History of California Wine
The origin of wine production in California can be traced back to the 18th Century. The Spanish missionaries of the day planted vineyards and produced wines for use at religious sacrament. The California Gold Rush of the middle 19th Century bought many new settlers to the region, causing the demand for wine to increase. Many new vineyards were planed and wineries built to accommodate this demand. The late 1800's saw the pest epidemics destroy enemy vineyards and wipe out many of the smaller wineries.
The early 20th Century bought yet another hurdle for California wine … Prohibition. During Prohibition the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol was considered illegal. As a result, vineyards were elevated and wine cellars were destroyed. Some wineries survived because they were allowed to continue operating as non-alcoholic grape juice companies. In 1933 the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment of alcohol ban and California wine began its climber out of the proverbial cellar.
For years, California wines were thought to be inferior imitations of their French counterparts. That was until May 24, 1976 and the Judgment of Paris wine competition. French judges were asked to perform a blind test of wines from France and California. When the results were in, California wines first took place in both the white and red categories. The results were reported by Time magazine and the perception of California wine was changed forever.
Major California Wine Regions
Today, California is one of the world's largest wine producers with over 1,200 wineries. These wineries fall into four major wine regions: Central Coast, Central Valley, North Coast and South Coast.
The Central Coast AVA (American Viticulture Area) is located along the Pacific Coast of California from the San Francisco Bay area down to Santa Barbara County. The Central Coast region is made up of six counties which all qualify as their own AVA. These counties are Contra Costa, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. Chardonnay makes up over half of the region's 100,000 acres.
The Central Valley is the largest wine region in California. It stretches over 300 miles from the Sacramento Valley to the San Joaquin Valley. This region is made up of California's Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills AVA and produces rough 75% of all California wine.
The North Coast region is located along the northern coast of California above the San Francisco Bay. This large region contains two of the most famous and visited wine regions in the United States: Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Napa Valley is a world famous wine area and home to numerous award winning wineries. Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellar the wineries who won the white and red categories of the 1976 Judgment of Paris are both located here.
The South Coast region runs along the Pacific coast from the southern end of Los Angeles to the Mexican border. There are some notable wine regions here such as: Antelope Valley / Leona Valley AVA, Ramona Valley AVA, San Pasqual Valley AVA and Temecula Valley AVA.