Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: The Wine Region

Our primary reason for being in Sonoma was obviously the wine. As I mentioned in my opening article on our weekend, I spend most of my time exploring Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Italy and France wines. California wines are written about and drank a lot in the U.S. BUT after meeting some great Sonoma folks at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference and doing some research, I thought it was time to dive into a little California wine country. I was beyond pleased with our Sonoma discoveries!!

We hit three wineries per day for a total of nine wineries and over 75 wines sampled. Our focus was on wineries off the beaten path sprinkled with a few more recognized names. Not only did we discover some great wines but we met amazing people greeted by their warm Sonoma hospitality.

Sonoma is rustic. Everyone’s yard has grapes growing in it. While it was the very end of autumn, we still saw amazing yellow, red and orange grape leaves on vines across the landscape as it was warm enough for us to drive around in our convertible.

Sonoma County Wine Region is made up of more than a dozen appellations and sub-appellations. It’s a large territory with five primary areas, names you’re sure to recognize…

  • Russian River Valley: This AVA (American Viticultural Area is a designated wine grape-growing region in the U.S. distinguished by geographic features) encompasses 10,000 vineyard acres and 130 wineries is the southwest part of Sonoma County. It thrives from coastal influences of the Pacific Ocean and the cool climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes although 30 different grape varietals are grown here. It also includes two smaller AVAs, Green Valley and Chalk Hill.
  • Alexander Valley: This AVA, named after the 19th century pioneer Cyrus Alexander, explorer and resident of Northern Sonoma County, is the  northeast part of Northern Sonoma County. It’s comprised of 49 wineries and 15,000 vineyards acres. Considered one of the most diverse grape growing regions in California, over 23 different grape varietals are grown, and known primarily for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
  • Dry Creek Valley: This AVA is “quintessential Sonoma County” known for its warm days and morning fog off the Pacific. Originally planted by French immigrants in 1870, Italian pioneers soon discovered a geography reminiscent of their native Tuscany and Piedmont. In the northwest part of the county with 10,000 vineyard acres and 81 wineries growing 26 different grape varietals, it’s known for Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Healdsburg: This charming town sits in the center of Sonoma County between the three AVAs above. The town center has several tasting rooms, great shops and restaurants.
  • Sonoma Valley: This AVA is the southern part of the county and includes sub-appellations of Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Bennett Valley and Los Carneros. The area is focused on Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You’ll find the historic town of Sonoma in the AVA as well as Santa Rosa.

We spent most of our time in Northern Sonoma County on The Wine Road…Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley. The Russian River literally snakes right through this area. The river along with the warm summers, cool winers and fog from the Pacific Ocean just to the west make it ideal grape growing conditions. The past ten years have seen a flourishing of the industry but wine here dates back over a century. We also popped down to the Sonoma Valley for a visit to a few wineries.

Next I’ll take you along on each day’s winery visits. Visit the gallery for more great photos from the trip.