The Northern Sonoma wine region may seem like a puzzler: Although very few wineries use the appellation on wine labels, it is neither small nor obscure. It is, in fact, the answer to a puzzler.
The second-largest AVA within Sonoma County after the Sonoma Coast, Northern Sonoma combines the better part of six other major viticultural areas.
The few wineries that do use Northern Sonoma for estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and other wines are household names making Sonoma County wines available in markets across the nation.
AVA status for the 329,000-acre Northern Sonoma appellation was established in 1990.
Most every grape variety grown in Sonoma County is also grown in Northern Sonoma; currently, wines bearing the appellation include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Lay of the Land
Northern Sonoma combines Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, and Green Valley. Elevations range from valley floors to mountain peaks.
In viticultural terms, the AVA is only useful to distinguish this broad area from the Sonoma Valley, Carneros, and western part of the large Sonoma Coast AVA.
It was established to solve a quandary: Wineries may only use the word “estate” on their label if both the winery and vineyards that they own or farm are located in the same AVA. When the E&J Gallo company, which makes a large portion of wine sold in the U.S. and was the driving force behind the Northern Sonoma petition, sought the premium “estate” designation for their Gallo of Sonoma brand (now Gallo Family Vineyards), they could only do so when their wide-ranging vineyards fit into the newly-designated, composite AVA.
In addition to Gallo Family Vineyards' Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Rodney Strong Vineyards uses the Northern Sonoma appellation on its popular Knotty Vines Zinfandel and Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc.
Finding small wineries that use the Northern Sonoma AVA might make for a futile scavenger hunt challenge. But there are many that offer estate-grown varietal wines within this area. While traveling through the northern part of Northern Sonoma, just south of the sweeping vineyards of the Asti area, seek out Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and interesting historical perspectives at J. Rickards Winery.
In the Russian River Valley, Bacigalupi Vineyards has helped to make Sonoma County Chardonnay famous in their own quiet, behind-the-scenes way.
Restaurants and Lodging around Northern Sonoma
Family restaurant Catelli’s serves up gourmet comfort food in Geyserville; or find wood-fired pizza and more at Diavola. The renowned John Ash & Co. restaurant is an icon of Wine Country cuisine; check into deluxe accommodations at the adjacent Vintners Inn.
Find more hotels and lodging here.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight
Sonoma County Appellations (AVA):
Carneros - Sonoma
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross - Seaview
Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Pine Mountain - Cloverdale Peak
Russian River Valley