California Wine Region

14 Incredible California Wine Regions You Must Visit in 2024

by Anthony Zhang

When you think of California wine, what springs to your mind first may be Napa Valley or Sonoma County

After all, these are the most prolific California wine regions, home to cult wines like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. 

But this vast state is home to many other regions producing equally beautiful, and sometimes less expensive, wines!

In this article, we’ll take you on a wine journey through the Golden State and explore each California wine region with its signature grapes and wineries. We’ll also share our top 15 wine picks from this magnificent region!

Further reading

Your Guide to California Wine Regions 

California Wine

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when it comes to wine in the Golden State.

After all, there are about 2600 California wineries spread across 100 AVAs! 

An AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a designated wine-growing zone, similar to the French wine appellation system. An AVA-labeled wine needs to contain at least 85% grapes from the designated area.

California is a sunny, hot state - but the Pacific Ocean breeze and many different terroirs, including mountain ranges, help wine grapes flourish. 

As a result, you'll find cool-climate grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by the coast. In hotter, more inland areas, you'll find the world-famous California Cabernet

1. North Coast 

North Coast

Lying north of San Francisco, the North Coast AVA is home to America’s most notable wine regions. 

These include:

  • Sonoma Valley 
  • Napa Valley
  • Russian River Valley 
  • Carneros 
  • Stags’ Leap District 

While it’s called the North Coast, the wine region lies a couple of hundred meters above sea level. The name helps distinguish this AVA from the hotter, drier inland areas like the Sierra Foothills. 

A) Mendocino County 

Mendocino County

As the northernmost wine-growing region, Mendocino County has a cooler climate due to the Pacific Ocean breezes and the Mendocino mountain range. 

Its cooler areas produce some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. The region is also suitable for white grape varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer

The warmer Mendocino regions are best for robust reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah

The county is home to the famous Anderson Valley, known for its red, white, and sparkling wine production. 

B) Lake County 

Lake County California

You’ll find Lake County to the east of Mendocino and north of Napa and Sonoma. 

California’s largest freshwater body, the Clear Lake, and the volcanic topography produce outstanding Cabernet red wine

Here, you’ll also find fresh, aromatic white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc

C) Napa County 

Napa Valley

Situated about 35 miles from downtown San Francisco, Napa County is probably the most well-known wine region in the world due to the famous Napa Valley.

Napa Valley also hosts:

Mondavi is considered a pioneer of Napa's modern wine industry and one of the first proponents of varietal labeling.

While the Valley is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll also find Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay here. 

The Stags’ Leap District in Napa County hosts the eponymous winery, producing rich Cabernets with a combination of blackcurrant flavors. 

Carneros AVA’s cooler climate means you’ll primarily find still and sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

D) Sonoma County 

Sonoma County California

You'll find the prolific Sonoma County in the southeast, which forms California's main "wine country" along with Napa.

The county is divided into three: Northern Sonoma, Sonoma Valley, and Sonoma Coast. 

Northern Sonoma is the largest subsection and includes the famous:

As one of the most notable California wine regions, Sonoma Valley produces some of the state's finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. 

The warm and sunny climate further inland helps Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards to thrive. 

As a whole, the county is partial to Cabernet Sauvignon, while Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir thrive in the cooler climates. 

Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing alternative to Chardonnay. 

2. Central Valley 

Central Valley California

While the Central Valley is known more for its quantity than quality, there are two notable wine regions: the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. 

A) Sierra Foothills 

Sierra Foothills California

One of the largest AVAs in the States, the Sierra Foothills lies along the northwest foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range - separating the states of Nevada and California. 

As a result, the sunny California days are balanced out by the cooler winds from the mountains. 

These temperature fluctuations mean grapes ripen slowly, allowing for richer, more complex flavors and aromas without compromising acidity. 

This warm, high-altitude climate makes the Sierra Foothills ideal for planting Zinfandel, Syrah, and Barbera - the Italian grape variety. 

B) Lodi 

Lodi California

Directly east of San Francisco, sandwiched between Sacramento and Stockton and running parallel to the Sierra Foothills, you’ll find Lodi.

Over 40% of the state’s Zinfandel vineyards are situated in Lodi, leading to it being called the Zinfandel Capital of the World.

With a Mediterranean climate, Lodi features many other grape varieties, such as: 

  • Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Barbera, Graciano 
  • Whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Albarino, Riesling

3. Central Coast 

Central Coast California

The Central Coast covers a massive area from San Francisco Bay to Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean to the Central Valley border. 

Due to this, it isn't easy to generalize their wine-growing conditions, grapes, or wine styles. 

However, this region hosts the most famous AVAs outside Napa and Sonoma, such as Paso Robles, Santa Cruz Mountains, and the Santa Maria Valley. 

The cult winery Sine Qua Non also produces many wines under the Central Coast AVA. 

A) Monterey County 

Monterey County

You'll find Monterey County following the Salinas Valley from Monterey Bay to San Luis Obispo County. 

