California’s wine growing regions produces unique and diverse wines, with different flavors and characteristics being derived from the soil, climate and the winemakers that create them. Ranging from abundant sunshine to cool coastal air, plus a variety of soils and terrain, each region lends its own personal touch to the varietals grown there. A Chardonnay grown in the Central Valley can seem like an entirely differently grape when compared to a Chardonnay produced from Monterey grapes. This diversity means that within the state, there is a wine for every palate.

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 a more specific growing region known as an American Viticultural Area, or 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.

Within California there are more than one hundred AVA’s. An AVA is a geographical area recognized for grape growing that has distinguishable growing conditions, such as climate, soil, or elevation, that differ from surrounding areas. An AVA can be any size (there are no minimums or maximums) and may even cross state or county lines.  Many of us are familiar with the major wine growing regions such as Napa and Sonoma Valleys, but within each of these regions, there may be several AVA’s, both large and small. Below is a quick summary of the wine regions in California:

  • North Coast
    • Mendocino County
    • Lake County
    • Sonoma County
    • Napa
    • Carneros
  • Central Coast
    • Livermore Valley
    • Monterey County
    • Santa Cruz Mountains
    • San Luis Obispo County
    • Paso Robles
    • Santa Barbara County
  • Central Valley
  • Sierra Foothills
  • Southern California
    • Temecula Valley

A lot of wine made in California falls into two categories in my mind. Mass production wines and the high-end, terrior driven wines made by discerning wine-makers. My focus in California is to the second section and I divide California into the following regions:

  • Sonoma Coast
  • Sonoma
  • Napa
  • Santa Cruz Mountains
  • Paso Robles
  • Santa Rita Hills