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Sonoma Wine Facts

It takes 740 pounds of grapes to fill one barrel of wine.

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Sonoma County, adjacent to Napa Valley, is one of the most diverse wine regions in the world. It boasts towering mountains, 50-plus miles of Pacific coastline, oak-studded hills, and sun-kissed valleys — which gives it a wide variety of terrain and climate within its wine-growing regions.

Sonoma Wine Country lays claim to being the birthplace of California's modern wine industry and has the state's oldest commercial winery (Buena Vista) and the oldest, continuously operating family winery (Gundlach-Bundschu). In 2012, it was named the best U.S wine destination according to TripAdvisor.

Great wine begins in the vineyard and Mother Nature blessed Sonoma County with the amazing combinations of topography, microclimates, and soil types, all of which create 17 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations) — regions with unique soils and climates that allow certain grape varieties to grow particularly well. 

Alexander Valley
Bennett Valley
Carneros–Sonoma
Chalk Hill
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross-Seaview
Fountaingrove District
Green Valley
Knights Valley
Moon Mountain
Northern Sonoma
Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak
Rockpile
Russian River Valley
Sonoma Coast
Sonoma Mountain
Sonoma Valley

Sonoma County is the most diverse premium winegrape growing region in the United States. In fact, it produces 6 percent of all the wine in California. Sonoma County grows around 66 varieties of winegrapes, but seven varieties comprise more than 90 percent of the planted acres:

Chardonnay (16,000 acres)
Pinot Noir (13,000 acres)
Cabernet Sauvignon (12,000 acres)
Zinfandel (5,000 acres)
Merlot (4,500 acres)
Sauvignon Blanc (2,500 acres)
Syrah (1,600 acres)

Other interesting facts:

  • Almost 60,000 acres of grapes; about 1,800 grape growers
  • Three years — time from vineyard planting to first crop
  • 500-2,000 vines planted per acre; 5-7 tons of grapes produced per acre
  • 182,784 tons of grapes harvested in 2015, at an average price of $2,443 per ton
  • 1 acre of grapes = 3,958 bottles of wine
  • 1 acre of grapes = 15,940 glasses of wine

1 barrel of wine =

740 pounds of grapes
59 gallons of wine
24.6 cases of wine
295 bottles of wine
1,180 glasses of wine

1 case of wine =

30 pounds of grapes (468 ounces)
307.2 ounces of wine
12 bottles of wine
48 glasses of wine

1 bottle of wine =

2.4 pounds of grapes (39 ounces)
4 glasses of wine

Check our blog round-up of harvest festivals and crush events taking place in September and October. The biggest annual wine festival in Sonoma County is Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (Labor Day weekend).

Varietal Guide

Although wines can be made in many different styles, some flavors and characteristics are common to these main grapes. This list is in the order used during a wine-tasting experience — lightest to boldest.

Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp and lively, with citrus flavors, a slight grassiness, good acidity, and little or no oak influence.

Chardonnay: Can run the gamut of styles from crisp and minerally to creamy and buttery. Baked apple, pear, and lemon are common descriptions. Chardonnay responds well to oak, so many have toasty, spicy flavors as well.

Pinot Noir: Nuanced and ethereal, Pinot Noir is an elegant wine that can be surprisingly structured, offering flavors of red and black cherries, strawberries, and a hint of earthiness.

Merlot: Plump, ripe fruit, smooth tannins, and flavors of red and black cherries and red currant characterize this popular grape. Can range in structure from soft and approachable to intense and almost as structured as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Zinfandel: Known for its spicy pepperiness, jammy blackberry and black raspberry fruit, and brambly characteristics. Usually big, full-bodied wines that aren’t overly tannic.

Syrah: Fast growing in popularity, Syrah grows well in almost all of Sonoma County’s wide-ranging climates. In the warmer areas, it exhibits rich black fruit, mocha, and spice flavors, while cooler climates bring out the wine’s raciness and pepperiness.

Cabernet Sauvignon: One of the most widely planted red grapes in Sonoma County, Cabernet is concentrated and structured, with flavors of black currant, anise, and cedar. Often best after a few years of aging.