What is the main climatic influence on California’s wine growing regions?
The California Ocean Current
- it’s an extremely cold Pacific Ocean current which moves down from British Columbia and directly affects the coast of California.
Despite California’s latitude and northern California’s mountainous terrain, it is this ocean current that plays the largest role in moderating California’s grape growing regions.
Most California vineyards are protected from cold ocean currents by what geological feature?
Mountains - which run up most of the state’s coastline.
Without the mountains, California’s northern coast would be dramatically cooler due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The mountains help insulate California.
What are the beneficial effects of fog created by California’s cold ocean currents?
The cold evening air and morning fogs that are drawn in from the ocean help to lower evening temperatures and retain acidity in the grapes.
Additionally, it takes longer for the sun to burn off the fog in the morning which extends the cooling effect well into late morning or afternoon.
What is the major detrimental effect of fog caused by California’s cold ocean currents?
The cooling influence of fog can be so intense that in some parts of California grapes can have difficulty ripening.
What climatic factor links nearly all of California’s grape growing regions?
Low rainfall during the ripening season.
What is the beneficial impact of California’s low rainfall during the ripening season?
Lack of rain means growers can leave their grapes on the vine late into the season, resulting in super-ripe grapes with intense flavors and elevated sugar levels.
How do many California grape growers deal with the lack of rain during the ripening season?
Due to the shortage of rain in California, many grape growers use drip irrigation to make sure their vines have water during the growing season.
What is the most planted red/black grape in California?
What is the most widely planted grape variety of either color in California?
Despite its European origin, what grape is widely considered to be a uniquely Californian grape?
What unique characteristic of Zinfandel allows it to be produced in several kinds of styles throughout California?
Zinfandel has the propensity of ripening unevenly, meaning that harvested bunches almost always include both unripe and raisinated grapes (which produces both underripe and overripe flavors in the wine).
What is White Zinfandel made from?
What is its general profile?
Early-harvested Zinfandel grapes
- Pale pink
- Low alcohol
Which areas in California have reputations for making distinctive Merlot with character?
The cooler regions of California, such as Monterey County and parts of California’s North Coast, and the warmer regions of Napa and Sonoma.
Merlot from these regions will be soft, lush, and velvety.
Which area in California has the largest plantings of Merlot?
Are these Merlots generally seen as higher quality or lesser quality than those from Napa, Sonoma or Monterey?
San Joaquin Valley in the Central Valley.
Merlots from San Joaquin Valley are generally seen as simple wines of lesser quality than those from Napa, Sonoma, or Monterey.
Merlots from San Joaquin are generally more affordable and meant for everyday consumption.
Which regions of California are known for producing top-quality Pinot Noir?
- Russian River Valley AVA
- Los Carneros AVA
- Sonoma Coast AVA
- Santa Maria Valley AVA
What does Fumé Blanc usually refer to?
Fumé Blanc usually refers to Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States that more than likely saw some new oak.
Be careful though, some producers will use Fumé Blanc on unoaked wines as a marketing term.
Where do some choice examples of California Sauvignon Blanc come from?
California’s coastal areas – which promote brisk acidity and bursting citrus notes.
Of the five winegrowing regions in California, which three do you have to know for the exam?
- North Coast
- Central Coast
- Central Valley
Where is the majority of California’s wine produced?
The hot + dry Central Valley has very fertile soil and irrigation is widely used to increase grape yields.
What California AVA has been a leader in forming California’s reputation for quality wines, and has been shown to possess some of the most desirable vineyards in the United States?
Napa Valley AVA
What large body of water has a significant cooling effect on Napa Valley?
San Pablo Bay
San Pablo Bay, a continuation of San Francisco Bay which extends northward, helps usher cool Pacific breezes and morning fog to the areas just north of San Francisco.
What are the two mountain ranges that flank Napa Valley?
Eastern side: Vaca Mountains
Western side: Mayacamas Mountains
These two ranges converge north of Calistoga, trapping and bottlenecking heat as cooler air pushes hot air up valley. This makes Calistoga several degrees warmer than Los Carneros, which is why Cabernet Sauvignon is planted in Calistoga and Pinot Noir is planted in Los Carneros.
How long is Napa Valley?
And how wide is it?
~50km (~31 miles) long
~5km (~3 miles) wide
What are the AVAs within Napa County you need to know for the exam?
- Los Carneros (shared with Sonoma County)
- Mount Veeder
- Spring Mountain District
- Howell Mountain
- St. Helena
- Stags Leap District
- Atlas Peak
Which valley floor AVAs of Napa Valley have built reputations for their Cabernet Sauvignon?
