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New Wine Grape Varietals For California

The Issue

California’s premium wine industry has been based on wine grape varietals from Northern France, primarily the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions, where climates are very cool and moist compared to most of California. However, in California these varietals perform best only in limited areas because this state has a warmer, dryer Mediterranean climate.

Experience with landscape plantings has shown that many Mediterranean plants are much better suited to the warmth and sunshine of California than plant materials from Northern Europe. Thus, it makes sense to look to the Mediterranean region for wine grape varietals that make fine wines. Many of those varietals have not been grown in our state in the past, but winegrower interest suggested an organized way to evaluate them.

What Has ANR Done?

Mediterranean varietal trials were established in Lake, Mendocino and San Joaquin Counties with cooperating growers and at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. Over 35 varietals were evaluated. Measurements included basic vine phenology (bud break, bloom, veraison, and harvest), harvest data (vine yield, cluster number, berry weight, fruit chemistry including percent sugar, pH and titratable acidity), and pruning weights. Experimental wines have also been evaluated for chemistry and taste.

Eight conferences over the last six years have brought in specialists from Europe to talk about winegrowing involving many of these varietals. Countries represented include France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Australia.

New Mediterranean varietals have been imported by the UC Foundation Plant Material Service at UC Davis so that growers will have access to healthy, productive, high quality selections for their vineyards.

The Payoff

The California wine industry acquires diversity

The California wine industry now has considerable diversity in its offerings. Ten years ago, most consumers couldn’t even pronounce the names of many of the new varietals such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Viognier, Mourvedre and Tempranillo. Now these wines are becoming much more common and production has increased from under 1,000 acres to nearly 25,000 acres today. As winegrowers learn how to grow and make wine from these new Mediterranean wine grape varietals, quality will only get better.


Supporting Unit: Mendocino County

Glenn McGourty, UCCE-Mendocino County, 579 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, CA 95482
(707)463-4495 gtmcgourty@ucdavis.edu