- a state on the west coast of the US that is North America’s major wine producer. Wine production was started in the late 1700s by Franciscan monks, and has waxed and waned over the years. But it was Prohibition that dealt the real blow, leaving the vineyards in ruin. Today California’s wine industry is booming. The state has nearly a million hectares under vine, and the industry contributes an estimated $33 billion to the state’s economy. The first imported European vines were planted in the 1800s, mainly by Hungarian-born Count Agoston Harazsthy, who purchased property in Sonoma Valley and founded Buena Vista Winery. The most widely grown grape is Chardonnay, the state’s premier white wine variety that is almost synonymous with California winemaking; French Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc are also grown. In the reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is the greatest success story. The rich, distinctive Napa Cabernet is a true classic. Merlot has provided a fashionable and less tannic alternative to Cabernet of late, and there is some fine Pinot Noir, especially in the Carneros and Russian River Valley AVAs. Cabernet is the most widely grown red grape variety, though until fairly recently the native Zinfandel occupied that position. The best Zinfandels are fruity, jammy, and irresistible.