Italian Grapes that Grow in California
California isn’t just the land of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is also home to many delicious Italian grape varieties. We have to thank Italian immigrants for bringing over cuttings of grapevines nearly a century ago. Italians were the ones to first introduce Italian vines to California soil. Flash-forward 100 years later, there are a ton of Italian grapes grown in California. Many of which we work with at our own California Italian winery.
Let’s explore all the delicious Italian grapes grown in California!
You may be shocked to discover how many Italian grapes grow extremely well in California. This is all thanks to California’s various microclimates, skilled grape growers, and open-mindedness! When our winemaker Dominick arrived in California, he planted a vineyard of Primitivo. He knew that Primitivo would flourish in Amador County. And, he was right – our Primitivo adores the soils and climate of this AVA. With just the right microclimate, Italian wines can stick to their varietal nature, but with a little California twist!
So, what other grapes grow in California? From white to red, there are many delicious California Italian wines to discover…
Italian White Wine Grapes
Did you know that Pinot Grigio is the third most planted white grape variety in California? While this grape may *technically* be French, Pinot Grigio’s more recent history makes it very much an Italian grape in our minds. There are plantings of Pinot Grigio all over Northern Italy. That’s because Pinot Grigio adores slightly cooler climates, with high altitudes and gentle breezes. Fortunately, California has fantastic altitudes and a giant coastline, making it very welcoming to the Pinot Grigio grape.
At Domenico, we source our Pinot Grigio from Lodi. This AVA is a great place to grow Pinot Grigio. Lodi has a dry Mediterranean climate with cool coastal winds. This enhances the classic crispness we love in Pinot Grigio.
California loves Vermentino. It’s refreshing, flavorful, and Italian! Grown mostly in the Italian regions of Liguria and Sardegna, Vermentino is a lover of sunlight, altitude, and sea breezes. Thus, these elements enhance this grape’s beautiful acidity and minerality. It ripens beautifully in California, creating a wine that is perfectly refreshing.
This ancient Southern Italian grape continues to gain more attention in the California wine scene. It’s hard not to love Fiano’s floral, honey, and nutty flavors. Its body is much fuller than that of Vermentino but equally as refreshing.
Other Italian White Grape Varieties
There are other lesser common Italian white grapes in California. That doesn’t make them less delicious! Malvasia Bianca, Moscato, and even Arneis can be found as well, especially in Northern California vineyards.
Italian Red Wine Grapes
Sangiovese is a dark-skinned grape loved for its red fruit and earthy flavors. It is the grape behind Tuscany’s most esteemed wines, like Chianti Classico and Brunello. Interestingly, Sangiovese was introduced in California back in the 1980s. It was a core part of the first attempt at ‘Cal-Ital’ wines, which wasn’t a success at first. But, some of these grapevines survived this ‘Cal-Ital’ attempt. That means we got to reap the benefits of older vines producing some amazing Sangiovese fruit today!
Nebbiolo and Barbera
These three grapes reign from the Italian region Piemonte. Nebbiolo is the grape behind the famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines. It’s a tannic grape that evolves gorgeously with age. Barbera is much less tannic, yet it brings an amazing acidity to the table. It’s no wonder that Sonoma County has grown Barbera since the 1880s!
Hailing from Sicily, Nero D’Avola is a juicy grape that loves the heat. Hence why its the most widely planted grape in Sicily! Over in California, Nero D’Avola continues to grow in popularity. It’s no wonder – who wouldn’t love a grape that can handle the California heat!
One of the California Italian wines we especially adore is Primitivo. This grape is native to Puglia, the region at the heel of Italy. Although it’s genetically almost identical to Zinfandel, the Primitivo grape brings its own personality to the bottle. This is exactly why Dominick decided to plant Primitivo in Amador County, an area known for its old vine Zinfandel. Finding a balance between the needs of the grape and what a vineyard can offer is what will make or break a California Italian wine.
Other Italian White Grape Varieties
Many winemakers and grape growers continue to experiment with different Italian red varieties. Dolcetto is an elegant grape from Piemonte that we just adore working with. There are also plantings of the Southern Italian grape Aglianico. Makes sense, as this grape can handle dry heat.
Isn’t it cool how diverse the Italian grapes grown in California are? There are so many delicious wines to try. We’d love to hear all your thoughts on these Italian grapes and all they have to offer. They are definitely a core part of our Italian winery here in San Carlos, California!