The bay and the ocean contribute to the cooler climate, leading to more Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Noir vineyards. 

However, the mountains depend more on altitude for temperature control and enjoy a warmer climate, ideal for Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Syrah grapes.

B) San Benito County 

San Benito California

San Benito County lies inland between the Gabilan and Diablo Mountains. 

The vineyards here enjoy a moderate climate with refreshing winds from the Pacific Ocean. 

This AVA's primary grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - also known as the heart and soul of Burgundy.  

C) San Francisco Bay 

San Francisco Bay

The San Francisco Bay is extremely important to the California wine country. 

Many rivers, such as the Sacramento, Napa, Mokelumne, and Russian, empty into the Bay and provide cooling temperatures to their respective AVAs. 

As a wine region, the AVA stretches from San Francisco City in Northern California to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley in the south. 

You'll find the Livermore Valley on the eastern end - best known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon premium wines. 

While many grape varieties are planted here, you'll typically find Cab Sauv followed by Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. 

D) San Luis Obispo County 

San Luis Obispo County

Situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo County has some of California's coolest winemaking areas. 

Vineyards are often covered in fog the entire day, allowing cool-climate viticulture to triumph.  

Many winemakers wouldn't consider the Arroyo Grande or Edna Valley as ideal wine-growing regions. But the ones that do have been rewarded by crisp whites and sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

However, the Paso Robles AVA feels the full force of the California sun, producing some of the best and robust Cab Sauv and Zinfandel wines. 

You'll also find a small amount of Merlot in this county, along with Rhone grapes such as Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. 

E) Santa Barbara County 

Santa Barbera County

Occupying a rectangular region in the California Central Coast, Santa Barbara County has the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. 

The region itself features river valleys and coastal hills, leading to a wide variety of terroirs and grapes. 

Currently, six regions here hold the AVA status: 

  • Santa Maria Valley 
  • Santa Ynez Valley
  • Sta. Rita Hills 
  • Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
  • Ballard Canyon
  • Los Olivos District

The cooler Santa Maria Valley is ideal for cold-climate grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

At the same time, the warmer southern climate in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA allows Cab Sauv, Grenache, and Syrah to flourish. 

4. South Coast 

As the seat of California viticulture, the South Coast extends from Ventura County all the way down to the San Diego County and Mexico's border. 

Zinfandel is the primary wine grape here, producing dense red wines. 

A) Antelope Valley 

Antelope Valley

The Antelope Valley in the California High Desert lies north of Los Angeles. Due to its warm climate and lack of rainfall, altitude matters a lot here. 

The wineries here depend on increased elevation and cooler temperatures to grow grapes. You'll typically find Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Viognier vineyards here. 

B) San Pasqual Valley

San Pasqual Valley

The San Pasqual Valley was the first California wine region to be awarded the AVA status. 

Lying north of San Diego, the warm, dry climate is best suited for traditional Rhone grapes such as Syrah, Viognier, and Mourvedre. You'll also find small quantities of Merlot and Sangiovese here. 

There's only one winery here, Orfila Vineyards. Given the winery's proximity to San Diego, it's a major wine tasting and wedding destination. 

C) Temecula Valley

Temecula Valley

The largest AVA on the South Coast, “Temecula” is a Native American word loosely translated to "where the sun breaks through the mist."

The Valley is in a low rainfall region, but the mist lingers till mid-morning. Additionally, the Ocean breeze leads to hot days and cool nights, all ideal grape-growing conditions. 

As a result, the Temecula region produces many grape varieties, such as Tempranillo, Syah, Sangiovese, Pinot Gris, and other Cali grapes, such as Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Hosting over 40 wineries, most of these offer a wine tasting room for visiting tourists.

Let’s look at some of the best wines the Golden State has to offer.  

Top 13 California Wines You Should Try!


With all these wine styles, how do you know which bottle to pick up? 

No worries! 

We’ve listed our top 13 Californian wine picks from all over the state! 

  • 1997 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($6,557)
  • 1974 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains ($2,999)
  • 1994 Harlan Estate, Napa Valley ($2,110)
  • 2010 Sine Qua Non Cumulus Vineyard 'Next of Kyn,' Central Coast ($677)
  • 2002 Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District ($565)
  • 2007 Moraga Vineyards Estate Red, Los Angeles County ($177)
  • 2015 Domaine de la Terre Rouge Ascent Syrah, Sierra Foothills ($102)
  • 2013 Turley Wine Cellars Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel, Lodi ($99)
  • 2016 Leoness Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Temecula Valley ($99)
  • 2015 Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif, Suisun Valley ($70)
  • 2018 Bedrock Wine Co. Esola Vineyard Zinfandel, Amador County ($47)
  • 2015 Klinker Brick Winery 'Old Ghost' Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi ($43)
  • 2014 Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel, Lodi ($28)

Californian Wine Is Always the Answer 

California Wine

The California wine industry ensures there’s something for each wine lover - from the novice to the connoisseur! 

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