The AVAs of Sonoma County

Keith Goldston, Master Sommelier once said, “Sonoma County is an incredible spot to make many different styles of wines - it’s like a whole country in one county.” 

Sonoma county covers an area of almost 1,800 miles² (more than twice the size of Napa County) and has 17 distinct AVAs allowing for a wide range of grapes to be grown and styles of wine to be made. 

As refresher from our discussion of the AVAs of Napa Valley, an AVA is a legally designated grape growing area possessing distinguishable characteristics such as climate, terrain, soils and cultural and historic significance. In addition, if a winery wants their wine to be labeled from a specific AVA, at least 85% of the grapes must come from within that specific AVA. 

You might be wondering what makes each of these 17 AVAs, spread over such a large area, unique and worth a visit. Come along with us as we drive through Sonoma County and each of the 17 AVAs, moving from South to North through the county, and discuss the defining characteristics and prominent wine varieties from each region.

Related: When Does Wine Expire?

SONOMA VALLEY

  • Climate:  Very unique as Sonoma Valley is protected from the wet and cool influence of the Pacific by Sonoma Mountain. In addition, the Sonoma Mountains to the west help guard against excessive rainfall. 
  • Facts to Know: Established in 1981, Sonoma Valley is considered by many to be the center of Sonoma County’s winemaking history and it has almost 5600 acres of vineyards with over 100 wineries. 
  • Prominent Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

Want to taste some delicious wine? See what WineTravel4U has to offer!

LOS CARNEROS

  • Climate: The weather in the AVA is generally cooler due to its proximity to San Pablo Bay. 
  • Facts to Know: The only AVA to span both Napa and Sonoma counties, it was established in 1983 and has almost 6500 acres of vineyards with 22 wineries.
  • Prominent Varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

PETALUMA GAP

  • Climate: Cool due to the geographic features of the AVA that allow cool ocean air to consistently flow through the valley. 
  • Facts to Know: With approval in 2017, Petaluma Gap is the newest AVA in Sonoma County. It sits just 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and is comprised of 4000 vineyard acres with 9 wineries. 
  • Prominent Varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay

Want to taste some delicious wine? See what WineTravel4U has to offer!

MOON MOUNTAIN

  • Climate: Sunny from ample exposure to afternoon sun, but tempered by the crosswinds that come from the Pacific Ocean. Most vineyards are at 400-2200 feet of elevation. 
  • Facts to Know: Moon Mountain is considered a sub-AVA of the Sonoma Valley AVA and shares its eastern border with the Mount Veeder AVA of Napa. Moon Mountain was granted AVA status in 2013 and has approximately 1,500 vineyard acres and 4 wineries. 
  • Prominent Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon

Related: Vegan and Organic Wine - Everything You Should Know

SONOMA MOUNTAIN

  • Climate: Varied as there are several micro-climates that occur within the crevices and folds of the hillside terrain.
  • Facts to Know: A sub-AVA of the greater Sonoma Valley AVA, these vineyards rise to 2,400 feet in some parts. Established in 1985, the Sonoma Mountain AVA has approximately 670 vineyard acres and 3 wineries.
  • Prominent Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon.

BENNETT VALLEY

  • Climate: Moderate from the impact of cool coastal fog from the Pacific Ocean which creates extended growing seasons that help maximize flavors and increase concentration.
  • Facts to Know: Established in 2003, this AVA consists of 700 vineyard acres and 17 wineries.
  • Prominent Varieties: Chardonnay and Merlot

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY

  • Climate: The climate of the AVA is impacted by the regular intrusion of cool fog from the Pacific Ocean. The fog can drop temps 35-40° from the daytime highs and will retreat in early morning the next day. 
  • Facts to Know: Established in 1983, Russian River Valley is one of the oldest AVAs in Sonoma County. The Russian River Valley has almost 14,000 vineyard acres and 94 wineries. 
  • Prominent Varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Related: Sparkling Wine vs Champagne

GREEN VALLEY 

  • Climate: One of the coolest and foggiest AVAs in Sonoma County due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. 
  • Facts to Know: A sub-AVA of the larger Russian River Valley, it is one of the smallest appellations in all of Sonoma County having only 2860 vineyard acres and 10 wineries.  
  • Prominent Varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Want to taste some delicious wine? See what WineTravel4U has to offer!

