By the numbers
1012Acreage Under Vine (Hectares)
2,500Acreage Under Vine (Acres)
The Santa Clara Valley AVA flows roughly north-south, through the middle of Santa Clara County, between the Santa Cruz Mountains on the west and the San Felipe and Diablo Hills in the east. It extends into Mission San Jose, now part of Fremont in Alameda County, and down to the Pacheco Pass in northern San Benito County. From San Jose south, Highway 101 follows the same path.
Though the AVA does include portions of Alameda County and San Benito County, very little vineyard land exists in those segments today. So, when it comes to current production, we can think of the AVA as almost exclusive to Santa Clara County.
On the other hand, Santa Clara County is not exclusive to the Santa Clara Valley AVA. The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA occupies the western third of the county. That AVA produces more wine and has significant mindshare for quality, so it somewhat overshadows its neighbor to the east. Today, most Santa Clara Valley AVA vineyards are located near the towns of Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and San Martin. Mission San Jose, part of Fremont now, used to be a significant growing area. Saratoga is often mentioned in the same breath as Santa Clara Valley, but those wineries tend to fall within the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
The Santa Clara Valley AVA is wholly nested within two others: Central Coast and San Francisco Bay. The Central Coast AVA is California’s largest. Santa Clara Valley wineries tend to use the Central Coast AVA designation only for blends in which Santa Clara Valley fruit makes up less than 85%. The San Francisco Bay AVA has a more recognizable name in the United States and in international markets. But few Santa Clara Valley wineries have broad distribution, so they tend to go with the Santa Clara Valley moniker, which is more specific to the terroir and very recognizable to locals.
Two small AVAs are nested within the Santa Clara Valley AVA. The single-winery Pacheco Pass AVA straddles the Santa Clara-San Benito County line. The San Ysidro District AVA is in the Diablo Range, within the southeastern portion of Santa Clara Valley.
Though the Santa Clara Valley AVA includes significant valley floor acreage, most vineyards aren’t located on the flatlands. Soils in the valley floor are too deep, poorly drained, and fertile for producing quality wine grapes -- though excellent for row crops, fruit trees, and buildings. The AVA’s wine grapes tend to lie in the foothills on either side of the valley floor, with more gravelly and well-draining soil.
The Santa Clara Valley climate is warm. The area is blocked from direct Pacific breezes by the Santa Cruz Mountains. San Francisco Bay does moderate temperatures somewhat. However, the valley is at the far south end of that and the water there is relatively shallow and warm. Thus, the area isn’t subject to the cold winds and fog common to San Francisco and the East Bay.
Warm, sunny weather makes the Santa Clara Valley AVA best-suited for robust, red wine varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely grown. Zinfandel and Syrah are very present. Petite Sirah is also significant, and can be as good as anywhere else in the state.
Once a very significant growing region for winegrapes in California, Santa Clara Valley was dramatically affected by phylloxera, Prohibition, and urban development. In the 1850s, more vines were grown in Santa Clara Valley than in any other region in California. Its production is much smaller now, due to the aforementioned factors.