04/14/2014 11:02 EDT | Updated 04/23/2014 04:59 EDT

Fresh Off The Vine: A Beginner's Guide To California Wineries

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California -- the name conjures up beaches, surfers, the Pacific Coast Highway, sun, and of course, Hollywood. But California is also known for its production of top-quality, award-winning wines. We all know that, but how much do we know about California wineries? Here’s an overview of what to expect and what to chat about over that first perfect sip.

Fresh Off The Vine: A Beginner's Guide To California Wineries

Where is wine country?

California is a big state -- one of the biggest in the United States -- and its wine country is also pretty big. How big? Try 427,000 acres of vines planted. Those acres cover 1,100 kilometres, range from the Oregon border to San Diego, and include the famous Napa Valley.

Know your regions

Within the massive wine country are different regions, which produce different wines based on grape type, weather, and soil. The regions are classified into the Central Coast, North Coast, Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Foothills, and the South Coast.


Sun, sun, and more sun with a bit of desert thrown in -- that’s the stereotypical image of California. However, the California wine country displays more weather diversity than that. Some regions are more Mediterranean in nature, while others have more continental climates, most with a mild winter (unlike the cold winters needed to create ice wine). What’s more interesting is that the wine country has different soil types. Without going very deeply into the science, what that means is the different soils produce different flavours. This gives California wines their reputation for variety in flavour.

The big vineyards

We’ve mentioned Napa Valley regions but there are many of the world’s most famous wineries in California. Think Sonoma, Gallo Winery (a classic for those of us with long memories), Twisted Oak, and Pisoni to name a few. How few? There are more than 3,000 wineries in the region. You won’t be lacking for choice!

California wine specialties

California Chardonnay is a world-renowned wine, but there are hundreds of grape varieties grown in the region, according to the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. There are easily more than 100 currently, but some of the more popular ones are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Famous vintners

In California, it would be impossible to keep celebrities from mixing in with the wine industry. Did you know Mario Andretti founded a winery in Napa Valley? It’s called, appropriately enough, Andretti Winery. Other famous winery owners include director Francis Ford Coppola, Madonna, Wayne Gretzky, and Lil Jon. Time to find out what stardom tastes like!

What else to do there

California wine country offers more than just winery tours (though why would you want to do more?). From shopping, food, and live music at the Historic Napa Mill in Napa Valley, to taking in the sun and surf at a Santa Cruz beach, you’ll never lack for things to do. Check out the Carmel Beach Festival in Monterey, or play a leisurely 18 holes at a Tri-Valley golf course. When it comes to non-wine-related entertainment in California wine country, the options are as varied as your imagination.