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Wine is produced in many of the American states, though over 90% comes from California. Vitis Vinifera vines were introduced to North America by Spanish missionaries who cultivated them to make communion wines. However it wasn’t until the late twentieth century that Californian wine became a popular beverage in the UK and other export markets.

In 1976 at the ‘Judgement of Paris’ tasting, when Californian producers were invited to show their finest wines in a competition against the best from Bordeaux and Burgundy, to everyone’s amazement California swept the board and over the following decades consumers’ perceptions of the wines changed and sales rocketed. California is now recognised as one of the world’s premier wine producers.

RegionsGrape Varieties
About three quarters of the state’s wine is made in the Central Valley, a 300 mile stretch of vineyard inland from the cooler, fine wine areas. Most of the production here is cheaper, bulk wine and the world’s largest winery, owned by E&J Gallo is located here. There are over 100 Californian winemaking regions and sub-regions, some far more well known than others. Wines from the Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley are all readily available in the UK. Less well known but of good quality are areas such as Mendocino County, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.
There are dozens of different grape varieties grown in California, although most of the wine we see in the UK is made from the major, ‘international’ varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah for the Californian red wines and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier for the Californian white wines. Californian Zinfandel, similar to Italy’s Primitivo produces a popular and distinctive wine.

Many of the less widespread varieties also make a major contribution to the state’s output. Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc all have a loyal following. Some excellent vermouth style and fortified wines are also produced, for example Andrew Quady’s winery near Fresno makes some delicious dessert wines from the Muscat grape.

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