Home to a diverse array of smaller AVAs with varied microclimates and soil types, Sonoma County has something for every wine lover. Physically twice as large as Napa, the region also showcases a wide range of varietals and winemaking. With its laid-back atmosphere and down-to-earth attitude, Sonoma has lived in the shadow of its flashier neighbor to the east for decades now. With 18 individual AVAs and 70,000 acres now under vine, the wines here absolutely deserve your attention.
An hour north of San Francisco, (lets be real, with Cali traffic we will say 1.5 hours) is the home of the sprawling area known as North Coast Wine Country. To get there, you will drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and take Highway 101 north towards Napa and Sonoma. Then the exit for highway 37 and you are staring at your crossroads. This could be the most difficult decision you will make that day and it's the same crossroads we confronted 21 years ago. Highway 37 to Napa or stay on the 101 up to Santa Rosa? While we eventually found our way to Napa, the infamous home of some of the most glorified and prized Cabernet Sauvignons in the world, we started our first California wine journey in Sonoma County up near the quiet town of Healdsburg. We started on the road less travelled, in this quiet, reserved, low-key wine region with its bright blue skies and rolling green vineyards that produce a smorgasbord of varietals with towering mountain ranges and beautiful landscapes in the background for any wanna be painters.
So why is Sonoma County such a good region for wine? Two prime reasons: climate and soil. The climate is ideal for wine grapes, with cool morning fog and long, dry summers. Temps are warm, but not overly hot, as days end with cool evenings, ocean breezes and fog that rolls in from the San Pablo Bay helping to create swings of 40 degrees or more between day time highs and night time lows. These unique conditions allow the fruit to achieve phenolic ripening slowly while maintaining good acidity. In terms of soil diversity, the Mayacamas Mountains, the rolling hills of Carneros, the Russian River Valley, coastal hills, and other geographical features give Sonoma County a vast diversity of soils ranging from rich and loamy to volcanic, rocky and well-draining. As you might expect, with an abundance of microclimates comes an abundance of AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), 18 to be exact, and more than 60 grape varietals are grown throughout Sonoma County.
Here are a few of the highlights when it comes to the AVAs. One of the warmer parts of Sonoma, the Alexander Valley is known for high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. The Bennett Valley southeast of Santa Rosa is one of the coolest AVA's and is known for complex Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Perhaps a little more well known, Chalk Hill sits south of Healdsburg next to the Russian River Valley and is known for Bordeaux varietals as well as Chardonnay. The Russian River Valley itself sits in the heart of the region and is relatively large as it reaches from Healdsburg in the north all the way down to Santa Rosa in the south. Here you will find a wide variety of grapes, but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay tend to receive the most attention. Within the Russian River, the smaller Green Valley sub-AVA produces incredible, highly acclaimed Pinot Noir and Chardonnays, both still and sparkling. You can also find cool-climate Syrah and Zinfandel. The Dry Creek Valley is north of Russian River and produces Cabernet Sauvignon along with Rhone varietals. The Knights Valley AVA is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel. Los Carneros sits in the southeastern end of the region and is split between Sonoma and Napa and is yet another great spot for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Finally, the Sonoma Coast is a massive AVA stretching along the coast starting up near Annapolis in the north all the way down to Petaluma. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do very well here, but you will find a plethora of others including Syrah, Pinot Gris and Zinfandel.
While we can only showcase four wines in the monthly flight, this month's selections will show you the range of diversity. So start your journey with our August monthly New World flight and who knows, Sonoma may be your new best wine friend!
The Tasting Room Flight
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