Sonoma is one of the most important wine areas in California, and produces consistently high quality wines. It lies on the north coast of California, north of San Francisco, and next to world famous Napa. Wines have been made here since the 1850s. It is the largest of the Californian sub-regions, and is home to approximately 250 wineries.
It benefits from a unique microclimate, lying immediately north of the San Pablo Bay, and also enjoying the cooling breezes, which come in to refresh the hot climate, from the Pacific ocean, through the Russian River valley. The region has firm divides in terms of weather conditions, with the northern, inland areas, with their hot, drier climate, perfect for the rich reds of the region; whilst in the south, where the fog rolls in, and the ocean breezes blow across, the climate is far cooler, and conducive to the production of Pinot Noir and white grapes.
There are 3 distinct regions within Sonoma County: Sonoma Valley, Northern Sonoma and Sonoma Coast.
Sonoma Valley has the coolest climate, and is the highest quality producing sub region of Sonoma, lying in the south east of the county, and encompassing half of the premium, cool climate Carneros region, which produces some of California’s top Pinot Noir wines. With hot sunshine, tempered by cooling ocean breezes and the fog that comes in from the Bay and sheltered by 2 mountain ranges, it has a unique microclimate for the production of fresh, yet fruitily intense wines.
Northern Sonoma stretches up to the north, and covers the northern two thirds of the county; it produces a wider variety of styles of wine, and is home to two of the most premium Sonoma wine districts, Russian River Valley and Alexander Valley. The towns of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol are the heart of the winemaking industry for Sonoma. Much of the best Zinfandel is made in the protected, hot, dry area of Dry Creek Valley.
Sonoma Coast is the area directly on the west coast, bordering the 2 other Sonoma areas, but does not have individual valleys or specific AVAs (American Viticultural Area).
Sonoma Wine Grapes And Styles
Cabernet Sauvignon – the undisputed king grape of Sonoma, making rich, intense, blackcurrant fruit wines.
Cabernet Franc – an increasing amount of this grape is grown in Sonoma’s cooler, mountainous area – fresh, cranberry and red fruit styles of wine.
Merlot - a very popular grape in Sonoma, with its fleshy, plummy style, although plantings are much lower than 2 decades ago.
Zinfandel – California’s own grape, producing rich, spicy, loganberry- infused wines, grown in the drier, warmer areas of Sonoma.
Pinot Noir – Sonoma produces some beautifully silky, rich, yet elegant Pinots, grown in the cooler regions of the Sonoma Valley, close to the coast.
Chardonnay – fresh, vivacious styles are grown in the cooler, maritime regions, and the fresher Sonoma Valley microclimate.
Sauvignon Blanc is increasingly grown in the cooler areas, and plantings of Viognier and Syrah are also increasing.