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California Wine

California is the largest and most important wine region in the United States. Occupying the southern two-thirds of the country's west coast (Oregon and Washington make up the rest), it spans almost ten degrees of latitude and 850 miles (1370km) of coastline. With mountains, valleys, plains and plateaux, the state's topography is as complex as its climate, offering winegrowers a bewildering choice of terroir.

Although Californian wines rose to global renown only in the past few decades (notably after the Paris Judgment of 1976), the state's viticultural history dates back more than 200 years. The first vines were planted here in the 18th century, as European settlers and missionaries made their way up and down the west coast. They brought with them the Mission grape – the vinifera variety also instrumental in establishing viniculture in Central and South America. Although very few Mission vines are to be found in California today, it remains a cornerstone of Californian wine.

Early spring in a California vineyard

The first half of the 20th century brought war, Prohibition and the Great Depression to the United States, collectively suffocating the nation's once-burgeoning wine industry. It wasn't until the significant social, cultural and economic developments that followed World War 2 that things began to change. In the 1970s, the leading lights of the Californian wine industry brought about renewed winemaking passion in other US states, ultimately sparking the national wine renaissance. This period saw a proliferation of new, small-scale wineries throughout the country and the upscaling of longer-established operations and created momentum that has continued into the 21st century.

Today, California hosts some of the world's largest wine companies, but it is also home to a number of boutique wineries, some of which attract astronomical prices for their cult wines. Whether through mass production or single-vineyard artisanal winemaking, California produces 90% of American-made wine and supplies more than 60% of all wine consumed in the country, shipping a record 211.9 million cases in 2011.

The principal varieties grown in California are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. A wide range of traditional European (Vitis vinifera) vines also flourish, grafted to hardy, phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks. Less well known are American/European hybrids producing wines mainly for local consumption. Many French Champagne houses have set up wineries in California. The most famous examples are Moet & Chandon's Domaine Chandon, Taittinger's Domaine Carneros, Louis Roederer's Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley and Mumm Napa in the Napa Valley.

Soils and climates vary substantially throughout California, according to a complex combination of altitude, latitude and proximity to the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean. As a rule of thumb, the more mountains there are between a vineyard and the Pacific, the less it benefits from the cooling effects of a maritime climate. In summer, the cold inshore waters of the Pacific help to create a fog bank just off the coast. As the inland air warms and rises, cold fog is sucked in to fill the space. In extreme cases, fog has been known to travel as far as 100 miles (160km) inland, cooling and refreshing the land as it goes.

Generally, the cooler regions closer to the coast are better suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while further inland – where the climate is much hotter – some of California’s most-famous Cabernet Sauvignon wines are grown. Zinfandel produces some outstanding examples throughout this important region.

To sum up the complex climatology, topography and geology of such a large area is impossible without losing the subtleties that make one wine different from the next and that ultimately make wine such an interesting topic. For specific information on each of California's wine regions and AVAs, please use the links to the left.

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Here are some wines produced in this region and all sub-regions, only the first 500 will be shown.
Wine Name
Opus One, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $304 12
Dominus Estate Christian Moueix, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $185 40
Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $195 44
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $2,660 50
Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $74 51
Harlan Estate, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $812 54
Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $154 81
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $166 102
Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $283 103
Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $115 107
Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $117 121
Beaulieu Vineyard BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $105 123
Orin Swift Cellars - The Prisoner Wine Co. 'The Prisoner', Napa Valley, USA Cabernet - Syrah - Zinfandel $42 137
Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $142 139
Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, California, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $27 142
Saxum Vineyards James Berry Vineyard, Paso Robles, USA Southern Rhone Red Blend $188 145
Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $74 147
Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $516 153
Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red $107 159
Spottswoode Family Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $141 164
Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $125 167
Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, USA Pinot Noir $108 179
Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $44 183
Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon $124 184
Marilyn Monroe Wines 'Marilyn' Merlot, Napa Valley, USA Merlot $47 198
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