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NorCal Wine Blog

Fun Facts about California Cabernet Sauvignon

As you’ve no doubt heard, Governor Jerry Brown has declared September, 2011 to be California Wine Month. It’s a well-deserved honor for the industry, which is very important to California.

But today is not only the first day of California Wine Month. It is also #CabernetDay. People around the world, and especially in California, will be tasting Cabernet Sauvignon and then tweeting and/or writing about it.

In recognition of both events, and to kick things off properly, here are some cool facts about California Cabernet Sauvignon.

California Cabernet Sauvignon Acreage

As of 2010, there were 77,602 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in California. That year, more than 446,000 tons of California Cabernet Sauvignon were crushed for wine. Chardonnay is the most planted grape in California, Zinfandel is third.

Napa County has the most vineyard land dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon with 19,080 acres. But that doesn’t mean it produces the highest volume. With their focus on quality, many Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are farmed for low-yields and small berries. In 2010, 55,752 tons of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon were harvested, about half of the amount from the Lodi-Woodbridge area.

Looking at all varieties combined, Napa receives the most money for their grapes too, $3,237.97 per ton in 2010. That was 50% higher than the next highest priced California region, Sonoma County-Marin County. And the average price per ton for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was $4,456. (One ton of grapes makes roughly 120 gallons of wine. So, you could say the cost of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to wineries is $37 per gallon.)

Here are the Top 5 California Counties in Cabernet Sauvignon Acreage:
Napa - 19,080
San Joachin* - 11,092
Sonoma - 10,992
San Luis Obispo - 9,540
Monterey - 4,382

*Much of the Lodi AVA falls within San Joachin County
Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service. Revised May 27, 2011 and

Cabernet Sauvignon Has a Long History in California

The first growing areas for Cabernet Sauvignon in California were Sonoma and Napa. Agoston Haraszthy’s Buena Vista winery, located in the Sonoma portion of Carneros, may have included Cabernet Sauvignon as early as 1857. Note that the grape, a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, did not come into existence until sometime in the 17th century.


Appointed “Commissioner on the Improvement and Growth of the Grape Vine in California, Agoston Haraszthy went on a fact-finding mission to Europe. He examined vineyards, viticulture and winemaking. In 1862 he documented his findings in a report, more of a book actually at upwards of 400 pages, called “Grape Culture, Wine and Wine-Making: with Notes upon Agriculture and Horticulture.” He also bought and imported more than 100,000 European grape vines comprising, he claimed, in excess of 1,400 varieties. In reality, the number of truly different varieties was probably just over 300. Cabernet Sauvignon was definitely among them. The vines arrived at the Port of San Francisco early in 1862 and were distributed to California wineries.

Wines in those days were not sold as varietals but rather as blends. Among the first California wineries to specialize in Bordeaux-style wines was Gustave Niebaum’s Inglenook. The winery now known as Rubicon was founded in 1879 in what is now Napa Valley’s Rutherford AVA. One of Niebaum’s Inglenook wines won a gold medal at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. Cabernet Sauvignon plantings probably go back nearly that far in the Livermore Valley too.

Inglenook founder Gustave Niebaum

In other great Cabernet Sauvignon regions of California though, it was a much later introduction. Wine grapes have been grown in Paso Robles since 1797. However, Cabernet Sauvignon wasn’t planted there until the late 1960’s when Stanley Hoffman started his vineyard. Now, it is the Paso Robles AVA’s most-grown varietal, comprising 30% of all plantings.

The first winery in California to plant only Cabernet Sauvignon on it’s estate vineyards was Diamond Creek Vineyards in Napa Valley. Founded by Al Brounstein in 1968, it was also one of the first wineries in California to produce multiple single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. That showed how differing terroir can create substantially different wines, even if the vineyards aren’t too far apart. Diamond Creek Vineyards was also the first in California to hit the $100 price point for Cabernet Sauvignon with their 1978 Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

What will you be tasting on #CabernetDay?


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