Sonoma County in California is not as well known as the county next door, Napa, but it should be better known due to it’s quality wines. Sonoma has a cooler climate than Napa, which is more inland, plus has the Mayacamas Mountains to block the cool maritime air.
The unique climates of Sonoma County allow a wide range of red and white wines to be produced. The Carneros and Russian River Valley, with the cooling fog from the Pacific Ocean suits Pinot Noir, while Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley with their warmer climates produce Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Chardonnays. There are of course microclimates within this region, which may produce other grape varieties. Planting grape vines higher upslope on a mountain, above the fog line for example could permit a different grape variety compared to the grapes downslope that are subject to daily fog.
What Regions are There in Sonoma?
Isn’t it one big region? No. Sonoma County actually is made of 14 regions. The map below from www.sonomawine.com shows these regions. Getting a little bit geeky, the next map shows the climatic zones for Sonoma; blue being cool marine, green being coastal cool, and red being coastal warm. Fog would cover the blue then green and lastly the red areas during the day, and then recede from the red areas, the green, and finally blue. You should be able to tell now which regions are warmer and which are cooler in Sonoma, and maybe start to guess which grape varieties are best suited to each region. If you can’t, I do have a chart below.
Some Interesting Facts about Sonoma
- Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety in Sonoma.
- Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are tied for the 2nd most widely planted variety.
- Sonoma is 75 km long while our Okanagan Valley is 150 km long.
- The Russian River Valley sub-region has more vineyard acres planted than Burgundy.
All wine regions around the world try to find the grape varieties that grow best for them. These become their “signature” varietals. Here is a chart presented by Sonoma County Vintners showing their regions and signature grapes.
Some of My Sonoma Wine Picks
- Siduri Wines Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2011 ($50). This wine has awide range of aromas covering violets, vanilla,smoke, ripe plums and cinnamon. The toasted oak aroma really come out with air. It has light body, dry with low tannins. Violets and plum flavours with a peppery finish. Toasted oak shows up on the mid palate. Very tasty.
- J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2010 ($35). Light intensity nose with yellow plums and vanillaaromas. Dry, light body with candy apple flavours. Sweet spice and vanilla on the mid palate, and a peppery finish. This wine is nicely balanced between fruit, acidity and oak.
- Kosta Browne Winery Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2010 ($58). This wine changed a lot in my glass as I tasted it. My notes show addtions and other items scratched out. It is translucent garnet in colour. Black currant, cherry, baby powder/vanilla aromas. The aromas are quite light. Medium body, dry with a round mouth feel. Cassis, red cherries and raspberry flavours with a hint of pepperiness. With air, cherries and cinnamon were more prominent on this finish; also a minerality showed up with more air exposure.
- Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2010 ($23). These vines were originally planted in 1904, so you get to try wines from vines that are more than 100 years old! This wine had spicy, jammy raspberry, vanilla, licorice, and oak on the nose. Full body, round mouth feel, with juicy raspberries and raspberry leaf up front, followed by red chrerries and vanilla. Pickering finish. Enjoy this big wine with any bbq’d meat or a tomato-based pasta sauce.
- Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Rockpile, 2010 ($50). This is from the Rockpile area which is at a very high elevation above the fog line. Deep ruby, darker core but still translucent in the glass. The nose was a bit closed but may show up with air. I did pick up cherries and vanilla. It was medium plus body, with really juicy plums and chverries, with some spice in the background. Fine tannins with a medium length. Puckering dry with red cherries and vanilla on the finish.
Benovia Winery Bella Una Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2009. Medium garnet colour. Light mint, vanilla, and red cherry aromas. Flowers, raspberries and cherries on the palate. Oak shows up later. Medium acidity. A very balanced wine.
- Davis Bynum River West Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2011 ($29.99). Light toast and citrus on the nose. Medium body, with round ripe tropical fruits. Soft mouth feel. Cinnamon, vanilla, and pears on the mid palate. Very tasty.
- Ehret Family Winery Bella’s Blend, Knights Valley, 2007 (~$40). The slightly higher elevation of this area combined with volcanic soils and warm sunny days are great conditions for growing warmer red varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah form this blend. Medium garnet in colour with light cherry, vanilla and some meatiness on the nose. Full body, dry with medium weight in your mouth. Dark ripe cherries and black fruit, spicy but a little bit hot. It’s nice to enjoy a wine with some age on it.
- Ehret Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, 2007. Light juicy cassis aroma in the glass. Full body,with ripe cassis fruit and spice mid palate. Very fruity. Soft tannins and medium acidity. A very nice wine.
Foppiano Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2010. Light cherries then tea leaves are revealed to your nose. Light body, dry, low tannins and medium acidity. Red cherries with cinnamon mid palate.
- Pezzi King Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2010. Medium garnet in colour. Juicy raspberry fruit and vanilla aromas. Full body, soft with ripe cherries and raspberries. It may be off-dry or just taste that way due to the ripe fruit flavours. Soft tannins and some spice on the palate too. Medium length. Very enjoyable.
- Schug Carneros Estate Winery, Carneros, 2009 ($36.99). Very nice smoky strawberry nose. Light body with light mouth feel. Dry with medium acidity. Smoky strawberry flavours.
Arts Umbrella Charity
The Taste of Sonoma was brought to Vancouver to support the Arts Umbrella. Arts Umbrella is a not-for-profit arts education centre for children and youth aged 2-19. They are committed to delivering the highest quality visual and performing arts education to youth, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances. More than 270 truition-based classes and numerous outreach classes occur each week, with innovative and high-quality instruction provided by almost 200 dedicated artists and arts educators. For more information visit www.artsumbrella.com.