I was recently asked the rather broad question: Can you explain what the different regions / climates of California are, and how they affect the wine's characteristics?
Impossible to answer in a single post, but here's some thoughts:
The weather remains an important key to wine quality. It is so influential that only certain wine types can be grown in a given locale due to its unique aspect and environmental effects. Pinot Noir grows best in cool regions such as the coastal growing areas of California . Zinfandel may be grown in very hot regions of California such as the central valley.
Geological influences, yearly rainfall, temperature range and other important qualities may determine a growing area. More often, politics will dictate who gets what where.
Let’s start with Sonoma . The valley of Sonoma is subdivided into many appellations because somebody feels that the wine produced in that area is different from the neighboring farms.
The wine geeks at Davis devised a system of temperature measurement for wine grape growing. The temperatures summed and put through a formula to produce region I through V. Region I is the coolest while region II is a little warmer. Region V is the hottest.
In Sonoma , there is a small appellation known as Chalk Hill. It is reputed that the cabernet produced in this region produces wines with chalky tannins. Further north in the redwood valley, some zins that taste like blueberry are produced. It can’t be that the winemakers conspire to make their wines with a signature flavor.
A wine region helps to define a set of flavors to expect.
Napa County is home to the famous marketing magicians. This region too has many sub appellations. The growers on the edges of the valleys or "benchland" have been known to look down their noses at the growers on the valley floor. Super expensive cabernet can come off the hills in Napa . They will say that the extra drainage and fog which breaks a couple of hours early makes wines that are more concentrated and flavorful. Some wineries on the valley floor may produce fine wines as well though...
Napa is home to famous cabernets coming from the sub appellations of Oakville , Rutherford , Yountville and Calistoga. Further south one may find the region of Carneros.
Carneros is the most southern area near the two valleys. If the letter U were a representation of sonoma on the left (west) and napa to the right (east), Carneros connects the two to the south.
Phew, There are so many details that are left out of the story about region. My hope is to give you a flavor for the impact it has.
Leaving the little nest of Napa Valley , one may venture up and down the coast of Cali .
First one may think of Monterrey area. This central coast area, is known to produce fine Pinot Noir. The fog and cool influence of the sea, makes it a great home for Pinot's with bright cherry and a certain mineral quality that is noticed in wines made from vines grown on heavy clay soil.
Then the warmer areas near Rock Pile, and further inland one may find some zinfandel growing. Santa Cruz produces some nice chardonnays and pinots. My knowledge of central coast growers is a bit tame.
There are other regions such as Amador Co. and the Central Valley which may grow wine grapes.
I’ve been working with a lot of fruit from Amador this year, and it tends to be ripe, and fleshy. This indicates to me that the region is a bit warm. It’s probably a class three and four area. The Syrah and Zinfandel that I have received were very good quality.
The best way that I learned them was by going to them for a few years, but at first I would draw a map of the county, and fill in the sub appellations. A big wine book such a Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia is instrumental for reference, and good coffee table reading.
People will try to grow grapes anywhere. The result relies on the palate of the people.
Sources: Vine Physiology, Dr. Mark Mathews (UCD); Principles and Practices of Winemaking, Kunke Bisson and Bolton (UCD); Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, Editors;
The Wine Atlas, Hugh Johnson.
Whether the weather
- Blog comment by Dog training, Nov 27, 2007.
Very interesting... as always! Cheers from -Switzerland-.