When it comes to the variety of quality wine that Sonoma produces, no one sums it up better than Francis Ford Coppola winemaker, Corey Beck:
“What’s amazing about Sonoma County is that it’s one of only a few appellations in the world that offers a diverse range of microclimates that accommodate both cool climate varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as warm weather varietals like Cabernet and Merlot.”
It’s not just the wine-geniuses at Coppola who have noticed. Across Sonoma county (which by the way is twice the size of it’s prestigious neighbor Napa) over 60 varietals of grapes are planted by the 400+ wineries and growers that call Sonoma home. So why is it that Sonoma winemakers are able to produce such huge variety in grapes and styles, while other regions seem to specialize in only a few?
The answer is simply that the 17 sub-AVA regions in Sonoma are diverse. With various micro-climates and terrains (valleys, riverbeds, mountains and more), Sonoma has a lot to offer winemakers. To learn more about why the terroir and different growing conditions matter, check out this thoughtful read from Master Somm, Michael.
Learning about the differences between each of those 17 regions and 60+ grape varieties could easily fill a course in a wine education program, so let’s focus on some of the most renowned.
The Cool-Climate Wines: Carneros and Russian River Valley
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two famous French Burgundy grapes grow remarkably well in Sonoma, particularly in those cooler pockets. While Chardonnay still grows well in warmer growing regions, cool climate Chardonnays usually show more tart citrus and aren’t quite as heavy. Pinot Noir on the other hand, almost always prefers cooler climates (one of the regions it loves Oregon) to maintain the desired fresh red-fruit and earthy flavors.
While there are a number of cool climate regions in Sonoma, two in particular stand out:
Carneros is a region shared with Napa. Both the Sonoma and the Napa side of Carneros are quite famous for their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sparkling wines. It is located at the south end of the region, yet thanks to the influence of the marine air from the nearby San Pablo Bay and Pacific Ocean and windy climate, it remains cooler than some areas further north. Carneros wines are known for an elegant fresh quality, as well as a bit of earthiness or minerality.
Give it a swirl:
Citrusy, creamy, nutty and custardy, try for a wine that is equally fresh and smooth.
Light, fresh and a little French. Tart cherries, and a little earthy, this wine showcases why some find Carneros to be the next best thing to Burgundy.
Russian River Valley:
The Russian River Valley is further north in Sonoma and another cool climate region, with significant influence from the cooling Pacific Ocean air and marine fog climate. Like Carneros it is a region prized for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Russian River Valley wines are also often described as elegant, but often a little bit softer and more fruit forward than Carneros.
Give it a swirl:
Ancient Oak Cellars Pinot Noir
Strawberry cola, silky smooth and super drinkable, try for it’s soft and fruity style.
The Warm Climate Wines: Alexander Valley and beyond
Cabernet grapes grow best in warmer climates than Pinot. When it comes to warmer spots in Sonoma, perhaps no place is more renowned than Alexander Valley. Next time you peruse a wine list, you’ll likely notice a fair amount of premium (read: expensive) Cabs from Alexander Valley. Alexander Valley has warm days, followed by cool nights, which help to produce these full-bodied, interesting Cabs. Beyond Cab, Alexander Valley, as well as other warmer pockets in Sonoma, such as Dry Creek Valley, also produce cult-worthy Zinfandel, spicy Syrah and refreshing Sauvignon Blancs.
One of the prestigious wineries that calls Sonoma home is Francis Ford Coppola Winery, located in Geyserville (Alexander Valley). Here they focus on making delicious wines that showcase exactly what makes Sonoma wine so sippable. Learn more about some of our favorite Coppola wine’s here, and more about the people behind the winery here.
Give it a swirl:
Citrusy, tropical and rounded out by a soft texture, this is a great example of Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc.
Blackberries and cherries smashed together with pepper, this incredibly drinkable wine showcases the spice Sonoma Syrahs are known for.