Sonoma County is one of the largest wine grape producers in California, producing more than even the Napa Valley AVAs. Sonoma County has 12 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) that vary in soil conditions and climate, making it a perfect area to produce more than 50 grape varieties. It is estimated that 40% ($8 billion) of the county’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is from the wine industry and related tourism. Sonoma County is recognized worldwide as a producer of some of the finest wines in the industry.
Situated at the most northeastern corner of Sonoma County, Alexander Valley is home to more than 40 wineries and over 200 grape growers. Flood plains, benchlands, and foothills rise from the Russian River to the Mayacamas Mountains and growing elevation ranges from 200 to 2,000 feet. The Valley’s diverse microclimates and soil contribute to the production of some of the area’s richest Cabernet Sauvignons, along with flavorful, ripe Chardonnays. Complex and concentrated Zinfandels and Merlots are also produced on Valley’s hillsides.
Bennett Valley’s terrain is like no other. Its volcanic and clay soils coupled with a moderately cool climate means the grapes have extended hang time and a longer growing season, perfect for the varietal. Syrah was the first stand-out varietal but the crisp whites are emerging and receiving positive reviews from winemakes, critics, and consumers. After earning its AVA status in 2003, growers in Bennett Valley mostly sold their grapes to other wineries in Sonoma County. Today, 15 small artisan wine labels are under production, with more planned for the future.
More than 130 years ago, Dry Creek Valley became one of the first areas in California to start growing grapes and making wine. Winemaking traditions from the past are still alive today in many of the 70+ wineries in the area. The rocky soil and balance of marine and inland climates help produce the concentrated fruit and flavor of Zinfandel. Nearly every winery is family-owned and boasts a diverse selection of wines ranging from Zinfandels to Bordeaux and Mediterranean varietals.
In 1983, Russian River Valley became an AVA and in 2005 the area was expanded by 30,200 acres. The weather is nearly perfect, with a rolling fog from the Pacific Ocean settling in the evening, dropping temperatures up to 40 degrees and retreating in the morning. Grapes can develop full flavor maturity due to the natural air conditioning and extended growing period. Over 150 square miles of vineyards include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer grapes.
Sonoma Mountain is a lesser-known AVA. It is located above the town of Glen Ellen, on the western edge of Sonoma Valley. Vineyards are planted as high as 2,400 feet above sea level and are subject to direct sunlight during the day and cooled by the mountain air at night. This environment produces vibrantly colored red wines. The soil is mostly volcanic and the free-draining soils help to produce full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also successfully grown in this area. Author Jack London called Sonoma Mountain home when he moved to a 1,000-acre ranch in 1905. He spent his final days at the Winery Cottage on the Ranch.