With more than a million residents, the suburban sprawl of Contra Costa County is always a threat to this region’s long history of viticulture. Located below Suisun Bay and just east of the Oakland Hills, it’s no wonder this region has seen much of its vineyard land transformed into suburbia. Thankfully, not all the vineyards have succumbed to the pressures of urban development as the county is still home to some of California’s premiere old vine Zinfandel vineyards. Thanks to producers such as Cline, the area has also made a name for itself based on Rhone varietals such as that winery’s critically acclaimed Ancient Vines Carignane and Small Berry Mourvedre.
Vineyards in the region benefit from large diurnal temperature fluctuations from cool coastal bay winds scurrying through the county on a west to east journey to the Central Valley. The vineyards are also comprised predominantly of old vines which have escaped the scourge of Phylloxera as the deep sandy soils provide an inhospitable environment for the louse. This soil also forces the vines to dig deep to find nutrients.
While wines that carry county appellation designations rarely have a defining terroir character, this cannot be said of Contra Costa County. The earthy, dusty and leathery quality of the region’s big reds is evidence of a definitive Contra Costa style.
Since Thomas Jefferson first tried to cultivate European vinifera in Virginia, the state has been a decided piece of American wine country. Over the years better knowledge, equipment and materials have all contributed to an advancing wine industry, but the more recent decade or two has brought out the real potential that can be found.
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