September, California Wine Month, is coming to a close and I’m feeling excited about my upcoming trip to Santa Rosa for the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference. Santa Rosa is the largest city in Sonoma County, one of the most diverse wine regions in the world. It is located directly north of San Francisco and neighbored by the famousSonoma Napa Valley. With an area of nearly 1,800 square miles, it is more than twice the size of Napa and home to 17 American Viticultural Areas (AVA). From mountains to valleys, hills and plains, to over 50 miles of Pacific coastline, Sonoma County possesses a wide variety of climate and landscape, producing about 6% of California’s wine. It is home to approximately 66 grape varieties. However, the majority of wine made here comes from the following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah.

Sonoma County

Click for Buena Vista wines

Birthplace of California Wine

Sonoma County is also known as the birthplace of California’s wine industry. The first commercial vineyards were planted here early in the 19th century, well before they were planted in Napa Valley. Buena Vista, California’s oldest commercial winery, is located here. Buena Vista Winery was founded in 1857 and still operates to this day, re-born under the vision of Jean-Charles Boisset. The original winery is located just outside the town of Sonoma and is now a historic landmark in California.

Black-Owned Wineries

Several of California’s few black-owned wineries are located in Sonoma County as well. Among them is Vision Cellars, an award-winning boutique winery specializing in Pinot Noir. Established in 1995 by Mac McDonald and his wife, Lil, Vision Cellars’ goal is to capture the essence of the Pinot Noir grape. They currently produce multiple Pinot Noir wines that are available primarily through their website.

Bodkin Wines hails as the home of America’s first sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. Founded by Iowa native, Chris Christensen, in 2011, and later joined in 2013 by Oregon native, Andrew Chambers, Bodkin Wines has produced over 15 varietals since. 11 of these wines have scored 90 points or higher by Wine Enthusiast.

L’Objet Wines was founded by Danny Glover. No, not the actor. Though, he did live a previous life writing and producing in the Los Angeles music industry. Now, he follows a different passion, winemaking. Mr. Glover spent several years at various wineries, including Clos du Bois, Armida and Dutcher Crossing before moving on to create his own. L’Objet Wines currently offers limited production of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rosé wines.

Sonoma County AVAs

Of the 17 AVAs in Sonoma County, some of the most important are Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley.

Alexander Valley is known for producing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, its most widely planted grape variety. A Mediterranean-like climate provides ideal conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon to thrive and it reigns supreme in Alexander Valley. However, Chardonnay and Merlot also hold their own here.

Among the top wineries in Alexander Valley is Silver Oak, which produces some of the most notable Cabernet Sauvignon. Jordan Vineyard & Winery also makes Cabernet as well as Chardonnay that are popular. Other notable wineries include Stonestreet Estate Vineyards and Geyser Peak.

Russian River Valley is located in the heart of Sonoma County. Unlike Alexander Valley, the climate is quite cool, making it ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Together, these two make up approximately 70% of grape varieties grown here. Some popular Russian River Valley wineries include Kendall-Jackson, Joseph Swan Vineyards, and DeLoach Vineyards.

Dry Creek Valley lies just west of Alexander Valley. With a history of grape-growing dating back over 140 years, it is best-known for producing world-class Zinfandels. Dry Creek Valley received AVA status in 1983 and has over 150 winegrowers and 60 wineries. Though Zinfandel is the region’s most prized varietal, other wines produced here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rhône-style blends. Some wineries to look for are Ridge Vineyards, A. Rafanelli Winery, and Wilson Winery.

Sonoma Coast is known for producing some of Sonoma County’s most prized Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, production is low. Although Sonoma Coast is the region’s largest appellation, it has the least amount of vineyards. West Sonoma Coast is sometimes referred to as the “True Sonoma Coast,” coined by a group of vintners that formed an association called West Sonoma Coast Vintners. This is where some of the best vineyards are located as vintners work to distinguish themselves from the larger area. Some well-known wineries are Keller Estate, Cline Cellars, and Martinelli Winery & Vineyards.

Sonoma Valley is the motherland of Sonoma County, the place where it all started.  With a vast array of climate and topography, it is the most diverse appellation, growing the widest range of grape varieties in the county. The first vineyards planted here were Zinfandel. Later, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, which are among Sonoma Valley’s top performing varietals. Other important grapes include Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, and Grenache. Sonoma Valley is where California’s first commercial winery, Buena Vista, was established. Other prominent wineries to check out are Benziger, Kenwood, and Chateau St. Jean.

Other Sonoma AVAs:

  • Bennett Valley
  • Carneros – Sonoma
  • Chalk Hill
  • Fort Ross – Seaview
  • Fountaingrove District
  • Green Valley of Russian River Valley
  • Knights Valley
  • Moon Mountain
  • Northern Sonoma
  • Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
  • Rockpile
  • Sonoma Mountain

Sonoma CountyClearly, Sonoma wine country has quite a bit to offer. I look forward to my trip there as I will get to visit several of the wineries mentioned here. I’m sure I’ll have some great experiences to talk about. There is no doubt that Sonoma lives up to its reputation as one of the best wine destinations in the world.