Sonoma County Wine Country

Appellation Map Large

The different soils and climates of Sonoma County support many varietals.
Taste them all ...

March 8, 2013


North Sonoma County Wine Country is framed by forests of towering redwoods and vineyard-studded hills and valleys. It is as rich in its history as in its world-renowned wines. A destination for Italian immigrants at the turn of the last century, winemaking has taken place here for over 130 years. Known for their hospitality and relaxed atmosphere, many wineries offer picnic grounds and vineyard tours. Some even have facilities to accommodate a wine country wedding!

Discover the beautiful Alexander Valley with its unique and superior wines. This extraordinary region’s wineries work together to share their special histories, traditions, and innovations with visitors who come from all around the world. The Alexander Valley is an important and respected source of premium wine grapes for wineries throughout California. It received formal recognition as an American Viticultural Area in 1984.

One of the most scenic wine regions in the world, the Alexander Valley viticultural area includes both the valley floor and hills to the east and west. Alongside varietals commonly associated with this appellation, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, the wineries here produce many other varietals such as Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Shiraz and Sangiovese which further enhance the region’s  reputation for quality and diversity.

The Chalk Hill appellation takes its name from its 200 million-year-old, volcanic ash hillsides that offer excellent drainage and sunny exposures. Its location is the warmest in the valley. Chalk Hill was declared a separate, unique viticultural area within the Russian River Valley in 1983.

The allure of the Chalk Hill region is the esteemed Sauvignon Blancs, powerful Chardonnays, and defining Cabernet Sauvignons that thrive on the tawny slopes. Cabernet Francs and Merlots also do well in this appellation.
dry creek valley

The dramatic beauty and allure of the Dry Creek Valley encompasses lush vineyards that extend from the magnificent valley floor to the gently rolling hills, producing grapes of extraordinary quality and character. The natural advantages of a deft blend of climate, soil, and exposure help produce the truly exceptional wines for which Dry Creek Valley is known.

While its national reputation for wine may be modern, the roots of Dry Creek Valley quality go back 135 years to the first vineyard established in 1870. Dry Creek Valley was among the first regions to receive formal recognition as an American Viticultural Area in 1983. Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc continue to be the region’s best-known wines, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc have each established reputations for exceptional quality.
russian river valley

This is a small designation contained within the southwest Russian River AVA. It is the coolest and foggiest region of the Russian River Valley and is bordered by Sebastopol, Occidental and Forestville.
The area is 60 percent Goldridge soil, a fine, sandy loam over fractured sandstone that is sought after by growers of Pinot Noir grapes.

Varietals that do best here are: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other cool climate-loving varietals.

Goldridge soil derived from the remains of an ancient inland sea that slowly emptied into the Pacific three to five million years ago. In the early 1900s, a Sebastopol newspaper editor coined the term ‘Goldridge’ to reflect the booming success of the many fruit growers in the area.

The warmest of Sonoma County’s viticultural areas, Knights Valley derives its heat from its lofty perch, high on hills beyond the reach of the Pacific Ocean. The area’s eastern edge borders Napa Valley.

Fertile volcanic soils are derived from ancient volcano uplifts and eruptions in the Mayacamas mountain range.

Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, thrive in the warm days/cool nights climate.

Knights Valley was among the original five Sonoma County AVAs to be designated in 1983.

The Russian River Valley has a rich tradition of farming and is one of the premier  wine growing regions in the world today. Winegrowers include both direct descendents of the Italian-American growers who established farms more than a hundred years ago, as well as many of the innovators responsible for the rebirth of premium winemaking in the 1970s and 1980s.

The area’s climate, with its cool foggy mornings and warm afternoons, favors early-ripening varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Gewürztraminer.

In the northwestern reaches of Sonoma County, on stark, hardscrabble ridgelines overlooking Lake Sonoma sits the county’s newest viticultural area. The name comes from a ranch that once counted 20,000 acres in cattle and sheep.
Characterized by rugged rock outcroppings and cooled by coastal breezes, it remains above the evening fog layer. The extra sun exposure ripens red grape varieties to peerless perfection.

Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon do exceedingly well in this terrain.

Local lore has it that legendary Sheriff Tennessee Bishop put prisoners to work grading roads to his remote mountain ranch and the cons dubbed it “Rock Pile.”

This “umbrella” AVA comprises more than half a million acres, stretching from San Pablo Bay on the south to the Mendocino County border on the north. Cold-climate, estate-bottled producers widely scattered across this area have roughly 7,000 acres planted to vineyards. Cool temperatures and relatively high rainfall characterize the area’s weather and lead to slow grape maturation.

Soils of the Sonoma Coast are rocky and well-drained. Varietals that that have been developed for cool climates thrive here, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio.
Petitions are being submitted for sub-AVAs within this large region. The Fort Ross-Seaview AVA may be the first to gain approval.

Sonoma Valley is the largest of four appellations in southeastern Sonoma County, with over 15,000 acres of vineyards. Also known as Valley of the Moon, it is open at both the north and south ends, which allows for the flow of cooler evening breezes.

Soils are fertile and loamy with good moisture retention. Lead varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel.

Sonoma County’s first grapes were planted by the Franciscan monks at Mission San Francisco de Solano in 1823. Hungarian “Count” Haraszthy founded California’s first commercial winemaking facility here in 1856.

Bennett Valley lies at the northwestern tip of Sonoma Valley, below three mountain peaks—Bennett Mountain, Taylor Mountain and Sonoma Mountain. With about 650 acres of vineyards, this is one of the smallest appellations in California.

It has well-drained bench land soils, where a number of varietals thrive, such as Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. Lesser amounts of acreage are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Grenache, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Los Carneros is bordered along the south by San Pablo Bay. The vineyards receive the cooling effects of the marine layer. Its climate compares to that of both the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France.

Two types of soils predominate: the tan-colored, marine-derived and calcium-rich Haire and the blacker Diablo series formed by marsh sediments. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay represent a majority of 28 varietals grown here. Historically a sheep-herding area, Los Carneros means “the rams” in Spanish.

Sonoma Mountain is part of a range that runs along the western edge of the Valley of the Moon. Vineyards can attain elevations of up to 1,400 feet and are steep-sloped with eastern exposures to catch the fog-free morning sun.

Soils are largely volcanic—rocky, well-drained and more meager in nutrients than at lower elevations. Fruit is intense and concentrated in flavor. Conditions mainly favor Cabernet Sauvignon, but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel also are grown in this unique AVA.

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