Barrels line the walls in an underground cave in Sonoma County
Keller Estate Winery

Sonoma Wine Facts

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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 premium winery (Buena Vista) and the oldest, continuously operating family winery (Gundlach-Bundschu). In 2019, it was named the Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

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 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations) - regions with unique soils and climates that allow 60+ grape varieties to grow particularly well.

Green rows of vines grow in Sonoma County
Sonoma Valley AVA

Alexander Valley
Bennett Valley
Chalk Hill
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross-Seaview
Fountaingrove District
Green Valley
Knights Valley
Moon Mountain
Northern Sonoma
Petaluma Gap
Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak
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 (16,600 acres)
Pinot Noir (13,800 acres)
Cabernet Sauvignon (13,100 acres)
Zinfandel (5,000 acres)
Merlot (4,000 acres)
Sauvignon Blanc (2,800 acres)
Syrah (1,600 acres)

Purple grapes hang on a vine in Sonoma County
Joseph Jewell Wines

Other interesting facts:

  • More than 62,000 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
  • 206,100 tons of grapes harvested in 2017, at an average price of $2,806 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
1,475 glasses of wine

1 case of wine =

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

1 bottle of wine =

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

Check out our article on Harvest Activities in Sonoma County. The biggest annual wine festival in Sonoma County is Taste of Sonoma on Labor Day weekend.

Winegrapes that were just harvested are dumped into a bin in Sonoma County

Varietal Guide

Sonoma County has a diverse landscape of terroir and microclimates that make way for over 64 different varietals to be grown in the 18 AVAs across the county. Although wines can be made in many different styles, some flavors and characteristics are common to these predominantly planted grape varieties. 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, medium to high acidity, and little or no oak influence.

Chardonnay: Can run the gamut of styles from crisp and minerally to creamy and buttery. Yellow apple, vanilla 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, raspberries, 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 fruit, and brambly characteristics. Usually medium to 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 allow for longer hang-time on the vine that brings out the wine's acidity 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.