California wine Regions – Chardonnay

By | January 24, 2015

Introductioncalifornia wine regions

Did you know that California is responsible for almost 90% of the total wine production in the United States of America? And if it would be a separate country, California would be the world’s fourth wine producing nation after France, Italy and Spain. Chardonnay wines form an important part of California’s wine production, which are mainly produced in the seven areas described below. Especially the Chardonnays from Napa Valley and Sonoma County can compete with the best in the world! This is why I have dedicated some exclusive articles for these regions alone, links of which can be found below in their short description.


In the eighteenth century Spanish missionaries planted the first vineyards in Alta California, but the wine really took off the ground in the Napa- and Sonoma valleys in the late nineteenth century. The production suffered from california wine regionsphylloxera and, from 1919, Prohibition. From the 60’s, thirty years after the cessation of alcohol prohibition, California has developed into a respected wine region. The “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 confirmed that California wines are not inferior to classic French wines. Just 30 years ago there were a few hundred acres planted in all of California; today there are tens of thousands of acres and there are more than 1,200 wineries in the state, ranging from small boutique wineries to multinationals, hence there are a lot of California Chardonnay brands.

Chardonnay whitecalifornia wine regions

By far the most popular Californian white wine is the Chardonnay. California is known for its excellent red wine, but with Chardonnay also features a world best in white wines. California not only can compete with France in quality, but it has also surpassed the French production of Chardonnay. Thanks to the ripeness of the grapes California Chardonnay usually tastes full and is perfect for drinking with meals.

Climate influence

Some people – especially jealous French – believe that all California wine tastes the same. Just the infinite variety of Californian Zinfandels proves otherwise. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Powerful ocean fog and odd shaped mountain ranges make the many California wine regions each unique. Most unoaked Chardonnay is from cooler climate wine regions, whilst many oaked Chardonnays come from warmer climate wine regions. Here is an overview of the main Chardonnay producing wine regions.

Vineyards Sonoma County

california wine regionsOnly a few decades had Sonoma needed to develop into one of the major wine regions of California. Sonoma has a large number of smaller wine regions with specific circumstances. This explains the diversity of grapes in Sonoma County. Successful wineries like Gallo and Ravenswood use Sonoma’s cool climate as a base for leading Californian wines for Chardonnay.

Famous Chardonnays: various types of Russian River Valley Chardonnays (the Federalist), Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. You can find a more detailed description of this wine area here.

Vineyards Napa County

Compared to wine regions like Central Valley, Sonoma and Napa County makes only a modest contribution to thecalifornia wine regions total production of California wines. Yet everyone knows Napa County, because this wine region will produce wines of exceptional quality. Example: Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola settled in the wine region with his own vineyard and its harvest is praised for his “director’s cut” Chardonnay.

Famous Chardonnays: Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve, Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros Abbott’s Vineyard, Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros Hudson Vineyard, Luke Donald’s Collection, Alta Napa Valley. Find a more detailed description of this area here. If you would like to see reviews of Napa Valley top rated wines, then click here.

Santa Clara Valley

california wine regionsIt’s easy to forget that the Santa Clara Valley was California’s first premium wine production region. Native Americans named it “the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.” French and Italian immigrants who settled here during the Gold Rush era recognized the rich soils and Mediteranean climate as the perfect New World home for their European grape varietals. Although some of the vineyards were lost as a consequence of San Francisco’s expansion, this area is still popular for its wines. In the cooler parts of this area some fine Chardonnays are produced.

Vineyards Central Valley

Central Valley has two main wine regions: San Joaquin (Lodi) and Sacramento. These wine areas are difficult to california wine regions characterize, because together they certainly produce more than half of all wine from California. Many wineries also grow Chardonnay and numerous experimental varieties. The extremely sunny climate of Central Valley gives the wines a lot of colour and a strong character. I have a more detailed description of this area here.

Famous Chardonnays: Green Forrest, Hamilton Estates

Vineyards Monterey County

california wine regionsSouth of metropolitan San Francisco, you find the young wine region Monterey County. A reliable coastal climate and fertile soil make Monterey suitable as a wine region, particularly for the production of white wine. It has little rainfall, natural irrigation and no lack of sunshine. Thanks to the cool ocean breeze the grapes ripen more slowly than in sweltering wine regions like Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. These favourable conditions are utilized by wineries such as Bernard and Almaden to produce intense tropical flavoured Chardonnay.

Famous Chardonnays: Chardonnay Monterey County Diamond T Estate, Chardonnay Monterey County

Vineyards Santa Barbaracalifornia wine regions

With a history of more than two hundred years Santa Barbara on the Central Coast may call itself one of the oldest wine regions of California. Like Santa Barbara Monterey lends itself best for white grape varieties. Santa Barbara wine region produces lively and fresh Chardonnay.

