"Opens with deep black cherry, blackberry and cassis flavors. Intense, round and well-structured tannins provide a strong backbone throughout the middle. Cedar and vanilla notes linger on the finish, beckoning another sip."
- Randy Ullom, Winemaker
Back in 1974, Jess Jackson saw in the fine vineyards of California's cool coastal regions fruit with a variety of outstanding flavors. What if there was a way to produce from this abundance, a single outstanding "cuvée" that offered both quality and value? The result, first released in 1983, was Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, a rich, round and flavorful wine, made with hand-crafted methods. That same year, Grand Reserve was introduced, a line of ultra-premium wines that represented the full potential of California's finest vineyards and winemaking. Today, over 5,000 acres of vineyard in California's coastal regions are farmed by Kendall-Jackson. Four separate wineries house what is possibly the single largest barrel-fermentation project in the world. But perhaps most important, is that Kendall-Jackson remains a family-owned winery.
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California has nearly 100 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) and accounts for almost 90% of wine production in the United States. In our section of Other California, we include wines from smaller AVAs as well as wines from the California AVA. Here are a few smaller AVAs you may see on the label:
Livermore Valley AVA
, located right outside of San Francisco and home to wineries such as Wente.
Lodi County AVA
, an AVA further east of San Francisco and known for its excellent, old-vine Zinfandels.
San Francisco Bay AVA
, a sprawling AVA that covers Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, to name a few.
Wine that holds only the California AVA is typically a wine that includes grapes from a number of different AVAs, which leads to the general labeling of the wine as California. This does not denote the quality of the wine, only the diversity of where the grapes originate.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country into itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Fruity
Red wines that are more fruit-forward and lighter in tannin and body.
Smooth & Supple
Medium bodied reds that go down easy, with smooth tannins and supple fruit.
Earthy & Spicy
Wines where earthy and/or spicy dominate the flavors – typically medium to full body.
Big & Bold
Full bodied wines that have concentrated fruit and are higher in alcohol and/or tannins. Some need age.