Chardonnay in California
Here is an overview of principal California American Viticultural Areas, (AVAs), the U.S. equivalent of appellations, associated with Chardonnay. For a deep dive into specific regions, please visit our Regional Guides
California Chardonnay Acreage by County (2019)
|COUNTY||2019 TOTAL GRAPE ACRES
(bearing and non-bearing)
|2019 TOTAL GRAPE HECTARES
(bearing and non-bearing)
Los Carneros, Yountville + Oak Knoll, Coombsville, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder
Chardonnay is the second most planted grape variety in Napa Valley (6,130 acres/2,480 hectares (13% in year-end 2019). As Napa’s coolest AVA, Los Carneros, which sits approximately 40% in Napa (with the balance located in adjoining Sonoma), with its calcium-rich soils, finds a large percentage of fruit used for sparkling wine.
- Los Carneros: The still examples are precise, fresh and intensely flavored with notes of tart and sweet citrus, some tropical elements (melon, kiwi and tart pineapple) and occasional notes of stone fruit (nectarine, apricot). Note that this region straddles the Sonoma County region with about 60% of the AVA lying on the ‘other side’ of the county line. A significant amount of the region’s Chardonnay is made into sparkling wine of very good quality.
- Yountville and Oak Knoll: Similar to Los Carneros, but with more stress on tree fruit (apples, pears) and florality.
- Coombsville: While less celebrated than the red Bordeaux varieties, Chardonnays are elegant, with stone fruit and signature minerality.
- Higher elevation mountain AVAs (including Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder): Architecturally leaner, with often rapier-sharp acidity, grown on meager colluvial soil.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Pahlmeyer, Hyde Estate Winery, Trefethen Family Vineyards
Russian River Valley → Green Valley
In Sonoma County, Chardonnay is the top white winegrape planted, occupying over 15,000 acres/6,070 hectares. Within Sonoma, no AVA is as celebrated as the Russian River Valley, accounting for a good portion of Chateau Montelena's "Judgement of Paris" wine with fruit from the Bacigalupi Vineyard in the Middle Reach, planted in 1964 off Westside Road. Green Valley is the only sub-AVA nested within the Russian River Valley. A cool, foggy pocket, it is known for excellent méthode traditionelle sparkling wine.
- Russian River Valley: Ranges from creamy, tree fruit-scented examples found in the warmer Middle Reach, replete with spiced pear, apple tart and lemon curd, to cooler expressions from the Green valley subzone.
- Green Valley: Cooler expressions, especially from the western areas of Green Valley and Sebastopol Hills. Green Valley Chardonnay, coming off of the celebrated sandy Goldridge soils, stylistically tends to the leaner, as the climate would suggest; this nested AVA is home to some of the coolest vineyard sites in the whole of the north coast. As one can imagine, lovely sparkling wine is made here...not to mention great apple juice and cider for the greater region’s celebrated Gravenstein apples.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Iron Horse Vineyards, Dutton Estate Winery, Freeman Vineyard & Winery
Sonoma Coast → Fort Ross-Seaview + Petaluma Gap, Carneros
The county’s Sonoma Coast is arguably too large and inclusive to generalize. The “true” (far) coast includes the Fort Ross-Seaview and Petaluma Gap AVAs, with many a celebrated Chardonnay.
- Fort Ross-Seaview: Racy, minerally wines, stress more citric, tart stone and Green Pippin apple nuances. Along with a few others, these notable AVA’s have led with the embracing and advocacy of the ‘new California' style of Chardonnay.
- Petaluma Gap: Coastal proximity and ample wind maintain higher acidity (with higher skin-to-juice ratio) while having more relative richness and texture than those in Fort Ross-Seaview. Chardonnay here is elegant, somewhat racy and full of yellow apple, quince and Asian pear with notes of citrus and apple blossom.
- Los Carneros: The still examples are precise, fresh and intensely flavored with notes of tart and sweet citrus, some tropical elements (melon, kiwi and tart pineapple) and occasional notes of stone fruit (nectarine, apricot). 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 the region’s Chardonnay is made into sparkling wine of very good quality.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Keller Estate Winery, Martinelli Winery & Vineyard, Hirsch Vineyards
Anderson Valley is another North Coast gem for Chardonnay with differing examples emanating from warmer Philo and Boonville areas than the cooler western ‘Deep End’ hamlet of Elke. Note that a good volume of the Chardonnay is harvested at low sugars and directed towards sparkling wine production. The remainder is made into rich full-bodied table wines with a hint of ripe apples.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Navarro Vineyards & Winery, Rhys Vineyards, Drew
Other North Coast areas excellent for the grape include Lake County and Marin County, the latter often being swept up into Sonoma since there is no official AVA.
