Sonoma County AVAs: A guide

    Appellations of Sonoma County (source: sonomawine.com)
    Appellations of Sonoma County (source: sonomawine.com)
    Appellations of Sonoma County (source: sonomawine.com)

    Everyone knows Napa, but it’s larger, and arguably prettier, neighbor to the West is a wine adventure not to be missed. On many weekends, Loni and I have enjoyed a leisurely drive up highway 101, through San Francisco, and up to Bodega Bay for some coastal touring, spa hunting (a favorite of Loni’s), and R&R. Then it’s just a hop and skip over to the heart of Sonoma wine country.

    With over 250 wineries (and 65,000 acres of vineyards) there is plenty of exploring and tasting to do. Healdsburg is a wonderful little town, almost lost in time; make sure you visit on your next tour.

    And just like Napa, Sonoma has several micro-climates that impact grape growing. There are 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVA for short, or often referred to as Appellations) in Sonoma, and I thought I’d provide a summary of them here for your reference. 

    Some of my favories include the bold Cabs from Alexander Valley, the Pinots from Russian River Valley and the Zins coming out of Dry Creek Valley.

    Alexander Valley (14,000 acres / 45 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah
    • Look for great, bold Cabernets
    • Also  rich Chardonnays
    Bennett Valley (650 acres / 4 wineres)
    • Top varietals: Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
    • It’s all about Merlot!
    • Long hangtime, but still cool helps maximize flavor
    Chalk Hill (1,700 acres / 4 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
    • Named after the volcanic ash hillsides
    Dry Creek Valley (9,400 acres / 60 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot
    • Scenic morning fog
    • The marquee here is Zin
    Green Valley (3,200 acres / 11 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Pinot Noir, Syrah
    • Similar to Russian River Valley
    • Cooler weather means Pinot and Chardonnay do well
    Knights Valley (1,300 acres / 2 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot
    • Warmest appellation in Sonoma County
    • Bordeaux-like wines do best: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec
    Rockpile (150 acres /1 winery)

     

    • Top varietals: Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel
    • One of the newest AVAs, designated in 2002
    • Look for intense, red wines
    Russian River Valley (15,000 acres / 70 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    • Elegant wines, cooling fog
    Sonoma Carneros (7,500 acres / 21 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
    • One of the coolest regions
    • Primetime Pinot country!
    Sonoma Coast (7,000 acres / 11 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah
    • Twice the rainfall of its inland neighbors
    • Pinot, Chardonnay and cool-climate Syrah
    Sonoma Mountain (800 acres / 3 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
    • Powerful, and classy Cabs
    Sonoma Valley (14,000 acres / 70 wineries)
    • Top varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel
    • Produces wine range of wines
    • Warmed by the Bay (to south) and Santa Rosa Plain (to the northwest)
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    • H

      I just wanted to point out that this article says there are 13 AVAs in Sonoma, but only details 12.

    • H

      I just wanted to point out that this article says there are 13 AVAs in Sonoma, but only details 12.

    • H

      I just wanted to point out that this article says there are 13 AVAs in Sonoma, but only details 12.

    • Clinton Stark

      Thanks for pointing that out. The 13th AVA region in Northern Sonoma which is just a combination of 6 other AVAs: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley and Green Valley.<br />
      <br />
      Not sure why they roll these AVAs into a Northern Sonoma AVA… perhaps for marketing purposes? or legal/bottling regulation? Someone out there probably knows why.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. The 13th AVA region in Northern Sonoma which is just a combination of 6 other AVAs: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley and Green Valley.

      Not sure why they roll these AVAs into a Northern Sonoma AVA… perhaps for marketing purposes? or legal/bottling regulation? Someone out there probably knows why.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. The 13th AVA region in Northern Sonoma which is just a combination of 6 other AVAs: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley and Green Valley.

      Not sure why they roll these AVAs into a Northern Sonoma AVA… perhaps for marketing purposes? or legal/bottling regulation? Someone out there probably knows why.