Keller Estate Winery

The birthplace of California’s modern wine industry, Sonoma County has the state’s oldest premium winery (Buena Vista) and the longest continuously operating family winery (Gundlach-Bundschu). In 2019, it was named Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Divided from the Napa Valley by the Mayacamas mountain range, Sonoma County is one of the most varied wine regions in the world.  Its complex topography includes towering peaks, 50-plus miles of Pacific coastline, oak-studded hills, and sun-kissed valleys, lending the region’s 19 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) the wide array of microclimates and soil types that enable 60+ grape varieties to grow particularly well.

Sonoma County’s 19 AVAs are:

Green rows of vines grow in Sonoma County
Sonoma Valley AVA

The most diverse premium winegrape growing region in the United States, Sonoma County produces a whopping six percent of all the wine in California. Around 60 varieties of winegrapes are grown here, but seven varieties comprise more than 90 percent of the planted acres:

Chardonnay (15,500 acres)
Pinot Noir (13,000 acres)
Cabernet Sauvignon (12,700 acres)
Zinfandel (4,760 acres)
Merlot (4,200 acres)
Sauvignon Blanc (2,600 acres)
Syrah (1,380 acres)

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

Other interesting wine facts:

  • Sonoma County has more than 62,000 acres of grapes and about 1,800 grape growers
  • Three years = time from vineyard planting to first crop
  • 500-2,000 vines are planted per acre
  • 5-7 tons of grapes produced per acre
  • 362,000 tons of grapes crushed in 2020, at an average price of $2,800 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

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

Grape Variety Guide

This list of Sonoma County’s main grape varieties is arranged in the order of 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: Runs a gamut of styles, from crisp and minerally to creamy and buttery. Yellow apple, vanilla and lemon are common descriptors. 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.

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.

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