FOUNTAINGROVE DISTRICT

  • Climate: Warmer than some of the AVAs to the south and west, yet still moderated somewhat by maritime influence caused by a gap in the mountains in Santa Rosa. 
  • Facts to Know: One of the newest AVAs in Sonoma County having gained AVA status in 2015. There are only 600 vineyard acres and 4 wineries in the AVA and most of the vineyards are at elevations of up to 2,000 feet.
  • Prominent Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah

CHALK HILL

  • Climate: Although a sub-AVA of the larger Russian River Valley AVA, the region is somewhat warmer than the rest of the Russian River AVA, with moderating breezes, but less cool fog. 
  • Facts to Know: Occupying the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley AVA, the Chalk Hill AVA has approximately 1500 vineyard acres and 5 wineries. The name Chalk Hill comes from the chalky white ash soils in which most of the vineyards are planted. 
  • Prominent Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc

Related: Vegan and Organic Wine

SONOMA COAST

  • Climate: Arguably the coolest and wettest of all the AVAs in Sonoma County. It receives more than twice the annual rainfall than the more inland AVAs. It is still warm enough to ripen the grapes as most of the vineyards here are planted above the fog line.
  • Facts to Know: Established in 1987, Sonoma Coast is one of the largest AVAs in Sonoma County with over 500,000 acres stretching from San Pablo Bay to the south all the way to the Mendocino County line to the north. Of the 500,000 total acres, only 4,725 acres are planted to vine with 7 wineries in the AVA.
  • Prominent Varieties: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

Want to taste some delicious wine? See what WineTravel4U has to offer!

FORT ROSS - SEAVIEW

  • Climate: Contained entirely within the Sonoma Coast AVA, the Fort Ross – Seaview AVA is generally sunnier and warmer than the rest of the Sonoma Coast AVA due to much of the AVA being at elevations of 900-1800 feet.
  • Facts to Know: Founded in 2012, this AVA contains approximately 550 vineyard acres and 5 wineries with most of the vineyards being on ridges with elevations of 1,200 feet or more.
  • Prominent Variety: Pinot Noir

KNIGHTS VALLEY

  • Climate: Protected from direct Pacific Ocean impact, Knights Valley AVA is the warmest of all the AVAs in Sonoma County. 
  • Facts to Know: Considered the most remote AVA in Sonoma County on the eastern edge bordering Mount St. Helena, the AVA was established in 1983 and has 2,500 vineyards acres with 2 wineries. 
  • Prominent Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon

Related: The Etiquette of Wine Tasting

DRY CREEK VALLEY

  • Climate: Dry Creek Valley is influenced by both the coast and inland, with the nearby coastal mountain range keeping cool marine temperatures at bay allowing for high temps to reach the mid-80s° during the summer. 
  • Facts to Know: At only 16 miles long and 2 miles wide, this AVA is one of the smallest enclosed AVAs in the entire country. The AVA was established in 1983 and it has approximately 8100 vineyard acres and 63 wineries. 
  • Prominent Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc

Want to taste some delicious wine? See what WineTravel4U has to offer!

ROCKPILE

  • Climate: Over 95% of the vineyards are over 1,000 feet in elevation. This higher elevation combined with being close to the Pacific Ocean creates a unique climate. It is usually 10-15° cooler in Rockpile than Dry Creek Valley and the Pacific breeze is a near constant.   
  • Facts to Know: This rugged AVA was first established in 2002 and with it’s 190 acres planted to vine and no wineries, it is one of the smallest AVAs in the United States. 
  • Prominent Variety: Zinfandel

ALEXANDER VALLEY

  • Climate: Alexander Valley is generally regarded as the warmest AVA in Sonoma County during the day, but cools rapidly at night, often time dipping into the mid-40s°.
  • Facts to Know: Even though the AVA didn’t officially become recognized until 1984, grapes have been harvested here as far back as the 1850s. Alexander Valley is one of the most densely planted AVAs with almost 14,500 acres planted to vines with 43 wineries. 
  • Prominent Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc

Related: 10 Great Food Pairings with Wine

PINE MOUNTAIN – CLOVERDALE PEAK

  • Climate: Given the elevations and northern location, almost every sort of climatic influence is felt here. Fog cover, hours of daylight, daytime and nighttime temperature extremes, rainfall and wind all influence grape growing in the AVA.
  • Facts to Know: A relatively new AVA, established in 2011, that has 310 vineyard acres and 1 winery. In terms of elevation, this is one of the highest grape growing regions in all of California with vineyards starting at 1800 feet and going as high as 3000 feet.
  • Prominent Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon

Wow, what a ride that was through Sonoma County! With these regions spread over such a vast area, taking an hour and a half or more to get end to end, it is imperative that you have a plan when tasting throughout Sonoma County to avoid spending more time in the car than you are actually enjoying the fantastic Sonoma County wines. Here at Wine Country Travel we have been tasting throughout Sonoma County wine country and can help you game plan for how to best use your time to enjoy the wines of this beautiful area. We look forward to putting our knowledge of the local wineries and AVAs to work for you and planning your perfect Sonoma County wine tour!     

Want to taste some delicious wine? See what WineTravel4U has to offer!