West Sonoma Coast AVA Wine Tasting Itinerary
Located within the larger North Coast and Sonoma Coast AVAs, the new West Sonoma Coast AVA contains coastal and heavily coastal-influenced regions including Annapolis, Fort Ross/Seaview, Occidental, Freestone, Green Valley, and the Sebastopol Hills.
Prior to 2022, the West Sonoma Coast AVA did not exist. The vineyards were encompassed within the larger Sonoma Coast AVA. However, for years before the AVA was established, the wineries located on the west side of the region, closer to the ocean or with more direct access to the cooling effects of the ocean, were referred to as “West Sonoma Coast” vineyards.
Characteristics of wines grown in the rugged, mountainous, cool vineyards of the West Sonoma Coast AVA include freshness, lower or more moderate alcohol levels, a lifted or “pure” expression of fruit, and a leaner or less voluptuous body and mouthfeel. Many refer to the wines as elegant or delicate, in comparison with fuller-bodied, riper Pinot Noirs from warmer regions. There are, of course, exceptions to this, and factors such as ripeness levels (whether the grapes are picked at lower or higher brix levels, which is up to each winemaker), extraction style (more or less extraction, method of extraction, etc.), and oak treatment (how much new oak is used, toast level, etc.) all effect the body and/or tannin levels of a wine.
Something important to note about this growing region is that while there are around 30 wineries that own or work with/make wines from vineyards within this AVA and 50 vineyards located within the AVA, almost none of these wineries or their tasting rooms are located on the coast due to the rugged nature of the landscape there and the location of most of these vineyards, as well as the practicality of having a winery and tasting room elsewhere.
For the most part, the West Sonoma Coast AVA member wineries grow grapes in several different regions. They pick grapes at their coastal vineyards and transport them back to their wineries to crush.
The following wineries grow or work with vineyards in the West Sonoma Coast AVA and specialize in wines from cooler climate regions and sites. Pick and choose from the following to create your own West Sonoma Coast AVA wine-tasting itinerary.
Dutton-Goldfield Winery (Sebastopol)
Located on the west side of the Russian River Valley, Dutton-Goldfield Winery is still independently owned and operated. The winery’s focus is producing wines made from fruit grown in some of the coolest, coastal-influenced vineyards in Sonoma County.
The cool climate wines at Dutton-Goldfield notably exhibit restraint, lower-than-average alcohol levels, freshness, and tension. Specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the winery works with Pinot Noir from two distinct West Sonoma Coast AVA sites: McDougall Vineyard, located at the north end of the Sonoma Coast above the Gualala River, and Redwood Ridge, located in the Annapolis area of the coast with vineyards situated at higher elevations above the frost and fog line.
Red Car Wine (Sebastopol)
Red Car Wine’s winery and tasting room are located in West Sonoma County on the western side of the Russian River Valley. The winery organically farms and works with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah grown in coastal vineyards along the West Sonoma Coast. The winemaking practices are minimal intervention – using native yeasts and gentle, manual practices throughout the fermentation and maceration process.
While the winery is perhaps most widely known for its very popular rosé, which is sold to restaurants, stores, and markets across the country, it is its cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah, made in much smaller quantities, that are the main focus.
Tastings can be booked at Red Car’s spacious tasting room and winery in Sebastopol by reservation, but walk-ins are also welcome. Tastings include a selection of the winery’s “coastal reserve” wines and cost $25 per person.
Freeman Winery (Sebastopol)
With a focus on balance and refinement over ripeness, Freeman Winery produces Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from vineyard sites that were specifically chosen for their cooler temperatures and coastal influence.
Located in Sebastopol, Freeman’s West Sonoma Coast AVA wines include Pinot Noir and a Blanc de Blanc (sparkling wine) made from Pinot Noir Chardonnay.
The focus at Freeman is balance and refinement over ripeness. Owners Ken and Akiko Freeman carefully selected vineyard sites with cooler temperatures and that are significantly influenced by the coast.
Littorai Wines (Sebastopol)
Littorai Wines, owned and operated by Ted and Heidi Lemon, is one of the most internationally and nationally renowned producers of cool climate Sonoma County Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
The wines are both highly regarded (and in high demand) and very limited in production, meaning that they are normally only available to those on the winery’s mailing list and members of its wine club. The winery does, however, welcome guests by appointment at its estate, which overlooks 30 acres of rolling hills in the western region of the Sonoma Coast AVA. Guests can purchase wines when they visit the estate.
Private tours and tastings are available by appointment, Monday through Saturday.
Sonoma Coast Vineyards (Bodega Bay)
Sonoma Coast Vineyards is the only winery with a tasting room directly overlooking the water on the Sonoma Coast. Like most coastal-vineyard-focused wineries, Sonoma Coast Vineyards specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a specific emphasis on vineyard-designate, block-specific, or site-specific Pinot Noirs. This includes Manchester Ridge, Bodega Ridge Block, Dutton Ranch Jewell block, and Occidental Road Vineyard.
Tastings at Sonoma Coast Vineyards include four wines and cost $25. There is also a picnic option for guests who would like to enjoy the views from the knoll outside the winery, overlooking the bay. Guests can bring chairs, blankets, and their own food, and purchase bottles of wine, or purchase both food (charcuterie and cheese boxes) and wine onsite.
Fort Ross Vineyards (Fort Ross)
Fort Ross Vineyards offers ocean views from its tasting room, perched among the hills in Fort Ross.
The wines served here are all from the winery’s coastal estate vineyards and include a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, reserve Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir assemblage (a blend of Pinot Noirs from different vineyard sites) and a Pinotage.
The winery offers 90-minute food-and-wine-pairing experiences Friday through Tuesday by reservation. The estate cannot facilitate guests without reservations.
Peay Vineyards (Cloverdale)
Peay Vineyards’ wines are made from grapes grown in rugged, wind-swept, coastal vineyards in the Annapolis area. The drive (and the roads) to get to the vineyards are so long and arduous, that the winery chose to locate its winery and tasting room elsewhere. But the vineyards are situated in such a unique site, sloping from a higher elevation hilltop estate into misty, gently sloping hills, that it’s worth the trip for those who dare.
Peay Vineyards is a very small winery with few to no employees (the owners and winemakers do almost everything) so it’s usually necessary to make a reservation at least 48 hours in advance. Additionally, the winery is normally unable to take reservations during peak harvest season (mid-September to early-November). When in doubt, send an email inquiry.
Written by Brooke Herron