There are five million acres of irrigated farmlands planted to cotton, grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. The majority of wine, table and raisin grapes in California are grown in this Valley. French Colombard is the leading variety with over 28,000 acres. Chardonnay is the second most planted grape with 16,000 acres. The red winegrape with the most acreage is Zinfandel at 14,000 acres.
Winegrowing in the San Joaquin Valley goes back to the years immediately after statehood in parts of the Valley with readily accessible water. Indeed, by the time irrigation and canals began sprouting up across the Valley in the 1880’s and 90’s viticulture began to spread to the far reaches of the Valley. Long before the common misconception connecting Valley grapes to low quality wines, noted viticulturalist Frederick T. Bioletti of the University of California noted that, “It is my firm belief that there is no region in the world where the winemaker can be so sure of making every year a good, sound, dry wine of uniform quality as in the great central plain of California.
“There is nothing, therefore, in the nature of the grapes themselves which will prevent the manufacture of good, dry wines in the great central plain for California… There is no doubt that the main reason for the failure to produce good dry wines in the plains of …the San Joaquin Valley does not lie in the qualities, either negative or positive, of the grapes, but in the attempt to make wine in a hot climate by methods suited only to a cool one.”
With the advancement of refrigerated wineries in the 1960’s-1980’s, the traditional problems associated with warm weather enology were effectively eliminated. Since the end of Prohibition, the San Joaquin Valley has truly been California’s Wine Country. More grapes have always been produced in the lush soils than every other part of the state out together. Many of today’s foremost names of premium wines got their start in the San Joaquin Valley, until market and perception seemed to mandate their relocation to other areas.
Thus is the story of the San Joaquin – it is the foundation of all things good, viticulturally speaking, just the public never has found out! The San Joaquin Valley is synonymous with the California Appellation. Indeed, when opening a bottle of California wine – it most likely comes from the area between Stockton and Bakersfield. Is it any wonder, then, why most all of the major wineries in California lie within the great Valley? They need to be close to the vineyards.
For all of the Valley’s history, there has effectively been two factors in the local wine industry-the family growers who cultivate the vines and the mostly family wineries that in turn coax the wine from the grapes. This system delivers consistently pleasant wines to consumers all over the world. From the 1930’s until today, every variety and style of wine has come from the versatile vineyards of the San Joaquin Valley.
Starting the 1980’s, and steadily increasing, there has been a renewed interest on the part of the boutique vintner and the family farmer to create and market their own wine to further increase the types and styles of wines available from the Valley.