California Wine Regions

California is the backbone of the American wine industry. It is currently the largest wine producing state in the United States and is responsible for producing more than 80% of all American wine. The large size and geographical position of California has led to a vast number of wine regions, all producing unique styles of wine. In fact, out of the 267 approved AVAs or official American wine regions, 147 of them are located in California. 

The goal of defining regions with official AVAs is to give customers a better idea of what the wine will be like before they buy it. Many of these AVAs are known for the styles of wine they produce and sometimes even the quality level. But a winery can’t just put the name of any AVA on their label. In order to use the name of the AVA on the wine label, 85% of the grapes used to make the wine must have been grown within that AVA. 

The majority of California’s AVAs are located closer to the coastline in both the north and south of the state. Though, there are some major regions located further in the interior. Many of the larger AVAs are divided into smaller AVAs that possess some kind of unique geographic or climatic feature that sets them apart from the larger AVA. This is the case in one of California’s most famous AVAs, Napa Valley. Within Napa Valley there are currently 16 different smaller AVAs. 

The smallest AVA in California is Cole Ranch in Mendocino County. The entire appellation is only 150 acres, with about 55 acres of that planted to vineyards. It’s so small it’s actually all owned by just one winery. It’s known for its higher elevation and slightly cooler climate. 

The Five Winemaking Areas of California

In general the wine regions of California can be separated into five main larger regions. These include the North Coast, Central Coast, Southern California, Sierra Foothills, and Central Valley. 

The North Coast consists of the area north of San Francisco both immediately on the coast and slightly further inland. The most important AVAs here are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, probably the two most well known AVAs in all of California. The Central Coast is a very large region consisting of the coastal area below San Francisco all the way to Santa Barbara. The most famous AVAs located within include Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. Southern California consists of the regions around Los Angeles and further south all the way to the Mexican border. This area is currently not as well known as the other two regions, but there are still a handful of AVAs located within this region producing unique wines. The next region is the Sierra Foothills. This is the furthest inland of the five regions, and is located east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. This is an interesting region that has grown in recent years, and looks to be an area full of potential. The last region is the Central Valley. This is a very large area sitting in the center of California, and covers the large flat, fertile valley where much of California’s produce is grown. Most of the grapes grown in this region go into cheaper bulk wine, but there are some AVAs that produce quality wines, such as Lodi.  

Below is a timeline including some of California’s most famous AVAs and the date in which they received their AVA status.

  • 9/23/1981

    San Pasquale Valley AVA was established

    AVA stands for American Viticultural Area, and it is located...
  • 11/19/1981

    Guenoc Valley AVA was established

    A smaller inland AVA in California’s Lake County AVA is...
  • 12/4/1981

    McDowell Valley AVA was established

    The 540-acre McDowell Valley AVA is situated in Mendocino County’s...
  • 12/4/1981

    Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established

    An American Viticultural Area named after the Santa Cruz Mountains...
  • 12/4/1981

    Sonoma Valley AVA was established

    An American Viticultural Area known as the Sonoma Valley AVA...
  • 5/12/1982

    Edna Valley AVA was established

    The rural town of Edna, which is north of the...
  • 6/4/1982

    Lime Kiln Valley wine region was established

    In the greater Cienega Valley AVA in San Benito County,...
  • 1/27/1981

    Napa Valley wine region was recognized

    As of January 1981, Napa Valley was officially acknowledged as...
  • 8/5/1981

    Santa Maria Valley AVA was established

    In the farthest north of Santa Barbara County is the...



“Wine Regions in California.” n.d. USA Wine Ratings.


Categories: Wine History TimelinesBy Published On: July 26, 2022Last Updated: January 2, 2023

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