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California Chardonnay

If Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes, Chardonnay is the queen of whites. The variety is California’s most-planted white winegrape, with 93,148 acres reported in 2018. Chardonnay remains far and away the most popular wine in the U.S. and has been the leading varietal wine for the last decade, with sales increases every year. Chardonnay represented an estimated 18.6 percent of table wine volume purchased in U.S. food stores in 2018, according to estimates by The Nielsen Company and Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates. In 2018, California crushed 711,668 tons of Chardonnay.

The wine’s classic flavor descriptors include green apple, fig and citrus with medium-to-full body, complex aroma and moderate acidity. Chardonnay is often aged in oak to produce vanilla and toast overtones. In recent years, many California winemakers have moved away from the opulent style of Chardonnay popular in the 1980s and 1990s in favor of more subtly oaked and un-oaked versions.

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 Historical references note California plantings of Chardonnay dating back to the late 1800s, but production remained limited because of low yields.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

Top 10 California Counties for Chardonnay Acreage, 2018
County Total Acres
Monterey 17,243
Sonoma 15,797
San Joaquin 13,139
Napa 6,908
Yolo 5,672
Sacramento 4,982
Santa Barbara 4,898
Madera 4,844
Mendocino 4,571
San Luis Obispo 2,691
Other 12,403
State Total 93,148
Source: California Agricultural Statistics Service
California Chardonnay Grape Crush Tonnage
Year Tons Crushed
2018 711,668
2017 614,723
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
California Agricultural Statistics Service