I had always enjoyed the wines that I’d tried from Sonoma and was keen to visit the area in person. I had previously only gotten as far as Napa, where flat valley floor vineyards mix with massive architectural winery marvels, like from a theme park in Disneyland. Forgive me for saying so, but many Napa wines I’ve tried tend to be homogenous in their quality. They mainly have very high quality however, with Cabernet Sauvignon the dominant variety and dense rich inky, oaky, high alcohol wines the norm. However, I’ve always been more interested Sonoma wine styles, as they appeared so different stylistically. Now I understand why.
Sonoma County is a supremely diverse Californian wine region with numerous microclimates and AVA’s (American Viticultural areas). These areas range from the cooler fog dominated, coastal AVA’s of the Sonoma Coast, Russian River and Green Valley (perfect for ripening Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) right through to the hotter Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley/Rockpile (perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel). The topography is a mix of rolling hills, heavily treed mountainsides, coastal rain-forests, and dry river valleys.
We were based in the town of Healdsburg which is a very good place to explore the area due to its’ central location. The city itself is beautiful, with lots of cellar doors, restaurants, cafés and ways to remove tourists from their hard earned money. Wineries in Sonoma tend to be a little smaller than in Napa, with more family run enterprises and less acreage. This is in part due to the multitude of different valleys in the County with their own unique topography. I found the people to generally be quite down to earth, and the wine quality was very high across the board (often with prices to match). This is a gorgeous area and well worth a stop for the wine tourist.