Northern California

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 wineries.

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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