Snooth Blog

Snooth User: John Andrews

Sonoma Valley

Posted by John Andrews, Mar 16, 2009.

When the guys at Snooth recently introduced the concept of page ownership on the site, I felt that I should step up and take on the ownership of Sonoma Valley. It is a very cool feature ( find more info here ) which, I believe, will help people understand what the region brings from the basis of what Snooth is about … a community based review. As the curator of the Sonoma Valley I thought I should share with you what makes Sonoma Valley special.

Sonoma Valley History

The thing that surprises me the most about Sonoma Valley or Sonoma particularly, is that no one knows the origin of the word ‘Sonoma’. Some people suggest that it originated from a Native American word. The Native Americans that resided in the area referred to Sonoma Valley as the Valley of the Moon, which, Sonoma Valley is often referred to and there is a winery using the name ( Valley of the Moon Winery ). In fact, using the name Sonoma as place you are going to visit could mean three different things:

1. Sonoma County - which is a huge region that incorporates a number of great wine regions including Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley , Dry Creek Valley , Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and more

2. Town of Sonoma - which is a fun little town that is very much oriented to the wine business. In fact BottleShock was filmed in the town of Sonoma because it resembles Calistoga in 1976 more than Calistoga does.

3. Sonoma Valley - which is an incredible diverse wine appellation with a great number of wineries.

According to a number of websites Sonoma Valley was one of the first areas in California to be planted with grapes. Franciscan monks were the first to do so in 1823. One of the first commercial wineries in California was also started in Sonoma Valley, Buena Vista Winery , in 1853. Buena Vista is still around today but source most of their grapes from what is Carneros now.

Where is Sonoma Valley?

Sonoma Valley is just 45 miles north of San Francisco. It borders Napa Valley (to the east) and in many ways Sonoma Valley resembles Napa Valley in many ways. Both Sonoma and Napa are long narrow valleys that are bordered by mountains to the east and west. Mayacaymus Mountains to the east and Sonoma Mountains to the west for Sonoma Valley. The both valleys open up to San Pablo Bay in the south and in the north they both open up into other valleys, Russian River Valley for Sonoma and Alexander Valley for Napa. Sonoma Valley is protected from excessive coastal rainfalls by the Sonoma Mountains but gets substantial cool air and moisture from the bay. I can personally vouch for the temperature drops as I have ridden my motorcycle home from work on summer’s evening and felt the chilling air. The mountains and valleys and air channels allow for a large number of microclimates to exist. The weather from one end of Sonoma Valley to the other is often very different.
From an appellation stand point:

• Sonoma Valley is part of the Sonoma County appellation

• Borders with Napa Valley Sonoma Coast and Carneros

• Sonoma Valley actually has three different appellations:
o Sonoma Valley
o Sonoma Mountain
o Bennett Valley

• Sonoma Valley extends into the west end of Carneros

What does this mean? Well, simply, there is a ton of diversity in Sonoma Valley. There are 25 different varieties of grapes grown in Sonoma Valley including: Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon , Carignane, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Muscadelle, Muscat Canelli, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Silvaner, Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, Zinfandel.
This shows is a wide diversity in climates and soils that permit so many different grape varieties to be grown. The soil content varies dramatically throughout the valley but is mostly a volcanic base. Unlike European laws, there is no restriction to what can be grown in Sonoma Valley and the vineyards in the area take advantage of that to see what works.

What makes Sonoma Valley Great?

Each region in California has something it excels at; Napa is known for Cabernet, Russian River for Pinot Noir, Dry Creek for Zinfandel, and, for me, and the thing that Sonoma Valley excels at is diversity. There are great Cabernet vineyards like Monte Rosso. There are great zinfandel vineyards like the Pagani Ranch (planted in the late 1800s) and awesome Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Syrah from Les Pierres, Durrel Ranch and Parmalee-Hill. The remarkable thing is that all these grapes are grown within 5 miles of each other.

There are two main events in Sonoma Valley each year. There is the Holiday Open House which happens the two days after Thanksgiving and there is Barrel Tasting Weekend which takes place the third weekend in March. The first event is very much like a celebration of the year’s harvest as well as a celebration of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The second is a celebration of the New Year and new wines. The wineries will have barrel samples available to try and a chance to buy futures on those wines. Both events are highly attended and a lot of fun.

Working in Sonoma Valley I have a true affinity for it and I truly believe that Sonoma Valley has something for everyone. There are wineries and wines that appeal to everyone. The valley is anchored by a few big producers and supported by numerous small and medium producers. It is not unusual that the wine maker of will be pouring wines in the smaller tasting rooms. It is home to numerous great restaurants and lodgings. There is diversity and character. It is a lot slower passed than some of its neighbors. It can offer a much different experience. To me best of all, when you visit Sonoma Valley you feel like you are a part of the family, a local and not just some visiting.

