Wine Growing Areas

Malbec in California

Here is an overview of principal California American Viticultural Areas, (AVAs), the U.S. equivalent of appellations, associated with Malbec. For a deep dive into specific regions, please visit our Regional Guides.

California Malbec Acreage by County (2021)

(bearing and non-bearing)
(bearing and non-bearing)
San Joaquin 960 388.50
Napa 508 205.58
San Luis Obispo 452 182.92
Sonoma 448 181.30
Sacramento 343 138.81
Monterey 328 132.74
Lake 159 64.35
Merced 105 42.49
Yolo 99 40.06
Mendocino 74 29.95
Other 424 171.59
STATE TOTAL 3,900 1,578.27

Although Malbec is grown in 31 of California’s 58 counties, from to Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills to the central valleys and coastal mountains near the Pacific, its best expressions are concentrated in just a handful of regions: Napa, San Luis Obispo, Sonoma, Monterey, and even smaller bespoke amounts (all less than 25 ha/60 acres) in the counties of El Dorado, San Benito, Santa Barbara, Solano, and Lake. Of the total planted hectares/acres, more than 35% grows in warmer areas, where the grape is cultivated primarily for volume. In terms of quality and plantings, Napa and Sonoma lead the way, accounting for 31% of the total and a significantly higher percentage of the quality.

With close to 170 ha/420 acres devoted to Malbec, Napa Valley has the second most plantings in the state, except San Joaquin, which has a more volume-driven focus. With Napa’s emphasis on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends, the presence of Malbec makes sense, as the grape is a key blending variety in the traditional Bordeaux blend. As in Argentina, Napa Valley versions have an incredibly deep blue-black hue, an abundance of soft tannins, and ripe juicy black fruits. In cooler areas and higher altitudes, the tannins can be a bit firmer and the fruit more red than black, but whether adding an extra dimension to the region’s Bordeaux blends, providing mid-palate softness, a brightness of fruit and dense color that other Bordeaux varieties just can’t match, Malbec performs well in Napa Valley.

Sonoma County falls just behind Napa in terms of the quantity of Malbec planted and vinified. Planted in warmer spots (Alexander Valley, Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley, etc.), Sonoma Malbec is more frequently employed for blending, with fewer mono-varietal examples than in neighboring Napa. Sonoma tends toward more savory, herbal styles than Napa, but with a similar depth of pigmentation, richness, and abundant – though usually softer – tannins.

Paso Robles

Perhaps what is most intriguing about the diminutive plantings of Malbec in San Luis Obispo County (some 88 ha/218 acres) is who is in the mix. Of all the spots he could have settled on, Santiago Achaval, a founder of the iconic Achaval Ferrer winery in Mendoza, has set up shop here with his winery, The Farm. Interestingly though, he makes a singular pure-play Malbec, but otherwise does not use it in his other wines. But as you can surmise, it’s good.

Malbec Around The World​

Below is a list of the principal world areas associated with premium Malbec. 

  • France: Bordeaux (and satellites: Bourg, Blaye, Entre-Deux-Mers), Lot (Cahors), Loire Valley
  • Italy: Veneto, Abruzzo
  • Other European countries:
    •  Moldova, Turkey
  • Australia: South Australia (Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Langhorne Creek),  Victoria (Nagambie Lakes), Western Australia (Margaret River, Great Southern)
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Other Countries:
    • Israel 
  • The Americas
  • Argentina: Mendoza, (Lujan de Cuyo, Uco Valley, San Rafael), Salta (Cafayate, Calchaquí), Jujuy, San Juan (Pedernal Valley), Patagonia (Rio Negro, Neuquén, La Pampa)
  • Chile: Colchagua
  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Mexico: Mexican Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe
  • Canada: British Columbia (Okanagan)
  • USA (beyond CA): Washington, Oregon, Texas