California Wine Regions: The North Coast

California’s North Coast

California’s North Coast wine region includes the state’s best-known wine producing areas: Napa and Sonoma. Winemaking in California really got its start here, and over half of the state’s wineries are located in the North Coast region. The North Coast encompasses six counties: Napa, Mendocino, Solano, Marin, Sonoma, and Lake. The entire region has been designated an AVA, but there are smaller notable regions within the North Coast as well.

Napa County

Napa County is the most well known wine-producing area in California, and possibly the entire United States. However, most California wine isn’t produced in Napa. In fact, only 4% of wine made in California was grown and produced in Napa. Nonetheless, Napa is a beautiful place to visit and boasts some of the most well known vineyards and wineries in the state. And if you’re looking to start a new vineyard or winery, you might be drawn to the Napa area because the name recognition means that tourists flock to the county. While Napa County is part of the North Coast AVA, it also contains 16 smaller AVAs.

Many wine grape varietals thrive in Napa County, but the area is best known for its incredible Cabernet Sauvignon. Other types of wine produced in Napa include Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.

Mendocino County

Mendocino County is tucked away in the northern corner of the North Coast region. The area is well known for its redwood forests, which help to define the area’s terroir. Mendocino is foggy and cool, unlike some other California wine regions. Tourists frequent the area for the redwood forests, so it can be a great place to start a new winery.

Winemakers in Mendocino County primarily produce Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Depending on your specific location within Mendocino County other varietals might also thrive.  Have your soil tested and speak to a local expert about the elevation, climate, and soil of your land so you can figure out if any other varietals will grow well.

Sonoma County

Sonoma is not as well known as Napa but nonetheless boasts over 500 wineries. Like other areas in the North Coast region, Sonoma is a great place to start a winery because of the abundance of tourists already in the area.

Sonoma County is California’s foremost producer of Pinot Noir. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay produced in Sonoma are also popular.

Lake County

Lake County, home to the largest inland body of water in California, is another tourist hotspot. The county is known for producing affordable yet delicious bottles of wine, particularly Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay and Merlot are also grown in Lake County though to a lesser extent.

Los Carneros County

Los Carneros County is a very popular area for new winemakers because it’s tucked between Napa and Sonoma. Because of its location, even very new wineries get a lot of tourist foot traffic. Los Carneros is a great spot if you’re looking to make sparkling wine, especially from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes.