Classic California: Pillars of Winemaking in the American West

Classic California: Pillars of Winemaking in the American West

Jan 09, 2023Dedalus Staff

It’s time to turn to California. To shine a light on the great work that has happened, that’s always happening, in America’s largest wine-producing state. And there’s no better way to do that than to turn the spotlight on classic California wine — the producers that changed the game and made California into the phenomenal wine region it is today.

California can’t claim ancient roots or five unbroken generations of traditional winemakers toiling in weathered stone cellars. No matter. Since the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, California winemakers have made staggering contributions to the field.

"It’s weird that we paint a monolithic picture of California when it’s just so far from the truth it’s unbelievable."
— Jason Zuliani, Dedalus Founder and CEO


There was Cathy Corison, who eschewed the chemistry-heavy education she received at UC Davis for a more old-world approach. Ridge Vineyards became renowned for putting California on the map when their Monte Bello took fifth place in the game-changing 1976 Judgment of Paris. And Hirsch Vineyards and Heitz Cellars with their focus on single-vineyard and site-specific wines brought attention to the potential of diverse California terroir.

These are the California winemakers of legend. The vignerons who dared to see the American west's coastlines, valleys, and mountains for what they were: incredible lands waiting for the right person to come along and coax delicious wine from their soils. Fads didn’t sway these winemakers. Through the last half a century or more, they have stayed the course, encouraged by the knowledge that what they are making is built to last. These are the pillars of California wine country.

Corison Winery

  • Founded by Cathy Corison in 1987 in Napa Valley.
  • Focus on powerful, elegant Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Corison was an early proponent among California winemakers of the philosophy that great wine is made in the vineyard.

Heitz Cellar

  • Founded in 1961 in Napa Valley by the Heitz Family
  • Created the first ever single-vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon in 1966.
  • Focus on single-vineyard and terroir-driven Napa Valley wines

Hirsch Vineyards

  • Founded in 1980 on the Sonoma Coast by David Hirsch
  • Focus on site-specific wines that translate the intense terroir of the coastline.
  • Create wines with incredible balance, great for drinking now or aging.

Ridge Vineyards

  • Founded in the early 1960s
  • Santa Cruz Mountains AVA and Dry Creek Valley AVA in Sonoma County
  • The vineyard at Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA has a much longer history — the first vines were planted there in 1885 by an Italian doctor named Osea Perrone. He made the first Monte Bellow Wine in 1892.
  • It’s Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon won 5th place in the 1976 Judgement of Paris

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