Learn about California wine

Tanya Morning Star
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Start to learn California wine here

When you think of American wine, typically Napa Valley is the first thing that pops into your mind. When learning California wine, one of the first facts you may discover is it’s largest wine-producing state in the US, producing over 80% of American wine. If California were a country, it would be the 4th largest wine-producing country world-wide. 

California contains a multitude of nuanced but highly favorable conditions for viticulture, with ample sunshine and mild winters. The climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean, and during the growing season, there are few clouds and very little rain.

California wines are much more elaborate than just those that we know from Napa Valley. The state has about 150 unique AVAs, which can be broken down into the 4 main AVAs you may notice when you pick up a bottle of wine. 


North Coast

The North Coast AVA is inclusive of Mendocino County, Lake County, Napa Valley, and Sonoma County. Most consider Napa the most important wine-growing region of California as their wines are the ones that put American wine on the international stage. 


Central Coast

The Central Coast is further broken down to North Central and South Central. In the North, you’ll find the Monterey AVA, which is most known for its Chardonnay, although you’ll also find Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. Moving to the South, you’ll find Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. These AVAs are more known, smaller AVAs like Santa Ynez Valley and a variety of world-class Pinot Noir. 


Sierra Foothills

California’s Sierra Foothills is an inland wine-growing region most famous for old vine Zinfandel. It’s also one of the largest AVAs in America, with over 2.6 million acres of vineyards. 


Central Valley

The Central Valley produces most of America’s produce and a large amount of bulk wine. You can find some unique old vine Zinfandel and Petit Syrah, typically from the Lodi AVA. These wines can be surprisingly delightful and tend to be more affordable California wines. 

Thanks to its Spanish settlers, wine in California dates back to the 18th century. The center of California winemaking originated in Southern California but moved north thanks to the Gold Rush. 

Prohibition halted a booming industry in California, with exports sent to Australia and Central America. By the time prohibition ended the wine production in California had dropped over 90%. Experts at UC Davis started a Viticulture and Enology program to help bring back the thriving world of wine to Northern California. However, it wasn’t until the 70s that California truly splashed on the international scene. 

In 1976 California winemakers entered their wines into a blind tasting competition in Paris. California wines took first place in both the Chardonnay and red wine categories. The news spread quickly, and since that day, California has been recognized as one of the top winemaking regions globally. 

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About Tanya Morning Star

Founder & CEO of Cellar Muse, CWE, FWS, IWS, SWS, WSET Diploma Instructor

Certified by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne as one of 60 global Official Ambassadors of Bourgogne Wines, the only Official Ambassador of Orvieto Wines, and a Vinitaly International Italian Wine Ambassador. 

Tanya Morning Star has been working in the wine industry; in restaurants, retail, and education for more than two decades. She has been teaching about wine since 2004. Her love of classical wines, passion for history, nature, and gastronomy inspires her educational approach. In 2018, she was bestowed the French Wine Scholar Instructor of the Year.