California: Vine varieties

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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California’s mix of vine varieties is one of the world’s most fluid, thanks to its high proportion of professional grape farmers selling their produce to wineries in free market conditions, to innate American flexibility, and to the technique of field grafting.

The most planted varieties in 2013, in declining order, were Chardonnay, whose total area had shrunk very slightly to 98,000 acres/39,000 ha, Cabernet Sauvignon, which passed the 86,000 acre mark, Zinfandel (a fairly steady 48,000 acres), Merlot (whose total plantings increased spectacularly from 11,000 to 52,000 acres between 1992 and 2003) at a steady 45,000 acres, Pinot Noir (whose total plantings had soared to 41,000 acres), French Colombard (22,000 acres), Syrah (19,000 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (a fairly steady 16,500 acres), and Pinot Gris (13,000 acres). Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel dominate labels, while French Colombard and Chenin Blanc are more often non-trumpeted ingredients in less expensive blends, the great majority of them either white or blush. Italian influence can be seen in limited plantings of Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Pinot Grigio (Gris). Other varieties gaining ground in the 2010s included Cabernet Franc and other Rhône varieties such as Grenache (red and white), Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Viognier.