The North Coast is home to the grape regions that put California wine on the map and encompasses Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Solano, and Marin Counties. It’s a large wine growing region that is home to more than half of the state’s wineries and is also a designated AVA. Within this massive AVA, many smaller, highly regarded growing regions and AVA’s exist.
Mendocino County is the northernmost growing area within the North Coast region. Foggy, cool and covered in redwood forests, Mendocino grows an abundance of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. However, because of the county’s diverse geography and climate, dozens of other varietals grow here ranging from more familiar varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah to more obscure like Colombard and Charbono. Mendocino County is home to 10 AVA’s with the most widely known being Anderson Valley (known for sparkling wines) and Mendocino AVA’s.
Lake County, home to 5 AVA’s, sits just east of Mendocino and is named for the largest inland body of water in the state of California, Clear Lake. Lake County is known for its fine, affordable Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, but also produces quite a bit of Merlot and Chardonnay along with some other less common varietals.
Sonoma County, home to 13 AVA’s and more than 500 wineries, grows more Pinot Noir than any other county in the state. Also found in abundance here are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with smaller, but still significant amount of Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel being produced. Sonoma’s best AVA’s include the Russian River Valley, Los Carneros (which is also a part of Napa County), Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, Chalk Hill, and Knights Valley.
Although easily the most famous wine region in California, Napa Valley produces just 4% of all California wine. It’s home to 16 AVA’s, 600 wineries, and arguably some of the best restaurants and finest wines in the country. Napa Valley’s most sought after AVA’s include Carneros, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, Stags Leap District, and Yountville. Napa is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, but produces fine Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Zinfandel as well.
Los Carneros, often simply called Carneros, is an AVA that straddles the county lines of Napa and Sonoma. Adjacent to the San Pablo Bay it’s an ideal growing region for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and produces world-class sparkling wines from these varietals.