Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

Cabernet v. Pinot and most Widely Planted Varieties in CA, US, Worldwide

Posted by JonDerry, Mar 17, 2016.

Trying to recall a conversation we had a little while ago on this subject.

Whats the most widely planted (acreage) and produced (bottles) red grape in CA, U.S., and worldwide?

I seem to recall a Snooth article mentioning Grenache as the most widely planted red grape worldwide, but that was some years ago. I'm assuming it's Chardonnay for white?


Reply by dmcker, Mar 17, 2016.

Ask and ye shall be answered, JD. From Univ. of Adelaide:

The world’s 10 most-planted varieties in 1990

1. Airen
2. Garnacha tinta
3. Rkatsiteli
4. Sultaniye
5. Trebbiano Toscana
6. Mazuelo
7. Merlot
8. Cabernet sauvignon 
9. Monastrell
10. Bobal

...And in 2010

1. Cabernet Sauvignon
2. Merlot
3. Airen
4. Tempranillo
5. Chardonnay
6. Syrah
7. Garnacha tinta
8. Sauvignon blanc
9. Trebbiano Toscano
10. Pinot noir


The university's database is available online at: and an e-book can be freely downloaded at:

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 17, 2016.

Right, what geeks or collectors drink is a drop in the bucket compared to the daily drinkers of countries where wine is a daily drink, maybe even two meals worth.  Airen is the glugging white grape of Spain, and covers a huge area, although the amount of wine may be less because it's grown in inhospitable climates that keep yields down--other grapes wouldn't grow there at all.  It's still high on the list.  According to Oz Clarke's "Grapes and Wines,"  Tempranillo gained the most acreage in the 90s and 00s.  That accounts for its rise into the top 10.  Trebbiano is a volume wine grape in Italy, showing up virtually everywhere and therefore on lists from both decades.  Grenache probably dropped down the list because lots of it was dug up in Austraila; probably a lot was replaced by Syrah. 

I think I may have accessed that great website in another post about what is most commonly planted in a few countries, but thanks for posting that, DM.  Pretty awesome research.  (Almost as good as the study I saw on relative tannin levels, which spun my head.  Not at all what you would expect.)

Reply by GregT, Mar 17, 2016.

A few other things to keep in mind. The grape with the most acreage under vine, or the most vineyard area is not the same thing as the grape with the most vines. For one thing, a lot of those figures come from Spain. It's largely desert. The vines there were typically planted far apart so you might have fifty acres of vines but fewer actual vines than someone with only ten acres that are more densely planted.

In addition, a lot of those vineyards were affiliated with co-ops. That was actually a policy under Franco. Garnacha was the grape with the most vineyard area for many years, but a lot of it was turned into rosado and summer sangria-type drinks.

Then, most importantly, a lot of it was distilled into brandy and people weren't really drinking wine made from the grapes. The reason Arien was once the world's most widely-planted grape is because Franco had a deal with France. The grape was planted all over the central part of Spain and was sold to France for brandy. They've been ripping it up for years but there's so much of it, progress is slow. Trebbiano is Ugni Blanc, which of course is the grape used in Cognac and Armagnac and less-distinguished brandies.

Rkatsiteli I'm skeptical about. It's hard to get real figures. The grape is from Georgia and it produced a lot of plonk for the Soviet Union. There's not much of it anywhere else. There was surely a lot of it in Georgia but the vineyard figures are like anything from that part of the world - as valid as the government allows. That said, there's a producer in NY - Konstantin Frank, who makes a pretty good version of it. I don't know of anyone else in the US who does it.

But it's an interesting list. Mazuelo is of course Carignan, and it was grown all over CA and the south of France. The EU has been paying growers to grub it up - when you read about the producers in the Languedoc setting fires to trucks, etc., because people aren't buying their wine - it's usually crappy Carignan they're talking about.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 18, 2016.

As per your OP's title, JD, next a look at CA. From the Wine Institute:

"Chardonnay, with 95,000 acres, is the wine type variety with the most acreage planted in California.

"Cabernet Sauvignon was the second most planted winegrape in California with 76,800 total acres.

"The red wine category for the second year in recent history edged out white wine by volume in food stores in 2005. Red held a 41.7 percent market share; white, a 41.0 percent share; and blush accounted for 17.4 percent share of case volume, according to ACNielsen.

"Chardonnay remained the leading varietal wine, followed by Merlot, White Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Together these four varietals made up over half (55 percent) of the wine sales in food stores."


"California is the leading wine producing state—making more than 90 percent of all U.S. wine—and also ranks first in wine consumption. Californians enjoy nearly one in five (18 percent) of the bottles consumed in the United States. If California were a nation, it would be the fourth leading wine-producing country in the world behind France, Italy and Spain."


"Although California Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot are still by far the most popular varietal wines in the U.S., comprising more than half of all California table wine sold in the U.S last year,* recent data shows that the state’s winegrowers and vintners are increasingly catering to wine enthusiasts’ thirst for varietal diversity. From winegrape acreage to the annual crush, a new crop of “emerging” varietal wines such as Pinot Gris/Grigio, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo are gaining in wine production all over the Golden State. Vintners are also increasingly blending new combinations of popular and less-familiar varietals.

