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 Why California wines are special

By Sigurd Neubauer


Complementing its spectacular nature, California is also home to 4,391 vineries. 84 percent of all wine produced in America comes from the Golden State.

“California has a long growing season and a comfortable climate conducive to wine production, says Andrew Hyman, an expert on the wine industry and a best-selling author of a book on wine for novices. 

What makes California wines so unique, Hyman explains, is that much of it has to do with the soil, especially in Napa Valley and in neighboring Sonoma County.

Napa and Sonoma counties have more soil types than Bordeaux, France, he adds. 

“There are 66 different types of soils around the world, but Napa Valley has 33 of those. Any type of vineyard in Napa could have two to three different types of soils, which makes it so special,” he says, but quips: “the rest of California does not have that.

The wine growing regions of California have a Mediterranean climate. Formally known as Mediterranean-type ecosystems (MTEs), they are  defined by unique climatic regimes of mild wet winters and warm and dry summers.

Only two percent of the earth’s surface has a Mediterranean climate. Outside of the Mediterranean region, of course, the same climate can be found in California, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

For the purpose of wine making, this type of climate is particularly conducive as there’s a 40 degrees difference in temperature between the middle of day and night.  

During the summer, some of California weather ranges between 80s and 90s with a cooling off at night. “The grapes love this,” Hyman, who is also a tour-guide per excellence in Napa and Sonoma, explains. “During the day, the sun brings out the sugar in the grapes whereas at night – during the cooling off period – acids are produced. This makes the perfect combination of fabulous balanced wine,” he adds.

Meanwhile, according to American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), there are 15 AVAs in Napa alone. 

“An AVA is a designated growing region that is branded and registered with the U.S. Department of Treasury,” Hyman explains. 

California has 107 AVAs.

One of the most famous AVA’s is Sonomo’s Russian River, which is known for its Pinot Noir.   

California's long-growing season, coupled with climate and soil diversity, has enabled it to produce some of the finest wine in the world: Hyman
California has over 4,200 vineries that produce 84 percent of American wine

Finding the best wine, avoiding common misconceptions

On how to find the best wine when shopping at a store, the connoisseur recommends closely examining the label on the bottle at hand. “The more specific information that is on the label, the better of a wine it will be.”

What this means in practice, Hyman explains, is that if the bottle only lists made in California, it could be made anywhere in the state. “The more specific the content on the label is,  – specific county or vineyard – the better the wine is.”  

He also recommends those passionate about good wine to become more familiar with California’s various growing regions. 

Connoisseur Andy Hyman is the author of Snob Free Wine Tasting Companion: Wine Smart in a Day

There are two common misconceptions that people have about wine and wine culture, Hyman explains.

The first is that many “people believe that sulfites produce headaches as they are natural in the grapes.” 

Leaning on anecdotal evidence from his almost one-decade experience as a tour guide in the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties, the author explains that this misconception is especially prevalent among some women who believe that red wine produces headaches as sulfites are a natural part of the skin of the grapes. 

What does produce headaches, he says, are histamines. Histamines are produced during the fermentation process.

Another misconception is that the people working in the wine industry are “snobs,” he says. 

Hyman defines snob as “someone who is knowledgeable about wine and the process of making it but holds it against you.”

Because of this, “a lot of people stay away from Napa Valley” because of its expensive nature and perceived snobbery.

“But not everyone in Napa is a snob,” Hyman explains as he’s particularly passionate about promoting the region as a tour guide. 

On how he developed his interest in the wine industry, and later passion for it, Hyman explains that it all started in 2013 when he was offered the job as a tour guide at Platypus Wine Tours.

“At the time, I didn’t know a lot about the layout of Napa and Sonoma counties,” he recalls. From there, he got to meet many people in the wine industry, which he found “fascinating.”

“I have developed a skillset to turn something that is complicated into something that is easier to understand. As I proceeded as a guide, I learned that most people don’t know anything about wine.”

Many of the people that he meets “don’t even know how to ask for the wine they like” at the store.

It was this growing interest that prompted Hyman to co-author the book, “Snob Free Wine Tasting Companion: Wine Smart in a Day,” along with his wife Marla Rosner. 

“We began writing the book in 2014 after we discovered that nothing existed for the novices,” he recalls.

On what he enjoys about the wine industry, Hyman says, “every day, I learn something new. It keeps life interesting.” His book is also sold at the various wineries that he tours.

Hyman and Rosner wanted to help educated wine novices with enhancing their celebratory experience through knowledge empowerment
There are 66 different types of soils around the world, but Napa Valley has 33 of them: Hyman
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