California Chardonnay

If Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes, Chardonnay is the queen of whites. The variety is California’s most widely planted winegrape, with 94,532 acres reported in 2016. Chardonnay far and away remains the most popular wine in the U.S. and has continued to be the leading varietal wine for the last decade, with sales increases every year. Chardonnay represented an estimated 20 percent of table wine volume purchased in U.S. food stores in 2016, according to estimates by The Nielsen Company and Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates. In 2016, California crushed 676,000 tons of Chardonnay.

Fans of Chardonnay are familiar with the wine’s classic descriptors: green apple, fig and citrus flavors, a complex aroma, and high acidity for a crisp wine. The wine is often aged in oak to produce toasty, vanilla and buttery overtones.

The Chardonnay Grape

Genetic studies have identified Chardonnay as a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Historical references note California plantings of Chardonnay dating back to the late 1800s, but production remained limited because of the grape’s low yields. Most Chardonnay vineyards were uprooted during Prohibition when growers replaced them with thick-skinned varieties that could be shipped cross country. Small plantings in the Livermore Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains survived Prohibition. It was not until the 1970s and thereafter that Chardonnay plantings boomed as the wine became increasingly popular.

Top 10 California Counties for Chardonnay Acreage, 2016

County 2016 Total Acres
Monterey 16,904
Sonoma 15,839
San Joaquin 13,410
Napa 6,926
Yolo 5,428
Madera 5,420
Santa Barbara 5,338
Sacramento 5,041
Mendocino 4,719
San Luis Obispo 2,917
Other 12,590

Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service

California Chardonnay Grape Crush Tonnage

Year Tons Crushed
2016 675,885
2015 633,594
2014 718,029
2013 758,188
2012 735,775
2011 558,794
2010 656,297
2009 727,078
2008 566,306
2007 589,664
2006 549,502
2005 742,582
2004 568,295
2003 561,677
2002 594,746
2001 568,295
2000 650,524
1999 458,273
1998 428,827
1997 491,406
1996 304,463
1995 286,989

Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service