Wine lovers can quickly name Sonoma County’s most famous wine regions: Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast.
Yet, others aren’t so familiar. Here’s a brief guide to a few, including some that aren’t official American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) but that you’ll want to know about.—Steve Heimoff
One of the newer AVAs, it earned its status in 2002. Set at the northwestern end of Dry Creek Valley, it’s known for eerily beautiful, moonlike rock formations.
Hot and dry, Rockpile contains approximately 150 acres of vines, almost all of them red
varieties, especially big, brawny ones like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.
Part of the larger Russian River Valley, this is a cool location with steady wind sweeping in from the coast and San Pablo Bay. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive here, although excellent Zinfandels are grown on higher, sunnier slopes above the fog.
Although this inland area is warm and dry, it benefits from breezes from the Russian River Valley, especially on hilltop vineyards. The region produces limited quantities of high-quality Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sonoma’s newest appellation sits at the far western end of the county, on high ridge tops overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A remote area, it’s challenging for tourists to negotiate. But grapes, especially Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, love its warm days and chilly, fog-shrouded nights.
North of Fort Ross-Seaview, it abuts the Mendocino County border. Not yet an appellation, but it should be. The wines are similar to those of Fort Ross-Seaview.
Also not an AVA, but likely to be someday, although the name may change. Freestone is one of a string of tiny communities (others include Graton and Occidental) in far southwestern Sonoma County. This is chilly country, foggy and moist. In recent years, vintners have been producing Pinot Noirs of spectacular intensity that can be tight and acidic in youth, but age well.