The wine areas of Northern California have a terrain and climate
much like that of rural France. However, the scale is much smaller,
and holds only a few hundred wineries. Napa Valley is only 35 miles
long and 5 miles wide, while Sonoma County covers 1,600 square miles
along 60 miles of coastline. On the northern tip is Mendocino
County. This area is approximately 3,500 square miles and has a cool
climate that helps create Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It holds 30
Over the last two hundred years those wineries have had a difficult
struggle. Vintners have made great efforts to produce wines that
rival the best of France and Italy, since Russian colonists planted
vines in 1812, through the founding of the wine industry by Spanish
Franciscans in 1832, and up through Prohibition to today.
There were 256 wineries in the 1920s. Prohibition reduced that
number to less than 50. The region has recovered since this time and
is now thriving. Roughly 150,000 tons of grapes are produced by 200
wineries in Sonoma County. Over half are less than 20 years old and
all of the wineries sit on a mere 49,000 acres.
This area celebrates a temperate climate with moderate winters and
warm to hot summers that is prefect for growing a vast variety of
native and imported wine grape species. The most common varieties
grown are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, with a
sprinkling of Merlot and Zinfandel.
California wineries produced over 500 million gallons of wine in
2003, with a retail value of $15 billion from these grapes in 2004.
The majority of this came from Northern California. The total U. S.
production was 668 million gallons. The overall impact of the
California wine industry on the state's economy is estimated as high
as $45 billion.
Northern California wineries form part of a trade that attracts
nearly 15 million visitors per year and is second only to Disneyland
as a tourist attraction.
The area hosts the majority of California's 96,500 acres of
Chardonnay and nearly 75 thousand acres of Cabernet Sauvignon to
regularly produce award winning wines.
Those that love reds will find something to suit them from among
California's many offerings that include wines such as, a lower
tannin, dark red Merlot with characteristics of black currant, and a
spicy Syrah with characteristics of sweet blackberry and plum, or
the cherry and violet Pinot Noir.
Those fond of white shouldn't feel left out where the buttery
Chardonnay or the delicate Riesling with hints of peaches and
apricots compete favorably with those of France and Germany. The
California Pinot Grigio, light and dry, or the sweet, fruity Chenin
Blanc is as crisp as those from Italy or France.
The Northern California wineries are sure to please those looking
for a European experience in a California setting.
Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.
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