Santa Maria Valley
This wine region, northwest of Santa Barbara, produces excellent pinot noir and chardonnay, but has also become known for its Rhône varieties (syrah, mourvèdre, viognier, grenache blanc and noir, etc.). Susceptible to blankets of fog rolling in from the Pacific, it is a cool but fairly mild region in general, with a moderate climate that gives it a long growing season.
Santa Cruz Mountains
Including portions of Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, this high-altitude wine region is known for its many microclimates. Chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and zinfandel are the main varieties grown here, but the eccentric (and influential) Bonny Doon Vineyard was a pioneer with Rhône varietals and other less common grapes.
An immense expanse of wine-growing real estate, covering portions of six counties between Santa Barbara and the San Francisco Bay Area and including more than 100,000 acres of vineyards, the Central Coast region includes the Santa Maria Valley, the Santa Ynez Valley and Monterey viticultural areas, and more than 20 other appellations. Chardonnay is the main grape planted, but there are scores of others, from albariño to zinfandel, with such rarities as counoise, mondeuse, and vermentino in between.
Encompassing portions of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Marin, and Solano counties, north of San Francisco, this massive region includes such famous viticultural areas as Alexander Valley, Anderson Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Los Carneros, Mendocino, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, Oakville, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley, Spring Mountain District, and Stags Leap District, among many others. ("North Coast" appears as a designation, however, only on bottles that don't qualify for more specific appellations.) Virtually every type of soil and climate combination in Northern California may be found within its confines. It would be easier to name grape varieties that aren't planted in the region's 45,000 acres of vines than those that are.
This wine region in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains covers an area of more than 2.5 million acres, but only about 6,000 of those are planted to vines. Portions of Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne, and Yuba counties are included within its boundaries, and there are more than 100 wineries here. The region is best-known for zinfandel, though there is also cabernet sauvignon and syrah, and a smaller quantity of chardonnay.
Grapes are grown all over California — anywhere that climate allows — and there are more than 100 AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas, in the state, with the main sub-divisions being Central Coast, Santa Cruz Mountains, Central Valley, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, South Coast, and the small Klamath Mountains area in far northwestern California. Some of the lesser-known areas include Livermore Valley, just south of San Francisco; Lodi County, to the east of San Francisco, famous for zinfandel; San Francisco Bay (a miscellany of vineyard regions east and south of the city), Temecula Valley (near the site of California's first mission vineyards), and even two AVAs in Malibu. Most varieties of Vitis vinifera are planted here, whether in experimental plots or en masse. Wines labeled simply as "California" are blended from more than one AVA.