SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY | See California.

One of six wine regions in the State of California, the others being: North coast, Central coast, South coast, Northern San Joaquin Valley, Southern San Joaquin Valley and Coachella Valley.

The San Joaquin Valley comprises the area of California’s Central Valley lying south of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in Stockton. The main centres of population in what is a rural area are McFarland, Delano, Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto, Visalia, Porterville, Merced, Madera and Hanford.

COUNTIES | San Joaquin, Calaveras, Amador, Sacramento, Merced, Stanislaus and Yolo Counties are in the northern San Joaquin Valley; & Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, and Madera counties are in the south San Joaquin Valley.

The Northern San Joaquin Valley region is the inland region from Sacramento to Merced. This accounts for about 20% of wine grape production in California. Includes San Joaquin, Calaveras, Amador, Sacramento, Merced, Stanislaus and Yolo Counties, (Foothill counties are often included here) with production almost exclusively focused on wine, but with a very small amount of raisin and table grape production. Light to medium textured soils with low organic matter predominate this region. Most vineyards are planted on flat land.

The Southern San Joaquin Valley region is the inland region from south of Merced to the Tehachapi Mountain Range. The Southern San Joaquin Valley accounts for about 60% of wine grape production in California. Includes Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, and Madera Counties. This region focuses more on a mixture of grape production, with table and raisin grapes being produced in addition to wine grapes. Light to medium textured soils with low organic matter predominate this region. Most vineyards are planted on flat land.


‘A 2011 California human-development report gave the San Joaquin Valley, the more populous part of the Central Valley, roughly the same score as West Virginia. Life expectancy is low, crime rates high, and the air dreadful (if improving). A 2010 report from the Milken Institute, a think-tank, found three San Joaquin Valley cities among the ten least-educated in the country. And joblessness, long the scourge of the valley, is keeping its grip. Locals hate being told by outsiders that they live in “the Appalachia of the West”, but in the same breath acknowledge it is true. For decades the fertile soils of the valley, which provide about 40% of America’s fresh produce, have attracted workers from poorer lands, from the dust-bowl Okies of the 1930s to the Mexicans and Central Americans who dominate today’s agricultural labour force. (By one estimate, 90% of valley farm workers are in the United States illegally.) Over one-fifth of jobs in the Central Valley are linked to agriculture. More recently Californians and other Americans have flocked to the region, sucked in by low house prices and living costs. That helped inflate a bubble that popped in 2007-08, but the state still forecasts that the population of the San Joaquin Valley will more than double to 8.2m by 2060. That will create fresh challenges for public services, employment and, particularly, infrastructure (hence the need, say officials, for a statewide high-speed rail link). Businesses throughout the valley find it hard to recruit locally. Ambitious types tend to leave. Among those who stay, a lack of basic skills and high levels of drug use mean that employers struggle to fill even menial positions. Poor schooling is a chronic problem in the valley, but an even worse one nowadays, when many manufacturing and agricultural jobs require more skills than before. Such concerns loom large in Fresno, the valley’s biggest city. The Census Bureau predicts that one in six graduates will leave the place. Unemployment in Fresno County stands at 12.3%. Crime and homelessness are rampant, and visitors are warned not to stay in the city centre. Mark Arax, a local author, recently asked readers of the Fresno Bee how anyone could “breathe its foul air, ignore its shared poverty, abide its corruptions”. Regretfully, readers tended to agree with him. Sixty miles north-west of Fresno sits Merced, where the foreclosure crisis struck with particular ferocity: in 2009 the city had the third-highest rate in the country. House prices fell by two-thirds. The city is ringed by Irish-style half-built housing estates like the Bellevue Ranch, where handsome houses with green lawns and SUVs in the driveway share space with vacant brown lots baked hard by the valley sun. Drive just two miles east and you reach the glittering University of California Merced campus, the most recent addition to one of America’s best public universities. When it opened in 2005 locals hoped it would provide the region with an economic jolt. The housing crash dashed those dreams, but the campus has begun to forge industry links in areas like solar energy and biotech, and spin-offs may follow. If the valley is to pick itself up, that is probably one necessary ingredient. A renewed focus on education, particularly among Latinos, is another. The valley is unlikely ever to enjoy the wealth of its coastal cousins. But by fastening on its advantages, especially in agricultural industries, and acknowledging its limits, it may be able to offer its children a brighter future than their parents had,” (abridged from ‘Down on the farms’, The Economist 03 August 2013 p.38-39).