The vineyards of Sonoma and Napa in Northern California are
justly famous. However they have no monopoly on quality, and the
wines from the newer Southern California wineries are an equal match
for any of their northern sisters.
The majority of Southern California wines are produced in one of two
areas: the wineries near Santa Barbara or those near San Diego, 100
miles north and south of Los Angeles respectively.
Each area has actively participated in the growth of the California
wine industry which now ships over 450 million gallons a year to the
U. S. and elsewhere.
The east-west orientation of the coastal mountains in this area form
valleys that open directly onto the Pacific Ocean. This produces a
flow of fog and breezes that produce favorable conditions for
growing world call varietals and wines.
This are is home to several micro-climates near the Pacific Coast
and the Pala Mesa Mountains, and enjoys moderate temperatures
throughout the growing season, with warm days and cool nights. This
environment also provides favorable conditions for producing grapes
with optimal sugar and acid levels.
The fifty mile stretch running from Point Conception to Rincon forms
the longest east-west arrow of shoreline from Alaska to Cape Horn.
Vines grow in this area on everything from wind-swept hillsides to
rolling valleys where summer temperatures hover around 100F (38C).
The climate allows the vineyards to be worked year round, with
pruning and weeding in the winter months and new planting in the
spring. Canopy management is done during the summer and harvest is
in the fall.
The area is much like the Rhone Valley area in France and vintners
have responded accordingly. In fact, one hillside vineyard resides
1,000 feet above sea level with northern exposure, making it ideal
for the Rhone varietals grown.
A cornucopia of European grapes such as, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc,
Pinot Gris, Sangiovese and Syrah are all grown in this area. This
wide variety is made possible by the numerous micro-climates of the
region with occasional snow on some of the mountains where
cool-climate Chardonnay does well and the heat soaking Syrah and
Never ones to take the easy path, growers even take on the
notoriously difficult Pinot Noir to produce a wine luscious with
strawberry and herbal tones.
Only twenty five years ago there were almost no vineyards in the
area. However, today wine is a $100 million business in the county,
which includes the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys. These two
areas alone grew to 8,000 acres under cultivation in the twenty
years between 1975 and 1995. The are grew from 8,000 to 18,000
between 1995 and 2000. Now there are over 21,000 acres of vineyards,
over half of the grapes being shipped to winemakers outside of the
The friendly rivalry between Northern and Southern California is
mirrored in the wine business. Most of the southern vineyards are
very new and didn't even exist twenty years ago. The first wines
were produced in this are in 1971.
This area is found on a 1,400 foot plateau nestled 22 miles from the
Pacific Ocean between peaks of the Coastal Mountain range. Cool
afternoon breezes help keep the smog away and the unique
micro-climate also enjoys a higher solar intensity than Napa Valley.
The vineyards of this area are irrigated from enormous underground
aquifers that feed soils high in decomposed granite, which helps
drainage and to keep it free of Phylloxera which is an invasive
insect that devastated entire European wine regions in centuries
past and is a concern today.
The highest vineyard in California, Shadow Mountain is not far from
here and grows Cabernet Sauvignon in the mountains above San Diego
at an elevation of 4,400 feet above sea level.
Everything from Chardonnay and white Rhone to Syrah, Grenache,
Cabernet and the Italian Nebbiolo harvested as late as November is
grown here. The result is a wonderfully fresh fruit character
without the woodiness common to other California regions.
Southern California winemaking goes back nearly 200 years when the
padres of Mission San Juan Capistrano produced the first vintages.
Today business is better than ever, with 1,800 acres in commercial
vineyards, thanks to the partnership of sophisticated oenologists
and passionate vintners.
Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.
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Cotes Du Rhone