Southern California Wine Making Region

In a state that produces ninety percent of all United States wine, the vineries of Sonoma and Napa in Northern California are justifiably renowned. Nevertheless, they have no monopoly on quality, since the wines from the younger Southern California wine making region are an equal match for any of their northern cousins.

The majority of Southern California wine is produced in one of two regions. The wineries close to Santa Barbara or those near San Diego, one hundred miles north and south of Los Angeles respectively. Each region has actively participated in the growth of the California wine industry which nowadays ships in excess of four hundred and fifty million gallons a per annum to the United States and elsewhere.

Santa Barbara Wine Making Region

The east-west orientation of the seaward mountains forges valleys that open straight onto the Pacific Ocean. This creates a stream of fog and breezes that create the perfect conditions for growing superior varietals and wines.

Home to a number of microclimates near the Pacific Coast and the Pala Mesa Mountains, the Santa Barbara wine making region enjoys moderate temperatures right through the growing season, with warm days and cool nights. The environment offers favorable conditions for producing grapes with optimum sugar and acid levels.

The fifty-mile stretch from Point Conception to Rincon form the longest east-west arrow of shoreline from Alaska down to Cape Horn. Here lie vines that grow on everything from inhospitable hillsides to rolling valleys where summer temperatures frequently hover around one hundred degrees Fahrenheit

The climatic conditions allows working the vineries year round, with pruning and weeding in winter, new planting in spring, canopy management in summer and harvesting in the autumn.

The area mirrors largely the Rhone Valley area of France and vintners have responded accordingly. One hillside vineyard resides 1,000 feet above sea level with northern exposure, making it ideal for the Rhone varietals grown here.

There is Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sangiovese and Syrah - a cornucopia of European grapes. The wide variety is made possible by the numerous microclimates of the region with occasional snow on some of the mountains where cool-climate Chardonnay does well and the heat soaking Syrah in others.

Moreover, never ones to take the easy path, growers even took on the notoriously difficult Pinot Noir to produce a wine luscious with strawberry and herbal tones.

Twenty-five years ago, there were almost no vineyards in the area, but today wine is a $100 million business in the county, which include the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys. Between 1975 and 1995, both of these areas grew to eight thousand acres under cultivation between them. In the five years following, the area grew to eighteen thousand acres while today there are over twenty one thousand acres of vineyards, with over half of the grapes shipping to winemakers outside the county.

Temecula Wine Making Region

The friendly rivalry between Northern and Southern California is mirrored in the wine business. A young upstart, most of the vineyards of the Temecula wine making region did not exist twenty years ago. In fact, the first Temecula wines were not produced until 1971.

The fourteen hundred foot Temecula plateau is nestled twenty-two miles from the Pacific Ocean between peaks of the Coastal Mountain range. The cool afternoon breeze helps keep the smog away and the unique microclimate enjoys a higher solar intensity than Napa Valley.

Temecula's vineyards 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 remains a concern today.

Not far away is the highest vineyard in California, Shadow Mountain, growing Cabernet Sauvignon in the mountains above San Diego at an elevation of 4,400 feet above sea level.

Everything grows here from Chardonnay and white Rhone to Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet and the Italian Nebbiolo harvested as late as November. The result is a wonderfully fresh fruit character without the woodiness common to other California regions.

The origins of Southern California wine making dates back nearly two hundred years when the padres of Mission San Juan Capistrano created the first vintages. Nevertheless, today business is better than ever, with eighteen hundred acres in commercial vineyards, attributable to the partnership of sophisticated oenologists and fanatical winemakers.