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Antelope Valley of the California High Desert

Can you grow grapes in the desert?  It turns out that people have been growing grapes and making wine in the western portion of the Mojave Desert for nearly 100 years.  Located between the Tehachapi Mountains to the northwest, Portal Ridge, the San Gabriel and Sierra Pelona mountains to the south and west and Edwards Air Force Base to the north and east the Antelope Valley of the California High Desert is home to nearly a dozen vineyards and five wineries. 

While the history of the region shows human settlement for 11,000 years, the area was mostly used as a trade route.  In the late 19th century viticulture was introduced and the region was irrigated using local wells. By 1893 there were eight growers and almost seven acres of wine grapes.  Drought soon destroyed the nascent industry and it wasn’t until the coming of electric and gas powered pumps and the creation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct that the region could rely on a dependable water source for irrigation. 

The Antelope Valley of the California High Desert AVA is located northeast of Los Angeles. The Antelope Valley region is an east-facing Valley, opening up to the Mojave Desert, with the Tehachapi Mountains to the north and west, and the San Gabriel Mountains, the Sierra Pelona Mountains, and Portal Ridge to the south.

Summers in the Antelope Valley are hot and dry, and winters are relatively cold. Annual precipitation in the valley ranges from 4 to 9 inches, with little or no snow. The growing season is 240 to 260 days long. On average, 110 days a year have high temperatures above 90 degrees, but nights are mild. The growing season extends from mid-March to early November. Winter low temperatures range from 6 to 11 degrees.

The geology of the region has greatly influenced the varietals and wines produced here. The distinguishing geologic features of the Antelope Valley are valley fill, alluvial soils, diverging fault lines, and relatively young rocks. The terrain of the Antelope Valley is characterized by significant uniformity and continuity. Slopes are level or nearly level on the valley floor but range to gently sloping to moderately sloping on rises at the upper elevations of the terraces and alluvial fans.

Although the Antelope Valley AVA is only 52 miles wide, the elevation varies only 838 feet. The soils in the Antelope Valley formed in alluvium weathered from granite and other rocks in the surrounding mountains. They vary from fine sands to silty clay. The soils are well drained and aerated in the root zone with available water capacity ranging from 5 to 12 inches. The unique characteristics of the soil make it mineral rich with low to moderate fertility. The Antelope Valley produces interesting tropical fruit flavors into its white wines such as ChardonnaySemillon, and Zinfandel.