It wouldn’t be right to call Sonoma County the land of milk and honey, because it’s the land of so much more. Milk and honey figure in, but so do wine, olive oil, cheese, bread, beer, spirits, preserves, oysters and all manner of produce, especially the region’s esteemed Gravenstein apples.
Encompassing 1,500 square miles and more than 50 miles of coastline, Sonoma County stretches from the Napa Valley to the powerful Pacific Ocean.
Diversity abounds here in food, wine, climate and geography. Nearly half a million people live and work in the region, many in the wine industry, but many not.
The towns of Healdsburg and Sonoma offer charming central squares influenced by the region’s Spanish and Mexican heritage. Smaller outposts, like Bodega Bay and Jenner overlook the sea, so fishing for Dungeness crab, Petrale sole and other ocean fare is still a way of life.
With diverse microclimates and dramatic elevation shifts, Sonoma produces a wide variety of exceptional wines. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah fare best in appellations near the ocean, like the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Petaluma Gap and Carneros. Briary old-vine Zinfandel flourishes in Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley, while structured Cabernet Sauvignon finds a home in Alexander and Knights Valleys.
Hiking and mountain-biking opportunities await on the boulder-strewn coastline, in the redwood forests and undulating valleys. Other vistas to explore include the craggy ranges of Armstrong Redwoods, Sugarloaf Ridge, Jack London State Historic Park and coastal scrambles along Bodega Head and the rest of the meandering Sonoma Coast.
Kayaking and canoeing are popular summer outings, especially along the 110-mile Russian River, which meets the ocean at Jenner, while surfers clad in wetsuits tackle a handful of coastal breaks. Sonoma County truly is where wine country meets the sea.
The Top Grapes of Sonoma
From its cooler regions, Sonoma produces Pinot Noirs of complex deliciousness. Silky and elegant, the wines balance fruit-driven power with subtlety.
Adaptable across all of Sonoma’s growing regions, the best Chardonnays are subtle in fruit and oak, and dripping in minerality. They exude crisp apple, citrus, spice and a welcome saltiness.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style red blends
From the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains come rich, sturdy wines to rival those from Napa. Cabernet from the valley floor also can offer quality and complexity.
Warm and cool climates produce distinctively different styles. Both exhibit Zin’s spicy, briary character. Alcohol levels can be heady.
Sauvignon Blancs from here display delicacy and poise. Frequently barrel-fermented, they’re crisp and dry, with citrus and green apple.