Pinot Noir has a long history in Sonoma County. Long before Miles and Jack left much of Santa Barbara in shambles in the movie Sideways, growers in Sonoma were working out the wheres and whys of Pinot Noir.

While being famously fickle, Pinot at the same time is very expressive, potentially developing a great array of signature notes that change with clone, climate, and winemaking. Ideally suited to cooler climates -- it is, after all, from the rather cool climes of France’s Burgundy region -- Pinot Noir loves the heights and shielded valleys that Sonoma affords.

From the heights above the "true” Sonoma Coast (the Sonoma Coast appellation is pretty large and much of it falls outside of what many consider to be the actual coast) to the more famous appellations of the Russian River or Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma has spent decades working on Pinot and we are lucky enough to be here for the payoff!

Want more about Sonoma?

In this series of emails we’ll be taking a look at the regions that make Sonoma special, and the wines they each produce. We hope you enjoy our tips and observations, and we invite you to visit Visa’s Sonoma Trip Planner. This interactive guide to Sonoma wineries is fun and informative. Plan a trip today to experience the unique beauty of Sonoma.While you can still find Pinot Noir in many regions of Sonoma County, it has become increasingly obvious that for the highest quality of Pinot you should turn to the Russian River Valley, along with its sort-of sub-appellation the Green Valley and the "true” Sonoma Coast.

In both of these regions, cooler temperatures give the Pinot vines ample time to mature. The wines they can produce are more elegant and show better balance than the sometimes more muscular styles that come from many of Sonoma’s warmer climes.

4 Producers to Watch

1.) Deloach Vineyards 2007 Deloach Pinot Noir Green Valley

Slightly smoky on the nose with a touch of hot cocoa and balsam accenting the earthy dark fruit tones. On entry, this is soft and fairly rich in a fruit-forward style that highlights the slightly-candied cherry fruit of the mid-palate. The wine is medium to medium full bodied with nicely integrated acids and soft tannins that add a nice fleshy feel to the wine, though the finish is a little light with some powdered sugar and spice tones accenting a zesty, almost apple skin-toned note on the finish. The finish does add a bit of length, and this is soft and broad in a popular style. 89pts

2.) Twomey 2008 Twomey Russian River Pinot Noir

This is a decidedly assertive wine on the nose with graham cracker and cocoa notes accenting the meaty, black cherry fruit that shows hints of black tea, cola, coriander seed and vanilla. With its big, rich entry this is a bit deceptive at first but quickly rallies to show great acidic spice and fine freshness. The fruit has a lovely stemmy edge to it in the mouth and is fresher than the nose suggests. The tannins are really soft, giving the wine some breadth, while not detracting from the core of wild cherry fruit that flows across the palate. There is a bit of wood tannin that pops on the finish, and while this comes off a bit simple, it shows great purity to the fruit and finishes with solid length. 90pts

3.) Papapietro Perry 2007 Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard

This is super stemmy and earthy on the nose with hints of cola, green anise seed and a touch of lavender accenting the lightly spiced, slightly jammy core of strawberry fruit. This shows lots of fruit up front, with a sweet/tart edge but this remains light and elegant in the mouth with flavors that mirror the aromas. The mouthfeel is both rich and light at the same time with a lovely core of wild raspberry and wild strawberry fruits accented by notes of stems, spice and earth. With nice length and lovely purity to the sweet fruit, this is a wine with very broad appeal. 92pts

4.) Lynmar 2007 Lynmar Estate Quail Hill Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Intense on the nose with a touch of licorice and deep notes of dried flowers accenting the almost musky fruit tones. On entry this seems to be a touch tight with noticeable tannin in a chunky style that feels a bit extracted. There are nice mocha overtones to the core of rich-yet-simple and quite ripe dark berry fruits that yields to dark cherry tones on the backend. The wine drops off quite quickly on the finish as the tannins once again become obvious. I would expect this to gain length and innermouth perfume with some age, say 12-18 months, but at the moment it is not showing as much as one might expect. 88pts

2006 Lynmar Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

This offers up wonderfully ethereal and perfumed aromas of flowers, light red fruit, rhubarb, and lingonberry, with top notes of wood smoke and sandy soil tones. In the mouth this is very light and elegant with bright, transparent red fruit tones backed up with hints of stemminess, and a suggestion of vanilla that floats above the fruit. The sour berry/sour cherry fruit in the mouth shows a lovely nuanced spicy edge over a core of natural sweetness that leads to a long, soft, caressing finish with just a hint of Christmas spice. Really gorgeous Pinot that is easy to enjoy. 92pts

Two of My Favorite Sonoma Producers

Deloach Vineyards
While Deloach makes some great Pinots, they’ve been famous for years as a source of Sonoma County Zinfandel. This is some of the best that the Russian River AVA has to offer, always produced in a timeless style.

Lynmar Estate
Lynmar has been producing benchmark Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay since their first vintage in 1996, which can’t be surprising when you consider that they continue to source fruit from vines planted in 1971!