The Golden State is the heartland of American wine. With Napa’s cult Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma’s fine-boned Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara’s exquisite Chardonnay, top Rhône-inspired blends and everything in between, it produces an extraordinary range of fine wine that rivals the best around the world.

The wines of California

California has long provided the heartbeat of American wine, overcoming Prohibition and phylloxera to become the country’s most important wine region.

Missionaries first planted vines on Californian soil close to the Mexican border, and vines have since climbed their way up the western seaboard to the state’s northern border with Oregon and inland towards Nevada.

North of San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma have risen to fame in the past 50 years, thanks to their proximity to the cosmopolitan city and the beneficial climate: the cooling fogs of the Pacific Ocean roll in on a daily basis, moderating the climate and allowing grapes to attain a level of finesse that is the envy of vineyard owners further inland.

Napa Valley has become the centre of fine wine production, making Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines that rival Bordeaux’s best not only with their high quality but also their high-dollar value – such as Opus One, Harlan and Screaming Eagle. The 30-mile long, five-mile wide valley is a mosaic of soil types and microclimates, with valley floors and mountain slopes that have attracted Old World producers from Pauillac and Pomerol with the aim of producing their own interpretation of Napa Cabernet.

Sonoma County and Sonoma Coast have a growing reputation for elegant Pinot Noir and restrained Chardonnay, particularly those close to the cool coastline, while Dry Creek Valley continues to make prized Zinfandel.

The Pacific Ocean’s fogs are not the only source of cool air in California. Wine producers have also headed higher to find cooler sites such as the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is here that one of the coolest and most prized Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards is located: Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello.

Paso Robles is a heartland for Rhône varieties, while further south in Santa Barbara producers like Au Bon Climat and The Hilt are making fine-boned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

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