10 Fun Sonoma Facts

Fun facts about a world-famous wine region

The Elder Statesmen

Remnants from the earliest days of California’s wine industry dot the Sonoma landscape. These rich relics add more than just a few bottles to the county’s annual production -- they add to the tapestry that is the romantic history of an industry that could use a bit of grounding.

I don’t think anyone alive today can vouch for the oldest vines in the county, but some can venture a guess as to the oldest vineyard plots. Many vie for the title, so I’ll give you a group that together represents the oldest of the old-timers.

Martin Ray Winery

While the Martin Ray Winery has gone through a few iterations, it can trace its roots back to 1881 when it was originally founded as the Twin Fir Winery. Martin Ray stakes its claim as the oldest continually operating winery in Sonoma County. They were able to stay open during prohibition by selling “training” wine to rabbinical students. I can’t make this stuff up, folks!

Gundlach Bunschu

Gundlach Bunschu is the oldest family-owned winery in Sonoma, and in all of California for that matter. Founded in 1858 by Jacob Gundschu it was the first winery and vineyard in Sonoma to be planted by someone other than the Christian Missionaries, and, for obvious reasons, its vineyards are among the oldest in the county.

Buena Vista Winery

The title of oldest winery in Sonoma, though, rests with the Buena Vista Winery, which beat old Jacob by just a year. Founded in 1857, it remains as the oldest winery in all of California.  The Buena Vista of today really has very little to do with the Buena Vista of the past -- they source all of their fruit from Carneros, using none of their original vineyards, but the name endures and the work done by the winery’s Hungarian founder, Count Agosthon Haraszthy, set the stage for much of what was to follow.

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Mentioned in this article


  • What about Benzinger, one of America's leader in the green wine movement? Incidentally, Benzinger wines were served at this year's White House Correspondents Dinner with President Obama and the First Lady. The hole evening had a green touch. See here. http://www.schiller-wine.blogspot.c...

    May 04, 2010 at 2:12 PM

  • Snooth User: wilhar
    156162 1

    What about Ridgeline Vineyards in Sonoma's Alexander Valley with elevations up to 1700 feet: http://www.ridgelinevineyards.com/v...

    May 04, 2010 at 2:18 PM

  • Snooth User: John Andrews
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    36106 3,415

    As the curator of the Sonoma pages ... Thanks for this. Sonoma is eclectic and diverse region.

    For me one of the great vineyards is a valley vineyard called Pagani Ranch. It is on of the first commercial vineyards planted in Sonoma Valley and has vines dating back to 1880. Mostly Zinfandel and Alicante Bouche (as favoured by the Italian settlers of the day). Great to see a piece of history every time I go into Sonoma to work.

    May 04, 2010 at 4:26 PM

  • Great article -- to read even more about Sonoma check in at: http://mydinnerswithrichard.blogspo...

    and read the multi-part "Long & Wine-ing Road" series - a road trip thru Sonoma - food, wine and musings...

    May 04, 2010 at 5:04 PM

  • Snooth User: credo16
    185782 1

    I second the above note... check into:
    Some more great wines on a road trip thru Sonoma... look for the "Long and Wine-ing Road" series.

    May 04, 2010 at 5:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 202,267

    Very cool stuff. Of course there are many other great Sonoma wineries at altitude out there. This list was by no means supposed to be comprehensive, just a starting point!

    May 04, 2010 at 5:18 PM

  • Lambert Bridge is my all time Sonoma favorite.

    May 04, 2010 at 6:17 PM

  • Lambert Bridge is my all time Sonoma favorite.

    May 04, 2010 at 6:17 PM

  • Snooth User: henrysk
    345010 1

    Great Zins..look no further than Ravenswood. Martin Ray, simply simple. The staff there (ask for Emily) enjoy the work and ethos of Sonoma. Many of the other's mentioned by y'all are ones I will take in next time.

    May 04, 2010 at 8:15 PM

  • I'm not a fan of Ravenswood's wines - I'll have to revisit their wines... That said, Clos du Bois 2006 Old Vine Zin-Alexander Valley ($35) was one of the best Zins, if not the best, I had in Sonoma, as well as the old vine zins at Woodenhead -- absolutely delicious... Woodenhead is a family run winery and a real find.

    May 04, 2010 at 9:25 PM

  • PS -- Am glad you like my blog -- would love to read what you think if/when you visit the places I did and wrote about.


    May 04, 2010 at 9:29 PM

  • PPS - also blogged about Amador County back in November if you're interested in checking it out. Some terrific wineries there.

    May 04, 2010 at 9:32 PM

  • Snooth User: mrmwines
    415340 7

    Sonoma is lovely! One of our favorite wineries there is Matanzas Creek with all of the lavender around there. It's beautiful, fragrant, and offers some fantastic wines too!!

    May 04, 2010 at 9:38 PM

  • Snooth User: msippin
    33243 2

    What about Ridge?
    They have great Zins.

    May 04, 2010 at 10:20 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 3,742

    Martin Ray (formerly Martini & Prati) is a stones throw away from me and has been a landmark in West County for as long as I have been alive. The water tower in the pic has had a sad past as a place to jump and end it all.

    Adjoining that property on the vineyards southwest corner is a real neat place to throw a party called Ned's Grove which is a small grove of Redwood trees in an otherwise oak studded landscape.


    May 04, 2010 at 10:38 PM

  • I love Sonoma and have very fond memories of my visit to Ravenswood (it was before lunch and the walk back to the car was a bit of a beeline - I was in the passesnger seat) but my hands down favourite winery to visit there was Kaz. A tiny wee place but huge fun and some very decent drops to be had. The only downside was that their winery was the only place I saw the wine! Miniscule production.

    May 05, 2010 at 5:12 AM

  • We dont get many Sonomas over here in the UK so I suppose you locals are drinking too much.

    May 05, 2010 at 5:14 AM

  • Snooth User: kbb
    127945 2

    Others have mentioned Ridge (Lytton Springs) & Ravenswood ... but how can you go to Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley and miss Rafanelli? Sure, you have to make an appointment, but the Zin and Cab are definitely worth the effort. http://arafanelliwinery.com/

    May 05, 2010 at 7:13 AM

  • Snooth User: RUDEsmile
    138015 5

    I had the chance to stop by Schramberg winery while out in Sonoma and taste some of their sparkling wines, though I was highly distracted by the natural beauty of their caves. I recommend taking a visit there as well.

    ...and if you get a chance while roaming around in Sonoma, don't pass up a pair of squirrels for $14.99. Where else could you find a deal like that???

    May 05, 2010 at 10:34 PM

  • You forgot to mention the Marijuana growing industry of Sonoma that has put down some deep roots in Sonoma over the past decade as a result of the the gradual decriminalization of the herb. How can you write about getting "high" in Sonoma with out a mention "New Rich" growers of Sonoma and their "Green" products?

    May 06, 2010 at 11:52 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 202,267

    A pair of squirrels for $14.99 - It's a fact.

    Birdseye, primarily because we are a wine site, you don't see us talking about grape crush now do you?

    May 06, 2010 at 12:03 PM

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