The father of California wines was a flamboyant Hungarian named Agoston Haraszthy, who settled in Sonoma in 1856. He imported 200,000 vines of 1,400 varieties from Europe and proved that fine wine could be made from the vineyards of California.
California, while Mediterranean-like in general, has one of the most unique climate and geographic positions on the globe. Although located far south, on a similar latitude to Spain and North Africa, the vineyards of California are under the influence of ever-shifting topography and a multitude of microclimates. Grape and wine production is an integral part of the vast agricultural mega-industry that spans the length of the state for a thousand miles.
Wines labeled California appellation can be from any of the many wine growing regions of the state (over 90% of U.S. wine is from the state of California). Geographic and soil types are many and varied, but climate is considered the element most responsible for the distinctive California "fruit forward" style. Although California and sunny weather seem to go hand in hand, in truth some of California's best vineyards are downright chilly, cooled by the moderating influences of fog and wind from the Pacific Ocean. Cool mornings and evenings in these vineyards balance hot days under the California sun.
While the variety of territories might indicate a similarly large range of grapes, California's success has been found on relatively few: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There are additional plantings of other varieties, such as Gew'rztraminer and Riesling, Italian varieties such as Sangiovese and Barbera, and Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Viognier.