Most of us are familiar with, if not dedicated fans of, California’s Sonoma and Napa Valley regions. But is there California wine outside of these famous regions? You bet there is and many go unnoticed or consumers simply forget the Golden State is known as the quintessential arena for some of the world’s most respected agriculture, including grapes.
Mendocino County is a foggy and cool region that is home to some of the world’s tallest living trees (370 feet). Though much of the county is covered in redwood forest, there are pockets of vineyards producing excellent wines. Vines make up about 17,000 acres, with chardonnay being the lead grape followed by pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon with most of the vineyards in the inland valleys of this mountainous region. Vineyards growing white wine grapes are generally located on flood plains along the Navarro and Russian rivers while most of the reds are grown on the bench lands above.
- 2016 Parducci Pinot Noir (about $13 retail)
- NV Scharffenberger Brut Sparkling (about $21 retail)
Santa Barbara’s geography allows for ocean breezes to blow eastward, channeled by the mountains and hills that surround the region. This creates a valley funneling cool air and fog directly in from the Pacific Ocean. Because it has a more maritime climate it offers dramatic changes in climate from the cool, wet and windy coast to the warm, dry inlands. The unique climate coupled with diverse soils ranging from ancient beach to limestone makes for a near perfect place for grapes to grow. This range of microclimates allows for a gamut of fine wine grapes from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and even some Rhone varieties (grenache, syrah) and Bordeaux varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot) to excel.
- 2016 Santa Maria Vineyard and Winery Sauvignon Blanc (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Presqu’ile Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir (about $42 retail)
North of Napa Valley, Lake County is a fast-growing wine region with some areas expected to double in the next few years as many new vineyards are being planted. Cabernet sauvignon is the most planted grape followed by sauvignon blanc. The Lake County region surrounds Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California. Grapes are planted in many places from the rich soils of the valley (lake level) to the rocky volcanic soils at more than 2,000 feet elevation around Mt. Konacti, a dormant volcano. The higher elevation, cooler winter conditions and later start to the growing season mean few grape pests so sustainable farming practices can occur almost year-round.
- 2016 Shannon Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15 retail)
- 2016 High Valley Zinfandel, California (about $20 retail)