Wine Growing Areas

Syrah in California

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

California Syrah Acreage by County
COUNTY 2019 TOTAL GRAPE ACRES
(bearing and non-bearing)
2019 TOTAL GRAPE HECTARES
(bearing and non-bearing)
San Luis Obispo 2191 887
San Joaquin 1567 634
Madera 1552 628
Sonoma 1407 569
Santa Barbara 1269 514
Monterey 1203 487
Fresno 1135 459
Sacramento 927 375
Napa 759 307
Mendocino 588 238
Other 2860 1157
STATE TOTAL 15458 6256

Los Carneros

Perhaps a surprise to many, Syrah is not a big deal in Napa Valley, with less than 760 acres (307 ha) in total. Maybe it’s not a great fit, although more likely there’s simply a better use for Napa’s land with its red-wine-focused plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and related “cousin” varieties -- and not enough consumer interest in Syrah to devote ample acreage. Napa’s coolest AVA, Los Carneros, which sits approximately 40% in Napa (with the balance located in adjoining Sonoma County), accounts for Napa’s large percentage of Syrah, with the best examples akin to Northern Rhône-style wines. 

  • Los Carneros: Generally speaking, Los Carneros produces lovely expressions of cool-climate Syrah, showcasing the savory, umami-gamey side of Syrah, balanced by the elegance and finesse of the cool-climate fruit. Dominant aromas include bright blueberry and boysenberry, nutmeg, black licorice, and smoked bacon.

Northern Sonoma Valley- Bennett Valley, Moon Mountain- Sonoma Coast → Fort Ross-Seaview + West Sonoma Coast + Petaluma Gap, Carneros

With approximately 1,400 acres (566 ha) under vine, Sonoma County is the second most significant premium region in California for Syrah, after San Luis Obispo. Several styles are represented, and there is something for everyone to be found. These range from the cooler climate Rhône styles of Los Carneros, Petaluma Gap and Sonoma Coast, to those that possess savory peppery notes in addition to ripe opulent fruit that can be traced to areas including Bennett Valley and other parts of northern Sonoma Valley. Sonoma’s flavor profile can range from spicy black olive, bacon, violet, and lavender to black plum, blackberry, cedar, boysenberry, and spice. 

  • West Sonoma Coast and Fort Ross-Seaview: West Sonoma Coast’s cool climate equates to small berries with high skin-to-juice ratios. This leads to very concentrated flavors and amplified tannins. Syrah seems to show its most compelling side in truly marginal areas, where it struggles well into the season (late-October through early November). So, it's no surprise that many spots in Sonoma's coastal areas fit that description. Syrah here is all about peat moss, kalamata olive, ground pepper and dark mineral framing savory-edged plum and tart berry fruit.
  • Petaluma Gap: Coastal proximity and ample wind maintain higher acidity (with higher skin-to-juice ratio), yet with greater relative richness and texture than those in Fort Ross-Seaview. Here, where the wind lashes in from the ocean at Bodega Bay and makes its way toward San Pablo Bay, Syrah is all about green and Szechuan peppers, green olive, brine and deep minerals to round out wild blueberry and plum fruit. Savory and remarkably powerful.
  • Los Carneros: The Sonoma side of the AVA is also known for Rhône-style ocean-cooled Syrah vineyards, producing wines with intense flavors of blueberry, cardamom and black pepper. Note that this region straddles the Napa County region with about 40% of the AVA lying on the “other side” of the county line. A significant amount of Los Carneros Pinot noir is made into sparkling wine of particularly good quality.
  • Sonoma Valley (including Bennett Valley and Moon Mountain): While fruit here is riper and more generous, much of the area around Bennett Valley (source of Donelan Richards’ Barbed Oak Vineyard) can also express the more savory and spicy aspects of Syrah. Moon Mountain’s celebrated Bismark Vineyard excels in Syrah. 

Yorkville Highlands

Mendocino’s red wines are celebrated mostly for their Pinot Noirs in almost all subregions except the Yorkville Highlands. The largely red-wine Yorkville Highlands subregion comprises approximately 40,000 acres (16,187 ha) between the Alexander Valley to the southeast and the Anderson Valley to the northwest. Here, red winegrapes account for 83% of overall plantings, with Syrah being the standout variety. Highlands Syrah typically comes from  vineyards that are higher in altitude, planted between 850 and 2,500 feet (259-762 m).

  • Yorkville Highlands: Syrahs here are all about blackberry and black cherry fruit, violet, pepper, graphite, bay leaf and damp earth.

Santa Cruz Mountains (Big Basin), Monterey County (Santa Lucia Highlands)

South of San Francisco, Syrah flourishes in the Central Coast from select spots near the Santa Cruz Mountains (especially around Big Basin) and down through Monterey and the historically well-respected Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Monterey County quietly ranks third only to San Luis Obispo and Sonoma statewide in production of premium Syrah. 

