Sonoma County stretches from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Mayacamas Mountains in the east, and is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 425 wineries. Within the borders are 19 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations), each with its own distinctive characteristics.

The warmth of the Sonoma Valley cradles rich Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons, while the cool, crisp Carneros nurtures juicy Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparkling wines.

The Russian River has created a vast valley floor in both the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley AVAs. Maritime breezes and fog are dominant influences for grape growing with cool-weather varieties such as Pinot Noir to the south and west, and warm-weather varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel to the north and east.

Alexander Valley
Top varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel

Almost as warm as Knights Valley, Alexander Valley produces some of the county’s richest Cabernet Sauvignon, along with flavorful, ripe Chardonnay. The valley also produces complex and concentrated Zinfandel, Merlot, and Syrah.

Bennett Valley
Top varietals:  Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Merlot shines in Bennett Valley like nowhere else, with volcanic-laced soils and a moderately cool climate that results in extended hang time ideal for the varietal. The long growing season helps maximize flavors and increase concentration, while the cooler temperatures preserve the grape’s natural acidity.

Top varietals:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

One of the coolest regions in Sonoma County partly because of the San Pablo Bay’s moderating influence, this region is prime Pinot Noir and Chardonnay country, producing crisp sparkling wines and racy table wines. Carneros has also shown itself to produce wonderful cool-climate expressions of Merlot and Syrah.

Chalk Hill
Top varietals:  Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon

On the north and east side of Windsor, extending along a short stretch of the Russian River, is the Chalk Hill district, which takes its name from the white volcanic ash hillsides that offer excellent drainage and sunny exposures.

Dry Creek Valley
Top varietals:  Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc

Morning fog from the Pacific Ocean tempers warm days. The stone-strewn soils are ideal for concentrating fruit and flavor characteristics of Zinfandel, the hallmark of Dry Creek Valley, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, and the resulting wines are rock-solid examples of their types.

Fort Ross-Seaview
Top varietals:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay

Fort Ross – Seaview lies above the beaches of the Pacific Ocean, and is above the fog line that shrouds the surrounding Sonoma Coast AVA.

Top varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah, Viognier

Taking its name from an historic area of northeastern Santa Rosa, the Fountaingrove District became Sonoma County’s 17th AVA in March 2015.

Green Valley
Top varietals:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay

Located within Russian River Valley but slightly cooler and with sandy soils, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive in Green Valley for both still and sparkling wines. Distinctive cool-climate Syrah also shines.

Knights Valley
Top varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot

Protected from direct Pacific Ocean influence, Knights Valley is the warmest of the county’s appellations. Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet, Franc, Merlot, and Malbec for the reds; Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for the whites – thrive here, producing complex and enjoyable Meritage blends.

Moon Mountain
Top Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Towering above the eastside of Sonoma Valley in the Mayacamas range is Moon Mountain AVA. The designation helps explain the differences between valley- and mountain-grown grapes, as well as how farming high elevations can be challenging, yet rewarding. Some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the state are grown in this region.

Northern Sonoma
Top Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

This region combines six AVAs: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, and Green Valley.

Petaluma Gap
Top Varietal: Pinot Noir

Approved as an AVA in December 2017, this area in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County is noted for the afternoon wind and fog that comes from Bodega Bay on the coast and passes through the hilly areas and into San Pablo Bay, cooling the vineyards and allowing the fruit a longer hang time to give more flavor.

Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak
Top Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

This region is on the western edge of the Mayacamas, overlooking Cloverdale. The high elevation and red rock soils yield small berries and intense flavors for Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals.

Top varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel

One of Sonoma County’s newest viticultural areas, Rockpile was designated in early 2002. Spreading west of Lake Sonoma to the Mendocino County border, it is known for intensely-flavored red grape varietals with great concentration and balance.

Russian River Valley
Top varietals:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

The confluence of well-drained, soils, maritime and river influences providing cooling fog, and warm summer afternoons are ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The moderate temperatures ensure that fruit maturity is achieved without loss of depth and suppleness, resulting in wines that are uniquely ripe and elegant.

Sonoma Coast
Top varietals:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

One of the hottest new regions in the county is, in fact, its coolest. A place so close to the Pacific, with more than twice the annual rainfall of its inland neighbors, can still be warm enough to ripen wine grapes to their fullest flavor potential. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay shine, along with cool-climate Syrah.

Sonoma Mountain
Top varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Rising above Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain, and set apart by being well above the morning fog line, this region is known for powerful, yet elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. Due to the wide variety of slopes and exposures, several other varieties also thrive in the rocky mountain soil.

Sonoma Valley
Top varietals:  Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

Winegrowers take advantage of a climate warmed by slanting rays of sun and cooled airflows from both the Petaluma gap (to the west) and the Santa Rosa Plain (to the northwest) to produce a wide range of wines, each with distinctive varietal characteristics.

West Sonoma Coast
Top varietals:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah

This uniquely cold, marginal, and maritime growing region is located on the furthest western sliver of Sonoma County, made up of steep, rugged mountainous terrain along the Pacific Ocean coastline.

Find out more details about Sonoma County’s 19 AVAs by visiting Sonoma County Vintners’ website,

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