by Polly Baker
Sonoma County is has a wide and diverse range of scenery from redwood rainforests to rolling grassy hills to dense hardwood forests of Oak and Madrone and the rugged high country of the Mayacamas Mountains to the east. The best time to visit for both decent weather and smaller crowds is in November or February and March.
Sonoma County is home to well over 200 wineries with 120 of them producing less than 10,000 cases a year. These small operations rely on tasting room visitors for much if not most of their sales. Less than half the wineries have tasting fees. Sonoma is considered more laid back than some of its neighbors to the east providing a less hurried and more personal experience.
100 year old Zinfandel Vines in Dry Creek
Quivira Vineyards Tasting Room
The tasting room staffs are frequently the winemakers, owners or family members and pleased to describe their philosophies, grape growing and wine-making techniques. More than half the wineries have complimentary tasting with a $5 to $10 fee for reserve wines.
The vineyards in the region are typically small and family owned. 80% of growers have vineyards less than 100 acres, and 40% of growers have vineyards that are less than 20 acres. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir make up 62% of the grape acreage with Merlot, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc rounding out the top six varieties. Because of the cooler growing region, grapes generally have longer “hang time” resulting in concentrated, fruit-forward wines with softer tannins.
Los Carneros, looking west at Cline Vineyards
Sonoma has over 65,000 acres of vineyards grown in twelve distinct wine-growing districts.
Los Carneros District is a shared appellation with Napa Valley. It s close proximity to the cool influences of the San Francisco Bay create a perfect environment to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as Merlot and Syrah. 8000 acres of vineyards and 22 wineries are located here.
Sonoma Valley’s 14,000 acres of vineyards thrive in the confluence of warm daytime temperatures and the cooling airflows from the San Francisco Bay. Considered the birthplace of the California wine industry some of its oldest wineries reside here. Over 55 wineries produce a wide range of wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel.
Alexander Valley looking east
Alexander Valley is home to Cabernet Sauvignon which thrives in the in the warm, dry, gravelly volcanic soils of the valley floor. Over 16,000 vineyard acres blanket the area with notable Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc also grown. This long north – south region along highway 101 and highway 128 have dozens of exceptional wineries to explore.
Dry Creek Valley has nearly 10,000 acres of vineyards with spicy “old vine” Zinfandel being the best known varietal. The morning fog tempers the warm days. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown and made into distinctive wines. Almost 60 wineries produce wines here.
Vineyard on West Side Road, Russian River Valley
Russian River Valley vineyards include small family-owned farms and larger ranches. 16,000 acres of vineyards share the land with sheep, goats, cattle, apples, berries, and other animals and crops. The combination of well-drained soils, cooling fog and warm summer afternoons provide ideal growing conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. Chalk Hill AVA and Green Valley AVA are sub-AVAs of this cool growing region. Seventy-five wineries are located here.
Marimar Winery Dog, Green Valley
Christopher Creek Winery, Chalk Hill
Early Morning Vineyard Tour