Californian wine consists of 90% of all of the wine that is made in America, and only three countries in the world produce more wine than this region. In the 18th century when the Spanish settled in California they planted vineyards in every mission they established. These original black grapes were Mediterranean in origin and became known as the mission grapes. The Gold Rush in the mid-19th century saw a massive boom in the state’s population and many of these new settlers wanted to drink wine. Northern California became the centre for commercial wineries and the first one to be opened was Buena Vista Winery in 1857. It has followed in rapid succession by Inglenook Winery and Markham Vineyards.
New grape varieties were introduced after the phylloxera epidemic decimated many vineyards at the end of the 19th century. There were now 300 varieties of grape being used and the state had 800 wineries, but the numbers were reduced to 140 after the prohibition years. During this period from 1919 until 1933 Vineyards were ordered to destroy cellars and uproot vineyards. The recovery then took time to gather momentum and by the 1960s the area was mainly popular for its sweet port wines. However, during this decade a new breed of winemakers started to emerge, and new wine making technology started to once again raise the quality of the region’s wines. Their reputation was boosted in 1976 when the State’s wines were invited to a blind wine tasting event in Paris. In the “Judgment of Paris” event the Californian red and white wines came out on top and this proved to be a watershed moment for the industry.
California has a superb general climate for wine production and subtle varieties in the regions weather results in many different types of wine being produced. The reliably warm weather with sufficient rainfall means that grapes can be successfully cultivated. The dangers of frost are general negated by the use of wind machine and sprinklers. The mists and cooling winds in the upland regions balance out the mi-summer heat. The further from the pacific coast the drier the conditions will become, and this will affect the tastes of the wines from those particular areas.
There are four main wine regions, North Coast, Central Coast, South Coast and Central Valley. Central Valley produces 75% of all of the wine from the state and its wine region stretches for 300 miles from north to south.
There are many Californian wines varieties, but all of the regions wines are typified by their fruity flavour. The long hot summers mean that the wineries are able to use very ripe fruit. This has made the wines strong in alcoholic content with the average wine being over 13.3 per cent alcoholic content giving off a full fruity taste. The sparkling wines of the region have been produced since the 1880’s and the quality of these wines produced has attracted Champagne houses to open wineries in California. Moet et Chandon, Tattingers and Domain Chandon are three such houses that operate in the region.
These Californian champagnes also contain the fruity flavours that its other wines have, and the superb growing conditions enable a vintage dated wine to be produced every year. The wine industry is a major contributor to the Californian economy. It has survived a turbulent history to be in the strong position that it finds itself today.