- Lake County: Especially in the AVA’s of High Valley and Guenoc, Chardonnays lean towards the tree fruit nuances.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Shannon Ridge, Steele, Brassfield Estate Winery, Skywalker Vineyards, Stubbs Vineyard, Dutton Goldfield Winery (Devil's Gulch Vineyard)
Santa Cruz Mountains, Monterey County (Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone)
Close to San Francisco, Chardonnay flourishes in Livermore, where the Wente winery is based, although it is not until further south in the Central Coast that the grape’s full expanse is encountered.
- Santa Cruz Mountains: The thermal amplitude and varied soils (decomposed rock, clay, loam, limestone) result in wines with mineral character, along with defined Asian pear and waxy apple notes.
- Monterey: tropically scented expressions usually defined by pineapple and melon, oft accompanied by ripe tree and orchard fruit.
- The Santa Lucia Highlands: a small but mighty winegrowing appellation where Chardonnay retains a notable freshness and verve, especially when grown in the highest elevations inAgeability the north of the region. Notes of ginger, tangerine peel and Adriatic fig.
- Chalone: The nearby and adjacent AVA of Chalone has unique limestone and granite soils which limit grape yields. Limited rainfall concentrates the fruit character of citrus and just-ripe nectarine.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Testarossa Winery, Mount Eden Vineyards, Storrs Winery & Vineyards, Talbott Vineyards, Lucia Vineyards, Roar Winery
With roots going back to the early 1970s at the namesake vineyard/winery, the Edna Valley is surrounded by volcanic mountains and characterized by black humus and clay-rich soils.
- Edna Valley: Chardonnays here lean more to the pineapple, orange melon and ripe lime.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Chamisal Vineyards, Tangent, Talley Vineyards
Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills
Another touchstone spot for the variety in California. Chardonnay is the greater region’s most widely planted: 7,529 acres/3,047 hectares. Here, the north-south coastal range of mountains abruptly turns to run almost east-west for 50 miles/80 km, framing the valleys in a unique transit to the Pacific Ocean. This is the only stretch of land from Alaska to Cape Horn constituting an east-west traverse. The unique topography allows the flow of fog and ocean breezes to shape distinct microclimates and makes the region one of the coolest viticultural areas in California and a bastion of delicious Chardonnay. Many vintners capitalize on the cool climate to create crisp styles that showcase finesse and subtlety. However, some pockets allow for richer styles. Wines range from rich and creamy to savory and restrained.
- Sta Rita Hills: Quite cool, wines here have the occasional sea spray/almost-saline notes.
- Santa Ynez’s best Chardonnays tend to come from cooler sites, predominantly closer to the coast, while its Rhône and Italian varieties thrive further inland.
- Santa Maria Valley: Home of the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard, the area is not as cool – and indeed warmer in many spots than even the Santa Ynez Valley. Responsible for examples that are rounder and juicier.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Au Bon Climat, Brewer-Clifton, Dierberg Vineyard
Finally, while less chronicled than its more northern neighbors, Southern California’s Temecula nevertheless does make solid interpretations of this grape with the best efforts concentrated in the cooler western zones of the AVA.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Bailey Winery, Oak Mountain Winery
While most known for its superb Chenin Blanc, almost a quarter of Clarksburg’s plantings are in Chardonnay with resulting wines usually underscored by a ripe pie-fruit character and the occasional tropical nuance.
Examples of wineries making Chardonnay true to this region and style: Peltier Winery & Vineyards, Michael David Winery, Intercoastal Vineyards
Chardonnay Around the World
As the world’s most widely planted and popular white vinifera grape, it might be easier to list where it is not found! Below is a list of the principal areas associated with premium Chardonnay. For further information on these areas, click on the below region:
- France: Burgundy (Côte d'Or, Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais), Loire, Ardèche, Champagne
- Italy: Northeast, especially in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Tuscany and Veneto’s Franciacorta
- Other European countries: Germany's Pfalz, Austria’s Styria, and Spain's Navarra and Catalonia regions (the latter for Cava)
- Australia: Western Australia's Margaret River, the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, Hunter Valley, Clare Valley and the island of Tasmania
- New Zealand: Gisborne region and the Auckland area (Kumeu-Huapai)
- South Africa: Stellenbosch and Paarl
- The Americas
- Argentina: Mendoza, especially the Uco Valley
- Chile: Casablanca, San Antonio, Atacama and coastal areas of Colchagua
- Mexico: Mexican Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe
- Canada: Ontario, especially Niagara
- USA (beyond California): Oregon, Washington, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and even Texas
- Argentina: Mendoza, especially the Uco Valley