Viognier in California
Here is an overview of principal California American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the U.S. equivalent of appellations, associated with Viognier. For a deep dive into specific regions, please visit our Regional Guides.
California Viognier Acreage by County (2020)
|COUNTY||2020 TOTAL GRAPE ACRES
(bearing and non-bearing)
|2020 TOTAL GRAPE HECTARES
(bearing and non-bearing)
|San Luis Obispo||330||134|
With less than 40 hectares (98 acres) planted, Viognier is a rarity in Napa Valley. Ironically, however, it was Napa Valley’s La Jota winery that kicked off the state’s interest in the variety in the 1980s. Enchantingly, today’s examples display a citrus-pineapple, floral character, with the Phelps clone (Vins du Mistral) and cuttings from La Jota’s original vineyard, as one might imagine, key sources of plant material.
A significant number of Sonoma wineries make Viognier, which should not come as a surprise, Sonoma being the second-most planted premium region for the variety after San Luis Obispo County. Viognier is planted in AVAs as diverse as the Russian River Valley, Bennett Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. Interpretations are wide-ranging, from more subdued and elegant styles (think high-toned, floral notes of linden and lilies, and lemon thyme), to more vivid and outspoken expressions (white peach, jasmine, Blenheim apricot, ginger and cardamom).
Believe it or not, there is more Viognier in Mendocino than in Napa Valley, perhaps a direct correlation to land and grape prices, but maybe also stemming from a deserved focus on aromatic grape varieties in which the county seems to excel -- Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Viognier. County-wide, Viognier here is delicate florals and fresh fruit aromas, backed up by mouth-watering guava, apricot, and citrus (think ripe mandarin orange).
San Benito County → Cienega Valley, SAN LUIS OBISPO- Paso Robles → Cienega Valley
Close to San Francisco, San Benito county flies largely under the radar, with the exception of Calera’s pioneering efforts in the Cienega Valley, which remains among the state’s most heralded. Mount Harlan’s limestone soils bring out a subtle minerality to complement the forward fruit. Paso Robles is undoubtedly the state’s most celebrated spot for this personality-filled grape. Made as a solo variety, as well as a leading component of many white Rhône blends, Viognier plays a leading role in the region and helps define San Luis Obispo’s position as California’s premier county for this grape.
- San Benito: look for notes of pineapple, ripe mango, and white peach. Cienega Valley’s older vines also seem to bring out floral (jasmine) and ripe citrus (lemon meringue) flavors.
- Paso Robles: Paso’s Viognier is delineated by ripe tropical and stone fruit flavors of peach and apricot, framed by floral qualities of honeysuckle, violet, jasmine and rose petals.
Los Alamos, Santa Maria Valley, and the Sta. Rita Hills
With 66 hectares (162 acres) planted, Santa Barbara is a player with Viognier. Highlighting Santa Barbara's cooler, more coastal climate, Viognier here displays bright notes of fresh Georgia peach, honeydew melon and subtle traces of lychee.
- Santa Barbara: full and voluptuous, marked by forward peach, apricot, and honeydew flavors, with tropical floral notes of plumeria (frangipani), freesia and tuberose.
Located midway between the Sierra Foothills and the San Francisco Bay, Lodi is a powerhouse for wines in California. If your perception of Lodi wines is one of nice, correct wines, then your impression needs to be revised. Lodi has an ideal Mediterranean climate, with deep, rich, sandy-loam soils and abundant water. And ample sun. The white wine Lodi has really come to specialize in seems to be Viognier. Classic Lodi Viognier is redolent of peaches, pineapple, and tropical fruit, complemented by the scent of sweet citrus and Hawaiian ginger.
Amador and El Dorado
With ample amounts of granite present in the soils of the Sierra Foothills, it’s no wonder that Viognier is happy in this part of the state. While the collective amount of planted acreage is not exhaustive, Viognier punches well above its weight in this corner of the Golden State. Here, Viognier, like all Rhône varieties, thrives in the warm Mediterranean climate and granitic soils. The cooling influences of thermal amplitude helps preserve the acidity needed for balance. The variety here can display aromas of mixed stone fruit and florals, including peony, honeysuckle, and hyacinth.
Viognier Around the World
An extremely aromatic white grape, Viognier can be made into a wonderful fuller-bodied dry wine, or into something sweeter, as a rare and coveted dessert wine. It can be supple and sensual. It can also be oaked, and a rival to a heady Chardonnay. The versatility of the grape has made it an important variety in the Rhône Valley in France, but its difficulty on the vine has somewhat prohibited it from becoming a more popular single varietal wine in regions around the world. Jancis Robinson aptly notes, “Viognier could truly be said to be the hedonist's white grape variety, even if it is often the vintner's headache – and the drinker's headache too, come to that – for it has to be left on the vine for a very long time before its characteristic heady aroma fully develops.” That said, it has become quietly visible in many places globally.
- France: Rhône Valley (Condrieu, Château-Grillet), Languedoc, Roussillon, Ardèche, Provence
- Germany: Pfalz
- Austria: Weinviertel
- Spain: Castilla-La Mancha,
- Other European countries: Italy, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Malta
- Australia: South Australia (Barossa, Eden Valley), Victoria (Yarra Valley), New South Wales
- New Zealand: North Island (Hawkes Bay, Martinborough, Gisborne), South Island (Marlborough)
- South Africa: Swartland, Stellenbosch
- The Americas
- Argentina: Mendoza
- Brazil: Serra Gaúcha, Campanha
- Uruguay: Canelones, Maldonado
- Canada: British Columbia
- USA (beyond CA): Virginia, Oregon, Washington, Texas