By Lisa Rowlands

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 eighteen 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.

AVAs of Sonoma County

Alexander Valley AVA

Covering a thirty-kilometre stretch of the Russian River in Sonoma County, California, Alexander Valley is amongst the state’s best known appellations. Since the US wine industry’s renaissance in the 1960s, the AVA has become synonymous with elegant, first-class Cabernet Sauvignon varietals.

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Bennett Valley AVA

Bennett Valley - granted official AVA status in 2003 following a campaign by one of the region’s most notable producers (Matanzas Creek Winery), is best known for its wines from the Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah varieties.

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Carneros AVA

Carneros - sometimes referred to as Los Carneros (Spanish for The Rams) - is an American Viticultural Area that straddles the border between Napa and Sonoma counties in California. Famous as the setting for Microsoft’s Windows XP ‘Bliss’ desktop background, its distinctive characteristics of microclimate and geography create perfect growing conditions for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

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Chalk Hill AVA

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.

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