Chenin Blanc in California

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

California Chenin Blanc Acreage by County (2020)
COUNTY 2020 TOTAL GRAPE ACRES
(bearing and non-bearing)
2020 TOTAL GRAPE HECTARES
(bearing and non-bearing)
Fresno 1,511 611
San Joaquin 630 255
Yolo 525 212
Madera 485 196
Sacramento 340 138
San Luis Obispo 167 68
Stanislaus 150 61
Monterey 130 53
Solano 114 46
Kern 76 31
Other 137 55
STATE TOTAL 4,265 1,726

With notable exceptions such as Clarksburg at the top end of the Central Valley delta and a handful of wineries/vineyards along the North Coast and Central Coast, the bulk of California Chenin Blanc goes into blends, boosting acidity in warm-climate chardonnay. Reality is that the lion’s share of the state’s plantings are found in the warm inland counties of San Joaquin, Sacramento, Madera, and Yolo and not destined for premium bottlings.

With around  53 ha (130 acres) planted, Chenin is now a relative rarity in Napa Valley. Ironically, it was a series of Napa Valley wineries, notably Charles Krug, that kicked off the state’s interest in varietally bottled wines in the 1960s. Modern day Napa-based advocates for the variety, Chappellet, Casa Nuestra, Pine Ridge, and Lang & Reed, have carried the torch, so that it doesn’t go the way of the polar bear. Enchantingly, today’s examples display ripe melon, pear, and tropical fruit with sweet and tart citrus notes. Medium-bodied, it ranges from dry to off-dry to slightly sweet. The best examples show a good balance of ripe, succulent fruit and crisp acidity.

With less than 12 ha (30 acres), one might ask why bother. But these diminutive quantities of vines were crucial in the early quality plantings as symbolized by Tony Husch’s efforts. Interpretations here are all about fresh apple and floral blossom, with flavors equally expressive of peach and stone fruit flavors and a healthy hint of honeycomb. They finish brisk with ample acidity.

RIVER DELTA (Clarksburg) 

Located up from the Bay Area on Highway 160 and River Road, rolling past acres of pasture, orchards and farm houses -- real, functional farmhouses, not vacation getaways -- it's easy to forget that the booming, sprawling state capital of Sacramento is just a few miles away. The Clarksburg area is not only cooler than Lodi to the south, but cooler than much of Napa. Its warm day/cool night climate seems just right, and its clay-rich soils are also a prominent feature of Vouvray and other Chenin-producing sections of France's Loire Valley. Initial plantings of Chenin Blanc date back to 1960 with the first example made in 1963 (Erhardt Estates). This is still primarily a grape-exporting region. Roughly 90% of the harvest is made into wine elsewhere, so do not be surprised to see ex-pat Clarksburg Chenin Blanc made in other places. Premium wineries, including Pine Ridge and Dry Creek Vineyards, source from Clarksburg. Markers here include clean, crisp, dry and tangy; think fresh-cut apples with a whiff of honey for the dry examples, the region’s best.

Amador 

Called out here for a single spot: the Story Vineyard in Amador County. A dry-farmed, own-rooted vineyard planted in 1979, it is one of the great California sites for Chenin. Other spots have specifically used grafting material from this vineyard. Frei Vineyard in Solano County and Rorick Estate Vineyard in Calaveras County were both grafted using cuttings from Story Vineyard. Old, existing vines lead to more controlled yields for quality young fruit when grafting new vines.

Chenin Blanc Around the World

While the Loire Valley may be Chenin’s native stomping ground, South Africa grows more of this grape than any other country. It was introduced there around 1655 and is mostly found in the Stellenbosch and Swartland regions. Since the early 2000s, Chenin Blancs from various areas around the globe have helped kindle a resurgence of interest in the U.S., due in large part to a new generation of winemakers and sommeliers looking for something fresh, different, and food-friendly. Factoid: in 2010, 90% of the world’s Chenin was grown in South Africa, France, and California. And that jumps to 97% if you add in Argentina!

  • France: Loire Valley (90% of the surface area of Chenin Blanc planted in France, includng Vouvray, Saumur, Montlouis, Savennières, Chaume, Bonnezeaux, etc.); also Languedoc (Limoux)
  • Spain: Catalunya 
  • Australia: Western Australia (Margaret River, Swan District), South Australia (Riverland)
  • New Zealand: North Island (Gisborne)
  • South Africa: Stellenbosch, Swartland, Walker Bay, Elgin, Paarl, Olifants River, and Breedekloof
  • The Americas: Argentina (Mendoza), Brazil, Uruguay, the United States (California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Texas, Minnesota)
  • Other countries: India, Thailand