and the southern San Joaquin Valley. The Central Valley temperatures are most suitable for fortified wines, table grapes, and raisins. Gallo, the second-largest producer in the world, is headquartered at Modesto, and produces half of the Central Valley’s wine out of their facilities. The largest and most important Central Valley AVA is Lodi, home to over 20% of California’s total wine grape production. Lodi, located just south of Sacramento on the eastern edge of the Sacramento River Delta, is slightly cooler than much of the Central Valley, due to the influence of a gap in the coastal ranges, which pulls the coastal air inland from the San Francisco Bay and over the delta.
California’s wine growing regions continue to produce unique and diverse wines, with different flavors and characteristics deriving from the soil, climate and the winemakers that create them. Ranging from abundant sunshine to cool coastal air, each region lends its own personal touch to the varietals grown there. Hard-earned secrets of soil, climate and vine have been passed down from generation to generation, providing California wine with its unique legacy and spectacular range.
Come check out what Roots and Water and The Savvy Cellar Wine Tasting Club is all about!
Your annual membership fee of $50 per person gets you:
- your first bottle of wine at Roots and Cellar free (sommeliers choice of the month)
- free pop-up tastings for the member plus one (additional guests at $20 each)
- VIP private event invitations
A.J. McClellan founded Roots and Water to give his clients a place to come and find the most extraordinary fine and rare wines in the world and to have a place that fellow oenophiles can gather to share their passion for wine. The private, members-only, speak-easy, wine club is located in the Design District, offering a quiet, safe, and fun place to learn and experience wine like never before.
About the Savvy Wine Cellar Wine Tasting Club: Roots and Water Wine Club, in partnership with Estate Life, offers you the opportunity to join the Savvy Cellar Wine Tasting Club. By joining, you get access to monthly wine tastings, free wine delivery, and private special events at the Wine Club. Every month we will present information on a new wine region and then hold tastings of benchmark wines from the region. Whether you’re learning wine or an existing oenophile, you’ll want to take advantage of this exclusive environment and ultra-luxury experience. For just $50, you’ll get all 12 months of access for the tastings and your first bottle of wine hand-selected by one of R&W’s expert sommeliers.