- Stags Leap District AVA
- Oakville AVA
- Rutherford AVA
Which valley floor AVA is best known for producing rich, complex, and “dusty” Cabernet Sauvignon wines?
Which northern Napa Valley AVAs record some of Napa Valley’s highest temperatures, thereby producing some of the most concentrated wines of the Napa Valley?
Saint Helena AVA and Calistoga AVA
Which Napa Valley AVAs reside above the region’s fog line?
- Howell Mountain AVA
- Atlas Peak AVA
- Diamond Mountain District AVA
- Spring Mountain District AVA
- Mount Veeder AVA
Unlike the valley floor AVAs which are cooled by fog, these mountain AVAs are cooled by elevation.
Which AVA is shared between Napa and Sonoma?
Los Carneros AVA
Los Carneros is the southernmost AVA in Napa County and it bleeds into Sonoma County.
Los Carneros AVA has built its reputation by producing what styles of wine?
- elegant still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
- traditional method sparkling wines
Climatically, how does Sonoma County compare to Napa County?
Sonoma County is much larger and, because of its size, contains a greater number of climates. Generally it is greener and more lush than Napa County.
Sonoma has regions that are noticeably cooler than Napa (such as Russian River Valley AVA) as well as regions that are far hotter than Napa (like Alexander Valley AVA).
What feature allows Russian River AVA to produce its famous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?
An opening in the Coastal Mountain range, known as the Petaluma Gap, through which cool Pacific Ocean breezes blow. These breezes bring fog and cool air.
Which Sonoma AVAs to the north of Russian River AVA are known for their higher temperatures?
- Dry Creek Valley AVA
- Alexander Valley AVA
The best vineyards of the Sonoma Coast AVA all face which direction?
The best Sonoma Coast AVA vineyards face south.
This aids ripening and provides additional sunlight hours as the Pacific Ocean has a notable cooling effect on this part of Sonoma.
What are the AVAs of Sonoma County you need to know for the exam?
- Russian River Valley
- Dry Creek Valley
- Alexander Valley
- Sonoma Coast
- Sonoma Valley
- Los Carneros (shared with Napa County)
Which county lies directly north of Sonoma County?
What cool Mendocino County AVA is known for its Rieslings, Gewürztraminers, and sparkling wines?
Anderson Valley AVA
Which AVA south of San Francisco is known for its rugged mountainside vineyards, low fertility soils, and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon?
Santa Cruz Mountains AVA
The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is known for producing highly celebrated wines from which international grape varieties?
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
The Salinas Valley, which straddles the Salinas River in California’s Central Coast, is one of California’s most productive and important agricultural regions.
Which AVA overlaps the Salinas Valley?
Which AVA in Monterey County is known for its rich, complex, and flavorful Chardonnays?
Santa Lucia Highlands AVA
How do the mountain ranges in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties impact growing conditions?
Unlike other mountain ranges in California where mountains act as barriers against chilly ocean air, in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara the mountains run east to west, acting as channels which move ocean breezes through the region, bringing cooling temperatures with them.
Note that it’s the western area of San Luis Obispo County that has ocean influence, not the hot eastern areas.
Which AVA in San Luis Obispo County is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah?
Paso Robles AVA
Paso Robles AVA’s western portion is directly influenced by the cooling marine breezes while the eastern side of the AVA remains hot.
Which Santa Barbara County AVAs do you need to know for the exam?
- Santa Maria Valley (cool - Pinot Noir)
- Sta. Rita Hills (cool - Pinot Noir)
- Santa Ynez Valley (warmest - Syrah, Bordeaux grapes)
Which AVAs of Santa Barbara County have earned reputations for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay?
- Santa Maria Valley AVA
- Sta. Rita Hills AVA
Which grape varieties perform well in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA?
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah
Santa Ynez is generally warmer than other regions of Santa Barbara County which allows these grape varieties to achieve full ripeness.
Which two valleys are completely contained within California’s Central Valley winegrowing area?
Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley
Both are hot and dry
What grape varieties were created specifically to match the warm conditions in California’s Central Valley?
Rubired and Ruby Cabernet
Which AVA spans across both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys?
The Lodi AVA is home to some of the longest lived and highest quality vines of what variety?
The Lodi AVA, which is situated east of the _______, receives cool breezes coming off of _______.
East of Sacramento Delta
Breezes off San Francisco Bay
These breezes are enough to help Lodi’s wines retain freshness.
See map of Sacramento Delta here.