It might be bit of a stretch to think that Sonoma was once the epicentre of North Coast wine-growing, with a longer history than Napa’s. The first Russian émigrés who arrived in the early 19th century planted grapes out at Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast a quarter century before George Yount planted grapes in the Napa Valley.
And Sonoma is also the birthplace of modern California wine, thanks in no small measure to the heroics of another immigrant, this one of Hungarian descent. Count Agoston Haraszthy, a rebellious dynamo with a flair for accomplishment, founder of a small town in Wisconsin, sheriff of San Diego and creator of Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery, was also the ultimate suitcase clone supplier. After persuading the governor of California to sponsor him, Haraszthy embarked on an extensive wine research trip to Europe in 1861, returning with cuttings of nearly 500 grape varieties. Vineyards proliferated and quality rose apace.
Today, Sonoma is the most diverse wine-growing county in California. From extremes of cold on the far Sonoma Coast, to extravagant warmth in the upper Alexander and Knights Valleys, virtually every grape variety (some 60 different grapes are planted) can find a little climate oasis in which to thrive, and the range of wine styles is unparalleled.
Currently 16 AVAs fall within the general Sonoma County AVA, which in turn lies within the larger North Coast AVA (along with Napa Valley, Mendocino and Lake County AVAs). But as outlined in the California introduction, the geology of California’s north coast is staggeringly complex, and finding pure volcanics is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. But some rough lines can be traced around 11 AVAs with notable volcanic presence.