The Wines of California's Sonoma County

California's Sonoma County succeeds with many diverse wines, but Sonoma's two most renowned wines are Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Many wine critics believe that the nation’s best Pinot Noirs come from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.

Other wine regions also have a Pinot following: Carneros and the Sonoma Coast, in Sonoma County; Santa Barbara; Santa Lucia Highlands; Mendocino’s Anderson Valley; and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example. But Russian River Pinot Noirs have a combination of richness, voluptuousness, balance, and elegance that’s hard to beat.

Zinfandel is truly California’s wine. Even though the grape’s genetic origin has been traced to Croatia, most of the world’s Zinfandels, red and pink, are Californian. And most wine experts agree that a majority of the best Zins (as they’re called for short) hail from Sonoma. Dry Creek Valley is particularly famous for Zinfandel.

Sonoma County’s climate

Sonoma’s vineyards and wineries extend from Carneros in the south to Alexander Valley in the north — a much larger area than Napa Valley’s. Because Sonoma is so large, and because it has both coastal and interior wine districts, its climate varies from one wine district to another more than Napa’s climate does.

In fact, the varied climate and soils of Sonoma offer more different types of wine than any other wine region in California. Following are some examples:

  • The vineyard areas of Alexander Valley and Geyserville (in the north) and the Sonoma Mountain area (farther south) can be quite warm and dry, and they’re ideal growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • The cooler regions, such as the Russian River Valley, Green Valley, Forestville, and the Sonoma Coast, produce excellent Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparkling wines.

  • Temperate areas in Sonoma grow Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petite Sirah, to name a few of the more prominent varieties.

Popular Sonoma County wines

A short drive from one of Sonoma’s viticultural areas to another can be a revelation: Each area seems to specialize in different wines. The following are the 11 distinct AVAs in Sonoma County, listed approximately from south to north, and the wines that are most renowned there:

  • Los Carneros (partly in Napa Valley): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, sparkling wine

  • Sonoma Valley: Chardonnay

  • Sonoma Mountain: Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Bennett Valley: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot

  • Green Valley (within Russian River Valley): Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

  • Russian River Valley: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, sparkling wine, Zinfandel

  • Knights Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc

  • Chalk Hill (within Russian River Valley): Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

  • Dry Creek Valley: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Alexander Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

  • Rockpile: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah

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