Wine Guide
Napa may be the headline-grabbing valley of California but you would be remiss to ignore Sonoma County when developing your fine wine portfolio. Located about an hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma’s vast and varied terrain can only mean good things for the closet oenologist. With 17 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) stretching across 20 miles, Sonoma’s valleys and microclimates means it is possible to sip a rosé at a hipster winemaker’s home, taste a Zinfandel while on a production warehouse tour, sample Chardonnay straight from the barrel in an underground cave, or enjoy Pinots during a private vertical tasting.

Located between the Pacific Ocean and Napa, Sonoma silently produces almost twice as much wine as Napa, yet generates not even half as many column inches. While there are no big ticket wineries here, what Sonoma does incredibly well is produce a consistent level of excellent full-bodied red wine. Temperate and climate vary from sun-beaten plains to fog-laden hills, which accounts for the spectrum of wines available on the secondary market or with your fine wine retailer.

Established by Franciscan friars while on a mission in 1823, the Sonoma County wine industry was originally destined for communion wine. Suffering the same fate as its Napa neighbours during the early 20 th century, the region’s winemaking declined to fewer than 50 wineries. Sonoma was slower to pick up the gauntlet laid down by Mondovi et al post-prohibition and even as late as 1960, there were under 50km2 of planted vineyard in the valley. However, as wine consumption grew in the 1970s, so did enterprising winemakers and by 1999 Sonoma Country had 180 registered wineries. In 2019 that figure stood at 250, over half of which have been established in the last 25 years.

However, devastating forest fires in the autumn of 2017 saw many estates and vineyards completely disappear. Propelled by 60mph winds, the flames swallowed more than 2450,000 acres of land and claimed 43 lives. 1,200 wineries were damaged (although only under ten severely) which means a reduced production for the years to come. The smoke will, of course, affect other Californian wineries, regardless of whether they were damaged by the fires or not. Several Sonoma County vineyards including Ancient Oak Cellars and Helena View Johnson were hit hard, worse than neighbouring Napa (although Stag’s Leap was affected), mainly due to Napa’s wetter soil that made it hard for the flames to stick.

Rebuilding has been an arduous process for the wineries, many of whom lost homes in the process. However, almost two years on and slowly but surely the wineries are getting back on their feet. Some have carried on producing with bought in grapes and while others are commemorating the year with special cuvees which will, we suspect, turn out to be very investor friendly in years to come.