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Sonoma County: not just Napa's little brother


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Once regarded as the lesser stepbrother of neighboring Napa Valley, in the past decade Sonoma has come into its own on the world scene as a producer of world-class wine. With 60,000 acres, Sonoma far outproduces both neighboring Napa and Mendocino counties. Like Napa, Sonoma is primarily known for its cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, although the coastal range produces world-class pinot noir, and a number of wineries throughout the region produce highly sought-after zinfandel.

Sonoma County can be separated into two main areas as a wine region: the warmer inland region, where the bulk of the county's grapes are grown, and the cooler coastal region, which produces smaller quantities of wine (most notably pinot noir). The inland region shares many similarities with neighboring Napa. A number of the appellations share the same name (and many of the same characteristics), divided only by the county line. It's in the inland region that one can find more typical Napa-style wineries – larger scale, with lavish tasting rooms, and fruit-forward, big wines.

The coastal region, in contrast, is dominated by small scale, more traditional wineries. Appellations such as Sonoma Coast and Green Valley or Russian River Valley can be found here. It is here that one finds cooling fog from the Pacific Ocean, which allows for cool-climate varietals like pinot noir and gewürztraminer to flourish. Tasting along the coastal zone is a very different experience from tasting along the well-established inland roads. Here wineries are often in garages or small shacks, winemakers often pour the wines themselves, and production is often so small that the wines are not distributed outside of the state.

In the past few years Sonoma has begun to win accolades and awards around the world. Wineries like Ravenswood (with 15 different zinfandels), Lynmar (with some of California's top pinot noir), Williams Selyem (with small production pinot noir), and Hirsh (long a supplier of grapes, recently a producer of wine) have all helped make Sonoma a must-visit destination for wine lovers in California.


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Visit California for the wine and the weather