Famous Chardonnays: Chardonnay Santa Barbara County Central Coast Collection, Santa Rita Hills

Vineyards Sierra Nevada

california wine regionsThe arid rocky landscapes of the Sierra Nevada we’ve all seen in western movies. In the 19th century it was the focal point of the gold rush. These days, wine fever has Sierra Nevada in its grip. Wine regions such as Amador and Calaveras produce very creditable but less known Chardonnay wines. 


Chardonnay was and is USA’s most favourite wine and most of it comes from California, Napa Valley and Sonoma County excelling.

If you are interested in these Chardonnays, please click the picture to the right (for mobile users just under this text) under the header World best Chardonnays for delivery to the USA. You will find a summary of my reviews for a number of outstanding California Chardonnays here.

Feel free to chime in with a comment and let me know which wines you prefer.

14 thoughts on “California wine Regions – Chardonnay

  1. June Danks

    Top tips in wine and an education at the same time, brilliant and thank you 🙂

    I’ve always been a Sauvignon Blanc girl but after reading this well informed post will be purchasing your recommendations.

    I Love California after visiting with my family and completely agree that it makes for an impressive wine region.

    Completely agree regarding the Zinfandels, perfect!

    Looking forward to your next post 🙂

    1. Jerry

      Thanks June, the US is the number one consumer of Chardonnay and most of the very good ones come from the California area. Especially, the Napa Valley and Sonoma County Chardonnays can compete with the best in the world. If you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan, then you will probably like the New Zealand ones as well, because this country is best known for them (although they produce some pretty good Chardonnays).

  2. Arik

    Hi Jerry,

    Great info about wine! Love your site!

    As one who doesn`t understand much about wine I was very impressed by your knowledge and learned a lot about the Regions, Products, How to rate wines, The World Best Chardonnay Wines and much more. I have bookmarked your site and will come back again.

    Chardonnay, I must try it soon…


    1. Jerry

      Thanks Arik, I am glad you like my website, which is for wine lovers in general and Chardonnay Fans in particular. I am on a quest to find the best Chardonnays from the best regions in the world. I welcome everybody who can contribute to this. If you would need some help in deciding which Chardonnay to choose, then just let me know. Cheers, Jerry

  3. Sarah

    Hi Jerry,

    Thank you so much for getting back to me! I have taken a look at the review – and now I feel thirsty! It’s a bit early in the day where I am to crack open the wine yet though – especially with a couple of hours of work still ahead of me!

    I loved the information on the link about the different wines produced in the Napa Valley. I would love to have a sample of some of these wines!


    1. Jerry

      Hi Sarah, great to hear you are getting thirsty. Can you imagine what it is like for me, doing this business on a daily basis? (LOL). And I also did wine and food/cheese pairings, so I get hungry as well! If you would like to have any more help, just let me know. Cheers, Jerry

      1. Sarah

        Yes it must be difficult for you!! 🙂

        Think some white wine and cheese might be on the cards now the sun is going down!

        I will definitely be bookmarking your site to come back to – and I have also noted that I might be able to order some of the wines you talk about through your website so will definitely be coming back when I order my next batch of wine!



        1. Jerry

          Thank you Sarah, sounds great! At that time, just let me know which Chardonnay you have ordered as I would like to record the sale. Cheers, Jerry

  4. Sarah


    I love a chilled glass of white wine. I have to admit that I tend to favour a good Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay – but a wonderful cool Chardonnay on a hot day in a sunny Californian vineyard would definitely do the trick!

    Out of all of the vineyards you mention, which is your favourite and which (in your personal opinion) produces the best Chardonnay? Also, which location is the best if I were to visit one of these?



    1. Jerry

      Thanks for your reaction Sarah, among the top vineyards of the area I would definitely visit Sonoma County and Napa Valley for the quality of their Chardonnays. I would say that any of the Chardonnay vineyards will do, as ultimately it is your personal taste that will define which ones are the best for you. Ok, in Sonoma Chardonnay stars in Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. For Napa Valley see my product review here. Cheers, Jerry

  5. Allyn

    One area of California wineries that is often overlooked is the Santa Clara Valley wineries, particularly those found in Gilroy and Morgan Hill, just a bit south of San Jose. Several of these wineries have been around as long or longer than many of the wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

    My wife and I visited several of these wineries a couple months ago while visiting my daughter and son-in-law, who live in San Jose. We received excellent treatment and, best of all, the wineries are not crowded like some of the more well-known wineries in areas north of San Francisco.

    Gilroy is particularly known for producing garlic. One of the wineries featured their own garlic wine. Now, personally, I didn’t like it but it was an interesting experience. I’ll stick with the Chardonnay!

    1. Jerry

      Thanks Allyn, I have meanwhile added a paragraph about Santa Clara Valley. I must say that this is the first time I hear about garlic wine! Cheers, Jerry

  6. Tony

    This is an amazing site, the amount of detail it contains about diffrent wines is awesome. I specially enjoyed reading about the various locations where wine is made. I’m going to add this website to my favorites tab.

    1. Jerry

      Thank you Tony, please let me know if you have any questions at any time. Cheers, Jerry


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