Regions and Appellations USA California North Coast

North Coast Wine

California's North Coast AVA is vast, covering more than 3 million acres (1.2 million ha) of land to the north of San Francisco. Its large size should not be taken as an indicator of low quality or a lack of regional identity, however – the area is home to some of the wine world's most valuable and distinctive real estate. The Napa Valley, Sonoma ValleyRussian River, Stags Leap and Carneros districts – the aristocracy of American wine – are all located here in the North Coast.

The large number of respected AVAs located within the North Coast means that high-quality wines from the area are typically labeled not as 'North Coast' but with the titles of these more prestigious, location-specific areas. Most wines bearing the 'North Coast' AVA title are mass-produced blends made from grapes harvested in several of the AVA's regions.

Golden Gate; the gateway to the North Coast

A long, rough-edged rectangle, the North Coast AVA measures 120 miles (195km) from north to south, and about half that from east to west. Other wine regions of this scale are usually delimited using political or administrative boundaries such as county, state or national borders, which have no intrinsic relevance to wine production. Impressively, this is not the case here. The North Coast AVA boundaries are defined almost entirely by topography, hydrography and other geographical factors, all of which do, ultimately, have their influence on wine quality.

Despite the above, the name 'North Coast' must be taken in context. Although some parts of the AVA lie several hundred meters above sea-level, and more than 50 miles (80km) from the nearest beach, the name usefully distinguishes the area from the much hotter, drier inland areas: the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills.

It is impossible to give a concise, cover-all description of geology and climate for such a large area, but there are a few generalizations true of all North Coast vineyards. As can be expected in a mountainous region close to the coast of a vast ocean, summer temperatures here are significantly lower (and winters noticeably milder) than those experienced further inland. Cooling coastal breezes, refreshing fog and crisp mountain air are all key ingredients of the North Coast terroir. Each of these helps in some way to balance out the one constant that affects all vineyards here: warm, bright California sunshine.

The grape varieties grown around the North Coast are the same as those grown all over California as a whole. The obvious king and queen here are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which together make up roughly half of all plantings. Other significant varieties include Zinfandel (in warmer areas) Pinot Noir (in cooler areas), Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

In October 2017 Sonoma Country suffered extensive damage and destruction from the wildfires which raged across much of northern California's wine country.

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Most Popular North Coast Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Grape
Popularity
Score
Avg Price
Opus One, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 9th 94 $412
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 30th 96 $3,978
Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 37th 91 $87
Dominus Estate Christian Moueix, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 46th 95 $277
Harlan Estate, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 49th 96 $1,287
Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 68th 94 $261
Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 86th 95 $877
Promontory, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 103rd 96 $791
Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 105th 93 $192
Amuse Bouche Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 122nd 92 $255
Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 158th 95 $336
Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 171st 89 $141
Beaulieu Vineyard BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 175th 93 $134
Heitz Cellar Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 222nd 93 $267
Colgin Cellars IX Estate Red, Napa Valley, USA Bordeaux Blend Red 236th 95 $567
Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 238th 91 $149
Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 248th 89 $90
Beringer Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 250th 93 $160
Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 264th 93 $151
Spottswoode Family Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 267th 95 $226
Chateau Montelena The Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 273rd 92 $158
Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 287th 90 $66
Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, California, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 302nd 94 $166
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 'Artemis' Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 308th 89 $66
Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA Cabernet Sauvignon 320th 89 $36
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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