Increased vineyard plantings and notable improvements in quality mean that the future looks bright for Pinot Noir in California. Read this report on 93 wines tasted by our three-strong expert panel, with an introduction by Karen MacNeil, who is region chair for California at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018.

  • 93 wines tasted with 2 rated Outstanding

  • The panel tasters were: Stephen Brook, James Doidge and Ronan Sayburn MS

Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, which confines itself to small zones in northern California (notably Napa Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains and parts of Sonoma), Pinot Noir is grown over an 800km north-south stretch.

The specific AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that excel with the grape are strung like pearls along the Pacific coastline. Latitude, as it turns out, isn’t very important when it comes to Californian Pinot Noir. What matters more is proximity to the cold Pacific Ocean. In summer, standing in most top Pinot vineyards feels like being in a restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator.

Pinot Noir is now the fourth most-planted grape in California, right behind Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the state’s most-planted grape. Just 20 years ago, Pinot was 10th in the line-up, far behind grapes such as Barbera and Chenin Blanc, which are increasingly absent on the contemporary scene.


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