What Does "California" Mean on a Wine Label?

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When perusing wine labels on the shelf of your favorite wine shop, you'll often find that the label indicates "California" as the region where the wine is from. But, you may have asked yourself, what does that really mean? With all the California wine regions such as Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, is a "California" wine simply generic wine?

Well, sort of, but not really.

If a wine label indicates it is from "California" you can certainly bank on the fact that at least 75% of the grapes used to make the wine were grown in California. They may have come from multiple big-name wine regions in California (a specific region can only appear on the label if 85% or more of the grapes came from that region) or they may have come from un-named regions that are not registered as an American Viticultural Area (AVA).

And, California grows a lot of wine grapes outside of registered AVAs.

Something approaching half the California wine grapes are grown in non-AVA regions.  The San Joaquin Valley, that vast agricultural region that runs from Grapevine north to Stockton, produces a tremendous amount of wine grapes, but wines made from these grapes can only carry "California" on their label.

But, realize, just because the grapes are grown in non-AVAs doesn't mean they are inferior. Quite the contrary. It's just that they don't have the unique characteristics that those regions are known for.

So, don't pass over a wine just because its label indicates it's from "California." You're sure to find good ones and usually at a great value. Cheers!