      “Because of the cultural diversity of California’s growers and vintners, it’s only natural that the state would become a “melting pot” of varietal wines,” says Karen Ross, President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, who notes that today the state grows more than 110 winegrape varieties. “As winegrape growing passes from generation to generation, California growers’ understanding of which varieties grow best in their regions, AVAs and vineyards has increased exponentially, resulting in the introduction and resurgence of a wide range of varieties.”

      “American wine consumers are branching out. They still enjoy their favorites – Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot – but have become more adventurous and are more willing to try other varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Petite Sirah to name just a few,” says Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute, who points out that one of the best places to find out which wineries are producing these varietals is on Wine Institute’s web site at where consumers can search California wineries by 43 different wine varietals and blends. This site’s database brings up producers of varietals such as: Grenache, 48 wineries; Gewurztraminer, 32 wineries; Muscat/Moscato, 57 wineries; Petite Sirah, 136 wineries; Pinot Gris/Grigio, 82 wineries; Pinot Noir, 234 wineries; Riesling, 41 wineries; Sangiovese, 98 wineries; Syrah, 315 wineries; Tempranillo, 36 wineries; Viognier, 123 wineries; and the listings are growing.

      "These emerging varietal wines are a natural outcome of California’s ideal yet varied climate and soil for growing winegrapes. A central fact of California winegrowing is the long Pacific Ocean coastline, stretching nearly 780 miles from Oregon to Mexico. With 108 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs), more than 4,600 winegrape growers and an estimated 3,000 bonded wineries, California grows winegrapes in 46 of its 58 counties. Its tumultuous geologic history yields more than 2,000 distinct soil types, and each AVA is distinguished by climate, soil structure, topography and elevation. The cooling ocean fog and breezes moderate the state’s steady sunshine. Combined with the north-south axis of the coastal mountains and inland valleys, these conditions create a temperate climate where winegrapes thrive. Unlike some Old World wine regions, California growers and vintners are free from regulations that dictate where and how certain varietals can be grown, enabling greater flexibility in matching winegrapes to the right soils and microclimates.

      "Restaurants in particular have been on the leading edge of featuring and promoting lesser-known varietals. “Restaurants find that putting unconventional varietals on the wine list is a competitive advantage; they use it to attract customers,” says Ronn Wiegand, MW, MS, and publisher of Restaurant Wine, who notes the trend has taken hold at fine dining establishments from coast to coast. “Like a chef always trying new ingredients, restaurants use these “discovery” wines to increase excitement about the dining experience.”




(having trouble posting a table here on the varietals and their trends; straight posting plus a couple workarounds have failed; will keep trying, but in the meantime you can see it down the page in this press release)

Also some useful tables from the USDA here.




From Wikipedia:

Over a hundred grape varieties are grown in California including French, Italian and Spanish wine varietals as well as hybrid grapes and new vitis vinifera varieties developed at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. The seven leading grape varieties are:[3]

Other important red wine grapes include Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Grenache, Malbec, Mouvedre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot Sangiovese and Tannat. Important white wine varietals include Chenin blanc, French Colombard, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Muscat Canelli, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Riesling, Roussane, Sémillon, Trousseau gris, and Viognier.[8]

Up until the late 1980s, the Californian wine industry was dominated by the Bordeaux varietals and Chardonnay.

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 18, 2016.

Thank you sir!

Pinot is not as widely planted as I had thought in CA, though it is emerging, and outside of Anderson Valley and a few other coastal pockets, that's definitely a good thing!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 18, 2016.

I'm told something like 93% of acreage is planted to those 7 grapes + petite sirah. 

Reply by vin0vin0, Mar 18, 2016.

One interesting fact - in the 80's columbard was the most widely planted grape in CA where it was used in making white table and sparkling wines and in the production of grape juice concentrate and brandy.

Reply by GregT, Mar 19, 2016.

In 2012 it looked like this:

1. Chardonnay (93,153 acres)
2. Cabernet Sauvignon (76,691 acres)
3. Zinfandel (46,857 acres)
4. Merlot (45,260 acres)
5. Pinot Noir (38,049 acres)
6. French Colombard (21,020 acres)
7. Syrah (18,620 acres)
8. Sauvignon Blanc (14,911 acres)
9. Pinot Gris (12,473 acres)
10. Rubired (10,903 acres)
11. Petite Sirah (7,957 acres)
12. Barbera (6,286 acres)
13. Chenin Blanc (5,936 acres)
14. Grenache (5,846 acres)
15. Ruby Cabernet (5,801)
16. Carignan (2,547 acres)

Rubired is used to make juice and powdered tannins. It's one reason wines like Earthquake Zin can be so dark. Plantings of Pinot Noir skyrocketed after the movie Sideways but that's leveling off because what's happening is what happened with Merlot - people planted it all over, whether the spot was good or not. Now we have things like Meiomi because of all the excess bad juice. Eventually people will tire of it and move on to something else. Merlot still hasn't recovered - many people think it's just a soft, fruity grape that makes soft, fruity wine.

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