  • Santa Cruz Mountains: Santa Cruz Mountain higher-altitude Syrahs are chiseled in structure while offering up notes of tart black-plum-skin, black raspberry, crushed rock, lavender, tea leaf and peppercorn.
  • Monterey: Classic region-wide Monterey Syrah will exhibit a fruit profile driven by blackberry, leather, graphite, and peppercorn. Very approachable and likable, these become juicer and fleshier the closer they are to sea level. 
  • The Santa Lucia Highlands: Usually the third variety top of mind after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Syrah in the Santa Lucia Highlands are typically all about cracked pepper, smoked meats, blackberries, leather, and cassis.

Edna Valley

San Luis Obispo is the premier location for premium Rhône grape varieties and, within that set of offerings, Syrah. Over 1,500 acres (607 ha) of the variety are planted across the county. Gary Eberle is credited with introducing the Chapoutier clone to California in the mid-1970s, specifically in Paso Robles. Paso Robles Syrah benefits from a high diurnal swing, with temperature changes of 50°F (10°C) or more between day and night. Typical Paso Robles Syrahs are a deep shade of purple, with characteristics of blueberries, meat and earthiness.

  • Edna Valley: Syrah in Edna Valley is divine, being punctuated by nuanced flavors of boysenberry, white pepper, rosemary, lavender, spice, black plum, and rosehips.

Ballard Canyon, Santa Maria Valley, Happy Canyon, Alisos Canyon

Santa Barbara County’s success with Syrah is well-documented. Growing slightly less than Monterey, Santa Barbara Syrah and Syrah-based blends have made significant contributions to the region’s eno-reputation. Half of all vines planted in the Ballard Canyon AVA are Syrah, with Ballard Canyon the only AVA in North America where Syrah is the most-planted grape. Across Ballard Canyon a further 30% of plantings are devoted to Rhône grape varieties. 

  • Ballard Canyon: Syrah from Ballard Canyon is typically more lifted and bright than the dense and supple examples generally found elsewhere in California. This is due to Ballard Canyon’s extreme day-night temperature shifts.
  • Happy Canyon: This is the warmest subregion of Santa Barbara County, so Syrah is popular in Happy Canyon, accounting for about 21% of plantings. Happy Canyon Syrahs are often less savory in style than those of Ballard Canyon to the west, offering ample fruit and almost mocha/chocolate notes.
  • Santa Maria Valley: Santa Maria is one of the coolest winegrowing climates in California, with Pacific Ocean fog an influence on valley floor vineyards. Syrahs here retain ample acidity and can exhibit Rhône-style pepper notes, but also ripen well into full-bodied wines with floral and pronounced dark-fruit character.
  • Alisos Canyon: This new AVA, located near the tiny town of Los Alamos, between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, is slightly warmer than the Sta. Rita Hills (home to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and a bit cooler than Ballard Canyon (bountiful with Rhône grapes). Syrah here is best expressed as having elegant flavors and expressive aromatics with bright acidity levels and flavors that can range from red cherry, cranberry, and raspberry to dark mulberry and blackberry with lavender notes and some herbal/green elements including thyme, sage, and green peppercorn.

Midway between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay, Lodi is a powerhouse for California wines. Though just the seventh most planted grape in the county, Syrah has nevertheless a presence here. Given the warmer climate, classic Lodi Syrahs are rich, juicy wines, exploding with ripe red and black fruit (plums, cherries, and berries), sweet spices (allspice is very Lodi to this author) and both dark and milk chocolate. In addition to varietally pure Syrah, Lodi is well-known for blends incorporating other Rhône varieties such as Mourvedre.

With ample amounts of granite present in the soils of the Sierra Foothills, it is no wonder that Syrah is happy in this part of the state, and is the third most planted variety after Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Syrah grapes can be found in myriad spots across the eight counties, from Amador (the famed Shake Ridge Vineyard) to Placerville to the Sierra Nevada near Mariposa. 

Syrah Around the World

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

  • France: France: Rhône, Provence, Midi, Languedoc (Gard and Hérault)
  • Italy: Tuscany (Chianti, Cortona), Sicily
  • Portugal: Alentejo, Tejo, Lisboa
  • Other European countries: Spain (Castilla-La Mancha), Austria, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Malta, Turkey 
  • Australia: South Australia (Barossa, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra), Western Australia (Margaret River), Victoria (Yarra Valley, Strathbogie Ranges)
  • New Zealand: North Island (Waiheke Island), Hawkes Bay, South Island (Central Otago, Canterbury, Marlborough, Waipara)
  • South Africa: Paarl and Stellenbosch
  • Other Countries: Iran, Lebanon, Israel, China
  • The Americas 
    • Argentina: San Juan
    • Chile: Colchagua, Aconcagua (San Antonio, Leyda, Casablanca), Coquimbo (Limarí, Elquí)  
    • Mexico: Mexican Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe
    • Canada: British Columbia
    • USA (beyond CA): Washington State (Walla Walla, Walhuke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills), Oregon (Umpqua valley, Rogue Valley), Idaho, Texas, Colorado
    • Other: Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay