The Central California valley wine region lies east of San Francisco Bay in the central California valley and runs south through the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys to Bakersfield.
Viticulture in California’s vast interior valley, nestled between the state’s coastal mountain range and the Sierra Nevada, is actually two valleys: the Sacramento Valley in the north and the San Joaquin Valley in the south, which includes the Delta area located in the middle where the two valleys meet. Although the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys are not designated AVAs, the region produces 71 percent of the state’s winegrapes and is home to eight AVAs— Clarksburg, Diablo Grande, Dunnigan Hills, Lodi, Madera, Merritt Island, River Junction and Salado Creek. The Sierra Foothills region is an AVA that runs adjacent to both valleys on the east side, along the Sierra Nevada Mountains. About 0.5 percent of the winegrapes grown in the state are produced from the Sierras.
The Sacramento Valley runs for approximately 120 miles from Red Bluff in the northern end of the valley to the city of Sacramento. Bordered by the Sierra Nevada to the east and the Coast Ranges to the west, this level, sun-drenched, agriculturally rich area is unaffected by ocean influences. The region has about 6,500 acres of winegrapes. Chardonnay is the most prominent variety with roughly 1,600 acres planted, and Zinfandel follows with about 1,300 acres. There are some 16 wineries, and approximately 1.6 percent of the total state winegrape crush comes from this region. Search California central valley winery and vineyard associations.
The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley meet at the river delta about 100 miles east of San Francisco, roughly encompassing portions of Solano, Yolo, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. (For purposes of providing statistics, this area is described using California grape pricing districts 5, 11 and 17 at www.nass.usda.gov/ca/bul/acreage/indexgab.htm.) There are 83,000 acres planted to winegrapes in the area. Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety with 19,552 reported acres, and Zinfandel is a close second at 19,544 acres. The Delta’s 626,000 total tons in 2004 account for 23 percent of the total state winegrape crush.
Within the Delta area, the Lodi AVA has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. Grapes were always part of the local landscape, growing wild, dangling from the trees along the riverbanks. Early trappers called one stream “Wine Creek,” due to the abundance of wild vines. The river was later renamed the Calaveras River, and flows through the southern part of the Lodi area. Today, the Lodi AVA is farmed by more than 750 growers. About 60 wineries are located in this picturesque rural area known for its older head-trained grapevines. Like the other Delta wine areas that include the Clarksburg AVA with its 10 wineries and 9,000 vineyard acres, Lodi is also defined by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the coastal gap where the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the San Francisco Bay. As temperatures rise in the state’s vast interior valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly through the Delta area, creating a distinctive climate that has allowed premium winegrapes to thrive for more than a century. Lodi has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Deep, sandy clay loam soils predominate.
One of the richest agricultural areas in the world, the San Joaquin Valley measures about 220 miles in length and 40 to 60 miles in width, extending from around Stockton south to Bakersfield. There are five million acres of irrigated farmlands planted to cotton, grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. The majority of wine, table and raisin grapes in California are grown in this valley. Using California Grape Districts 12, 13 and 14, winegrape vineyards total 152,000 acres. French Colombard is the leading variety with over 28,000 acres. Chardonnay is the second most planted grape with 16,300 acres. The red winegrape with the most acreage is Zinfandel at 13,800 acres. By far the largest producing area in the state, the San Joaquin Valley accounts from more than 47 percent of the total state winegrape crush. There are more than 30 wineries.
The Sierra Nevada form the eastern border of this grand expanse of land, and the lower, more irregular Coast Ranges define it to the west. Irrigation of this land with limited rainfall comes from two huge reservoir and canal systems that bring water from the length of the Sierras to the valley farmers. Although grapes have been grown in the region for more than 100 years, there has been a continuing advance in grape and wine quality due to viticultural refinements, including new varieties, rootstocks, trellis systems and irrigation techniques. These advancements are helping to transform the San Joaquin Valley from a generic into a varietal wine producer.