Purists will tell you that the best, the absolute best, the only one worth drinking, wine of any kind can only come from the original location. The Jets and the Sharks were like BFFs compared to people who will only drink French wines versus those who stick exclusively to Italian wines. Naturally, the only thing these people agree on is to look down their noses at the wines and wineries of California. Just because something is known for being well done in its place of origin does not mean it cannot be even better when done somewhere else.
What these purists do not realize is that there are very few grapes that have not been moved at least once in their lives. People have been making wine for almost seven thousand years. That long ago, people in the Loire Valley or in the Tuscany region were not cultivating the expansive wines they have come to be known for. Certainly, some of the grapes that a region is known for are native, but the majority of them came when people settled into the area and brought their native grapes with them.
Obviously, this is how winemaking came to California in the first place. If Native Americans had a practice of fermenting grapes into wine, that legacy has been lost to history. It is the Spanish missionaries that are credited with first planting grapes as a means of support for the missions they established. Today, some of these missions serve as the headquarters for small regional Santa Ynez wines. In some cases, the root stock of these vineyards goes back three hundred years or more.
This is important to consider when you remember that in the 1870's, thousands of acres of French grapes had to be replaced after a Phylloxera plague decimated many of the vineyards. The winemakers turned to the heartier stocks that had been growing in California for the previous few decades.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that people tried with different varietals until they found one or two that worked best. Once they had a solid consistent grape, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay - two grapes that thrive in most places - many winemakers would not risk the expense of trying other varietals as well. They had the grape that worked best for their region, but that does not mean they necessarily had the region that worked best for that grape.
With its diverse climate and terroir, coupled with advances in winemaking techniques and the addition of science to the art, California wines are rated as some of the finest wines from around the world. Several dozen different varietals call California home, and just like many of the people who live in the Golden State, they are not native to the land.
Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been writing about the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. http://www.wineclubworld.com