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The Sonoma Wine Region

Published on February 10, 2011

North of San Francisco in California are the famous American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa. Sonoma is the original home of fine wine in California, though in the last 4 decades it has been overshadowed by its smaller eastern neighbour, Napa Valley. One of the major factors affecting the growing of grapes in this northern area are the banks of fogs created by the cold water of the Pacific along the coast. During summer days, the sun heats up the inland areas and the rising hot air draws in fog from offshore, which flow in through any valley facing the ocean. Thus temperature in the different wine growing regions is dependant on the height and number of mountain ranges between the vineyards and those Pacific fogs and can vary substantially in remarkably little distance.

The Sonoma County AVA extends from the northern edge of San Francisco Bay north along the Mayacamas Mountains on the east edge up to Mendocino County above the town of Cloverdale and for a small part, extends as far west as the Pacific ocean at the coast north of Bodega Bay. Sonoma County can be divided into two areas, Northern Sonoma and Sonoma Valley.

Northern Sonoma extends from Cloverdale in the north down to Santa Rosa and then west to the Pacific Ocean. The Mayacamas Mountains on the east separate it from the Napa Valley. Northern Sonoma has 3 main subregions which pinwheel off the town of Healdsburg, the Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

The Alexander Valley follows the Russian River as it leaves Mendocino County near Cloverdale and reaches down just east of Healdsburg. It is warmer than the other 2 areas because of the shelter of hills northwest of Healdsburg. Cabernet Sauvignon does very well in this valley. Wineries include Silver Oak, Clos du Bois, Alexander Valley and Field Stone.

Dry Creek Valley is west of the Alexander Valley and a little cooler, and strangely the valley floor cooler than the valley sides. Zinfandel is common above the fog line on these valley edges as is Cabernet Sauvignon, on the valley floors whites like Sauvignon Blanc are common. Wineries include Fritz, Ferrari-Carano and Gallo Sonoma.

To the south, the Russian River Valley is the coolest of the three major regions as it stretches west towards the ocean. Its North eastern edge includes Healdsburg, and extends south, but skirts the city of Santa Rosa. The western part of the region is its coolest as fogs are funneled along the Russian River from its mouth on the Pacific. Pinot Noir benefits from the cool climate and has been extensively planted along the valley. Wineries include Korbel and Jack Ass Hill in the west, De Loach, Dehlinger and Martini & Prati on the warmer plains close to Santa Rosa.

The Russian River Valley also includes two subregions, Green Valley on the west and Chalk Hill between Healdsburg and Santa Rosa on the east. Green Valley Sonoma is even cooler than the western edge of the Russian River Valley, wineries include Domaine Laurier and La Crema, who is especially known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. To the east, fog only intermittently covers the lower parts of Chalk Hill, the higher elevations are known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Rodney Strong and Chalk Hill are two of the wineries in this sub region.

South and east of Santa Rosa, the town of Sonoma lies in the centre of the Sonoma Valley, which extends down to San Pablo Bay, a northern lobe of the San Francisco Bay. Sonoma Valley has a long history, wine has been made in the valley since the mid 1800's. The northern end of the Sonoma Valley is warmer than the south, which is cooled by the waters in the bay. The northern end is also sheltered on its western side by the Sonoma Mountains. In the north, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as Chardonnay are grown. Wineries include Kenwood, Arrowood and Chateau St. Jean. A small subregion of Sonoma Mountain with Benziger and Laurel Glen wineries sits in the mountains northwest of the town of Sonoma. Below Sonoma, the valley flattens out into the wine subregion of Los Carneros, which stretches east into the bottom of the Napa Valley. The cool climate here is perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is grown as well. Sparkling wine is grown in the Carneros, Freixenet has created Gloria Ferrer on the Sonoma Valley side. On the Napa side, there is Codorniu Napa and Champagne's Taittinger has Domaine Carneros. But not all is sparkling, Sainstbury in Napa is known for the quality of their Pinot Noir.

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Top 10 Varietals for October, 2019

Pinot Noir is the most popular wine varietal chosen by our visitors this month.

This varies by season so if you're looking for something tasty to drink this fall, Pinot Noir is a great choice. The others are shown below:

1. Pinot Noir
2. Red Bordeaux Blend
3. Syrah
4. Nebbiolo
5. Cabernet Sauvignon
6. Merlot
7. Chardonnay
8. Red Blend
9. Sangiovese
10. Riesling

Top 10 Producers for October, 2019

Wines from Sapphire Hill were selected by our visitors the most this month, making them the most popular choice for consumers.

If you're looking for a wine suggestion, Sapphire Hill might be a great place to start. The others are shown below.

1. Sapphire Hill
2. Phelan Vineyard
3. Stephen Test
4. Ferdinand Pieroth
5. Adelsheim
6. Silver Oak
7. Louis Jadot
8. Viansa
9. Andrew Will
10. Bruno Giacosa