The first vines were planted around what is now the city of Sonoma in the early 1800s, and viticultural practice very quickly established itself across the county thereafter. By the 1920s, nearly nine-thousand hectares of vineyard had altered the area’s agricultural landscape beyond recognition, with two-hundred plus wineries experiencing rapid growth in demand, and new producers popping up all of the time. Prohibition of course brought progress to an abrupt halt, with less than a quarter of the county’s cellars reopening after its repeal in 1933. Growth in the industry remained slow thereafter and it is only really in the last fifty years or so, that Sonoma County wine - and that of California in general - has begun to assert itself on the world stage.
Today, Sonoma boasts seventeen AVAs and produces approximately 6% of the state’s wine. Amongst the most highly regarded appellations are Russian River Valley - accounting for one sixth of the area’s vineyards and famed for its ethereal expressions of the Pinot Noir grape, and Knights Valley - close to the border with Napa, where full-bodied, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme. In all, the county’s grape portfolio is reflective of the larger Californian picture with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the principal varieties, and Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc comprising the majority of the remainder. These seven leads account for more than 90% of the area under vine, but there are more than sixty grapes cultivated in total, ranging from obscure indigenous types to established European varieties.
Blessed with a favourable climate, diverse typography and a stunning location on the Pacific coast, the wine industry here is a significant contributor to the Sonoma economy and is closely aligned with tourism. Wineries, whether small, boutique cellars or multi-site large scale operations, offer tours and tastings as standard, and the area’s acknowledged commitment to sustainable viticulture is a magnet for environmentally conscious wine lovers around the world. A quality-focussed, progressive wine region, Sonoma produces exceptional wines and is responsible for many of the greats on which California’s reputation has been built.
Chalk Hill is a wine appellation which occupies the north eastern corner of the larger Russian River Valley AVA in Sonoma County. So named for its chalk-like ashen soils, the AVA is known for its red wines from traditional Bordeaux varieties, its crisp white varietals and its offerings from grapes such as Sangiovese, which thrive in a warmer climate.
Sandwiched between Alexander Valley AVA and Napa County, and officially recognised as an AVA since 1983, Knights Valley is one of Sonoma County’s original appellations. The area is renowned for its cultivation of the Bordeaux grapes and is particularly acclaimed for its rich, full-bodied wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon variety.
Rockpile is an American Viticultural Area in the north of Sonoma County, close to its border with Mendocino. Best known for its Zinfandel varietals, the area benefits from a terroir which is utterly distinct from its neighbours and hence, the wines of this region are quite unlike those grown elsewhere in the county.