To find out more, consult the websites below or simply drop me an email.

Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce                                                                                                  Sonoma Valley Vinters & Growers

John Andrews is a software product manager during the week and is a professional Tasting Room staffer at Loxton Cellars in Glen Ellen, CA on the weekends.

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Reply by Mike Pobega, Mar 16, 2009.

Very cool. As the Napa Valley curator I should take a page from your book....

Reply by John Andrews, Mar 16, 2009.

@Mike ... yeah, it is a good way to introduce the region. Somehow some info in the blog got lost when it got posted but I'll update the info shortly.

Reply by Philip James, Mar 17, 2009.

Honda - this is great, thanks for writing it up.

Reply by MTB, Mar 17, 2009.

Great write up. I'm inspired, and now need to get to work on a post about my group: connecticut.

Reply by tug, Mar 17, 2009.

Have you tried the 2007 Seghesio Family Winery Sonoma County Zinfandel?

This amazing wine rated a 93 with Wine Spectator and was # 10 of their top 100. I tasted it at a wine show just the other day and it is everything they say it is!

I can get my hands on some bottles at a great price write me back if your interested!

Reply by Adam Levin, Mar 18, 2009.

Honda, I always hear about the Petaluma Gap in relation to Sonoma County. What's the story behind this?

Reply by John Andrews, Mar 18, 2009.

@adam ... the Petaluma Gap is an AVA that has been proposed for awhile. It is part of the Sonoma Coast Appellation (which seems to be a catch all really). Geographically, it is the lowlands that extend from Petaluma out towards the coast. They are known primarily for their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah grapes. Grapes grown here are sold to many high end producers including: Kosta Browne, MacPhail, Flowers and Harrington.

It is actually the dividing area between Marin County and Sonoma County. It is unique in the area. While officially they support the Sonoma Coast AVA I have heard they'd love to have area designated as their own AVA.

Find out more here:

Reply by dmcker, Mar 20, 2009.

Would be great to hear more about the Russian River Valley. I 'grew up' thinking that California Pinot Noir was worthwhile only for the braising pan or vinegar barrel, but then Chalone, and later a couple of Carneros wineries, changed my view. What really confirmed my rethinking was several bottles I had one week from the Russian River Valley...

Reply by John Andrews, Mar 23, 2009.

@dmcker ... I'll get some info together on Russian River for a future blog.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 23, 2009.

Looking forward to it, HondaJohn! :-) I used to visit Sebastopol regularly for work, but don't have that convenient excuse these days...

Reply by RobUncorked, Mar 23, 2009.

Wow, nice write up. I'll see if I can whip something together for of Okanagan Valley. Way to own that page!

Reply by wwolf, May 5, 2010.

I'm new to Snooth, but headed to Sonoma (and Napa) in a couple of weeks.  Any "must see" or "must do" advice while we're there?  This is only our second trip out; the last being right before we were married -- 24 years ago!!!

Reply by outthere, May 5, 2010.

Depends on what you like to do and your budget restrictions. Any specific likes or dislikes?

Reply by dmcker, May 6, 2010.

Wwolf, perhaps you should've started with this thread when you searched for Sonoma ;-)

Going to Sonoma

Reply by Nicki Gig, May 6, 2010.

have you all seen the recently launched Sonoma Trip Planner -  sponsored by VISA.  A great tool to assist in all of your Sonoma trip planning needs!  

Reply by outthere, May 6, 2010.

I get easily confused, being a local, and having people refer to this area as Sonoma. For me Sonoma is a town within Sonoma County which is a vast expanse containing many different wine growing areas. When someone says they are visiting Sonoma I read it as they are visiting the Town of and the Sonoma Valley.

AVA's include: Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Los Carneros, Northern Slope, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley.

The climate's and soils vary immensely ranging from the cool coastal rolling hills of the Petaluma Wind Gap (known for Pinot and Syrah eg: Griffin's Lair) to the hot volcanic high elevations of Knights Valley (cabernet and most bordeaux blend varietals eg: Beringer, PAX) and everything in between.

So are you visiting the town or the region? Recommendations will vary based on your answer.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, May 7, 2010.

Great point Outhere! I'm in the process of writing a few emails based on various trips through Sonoma county. Sort of a travelers guide to travelling on 12, 101, 116, 128.


I will say that I am guilty as well. I say I'm visiting Sonoma when in the County, though I usually do stay in Sonoma. The Town of.

Reply by dmcker, May 19, 2010.

Greg, you should branch out on the locale of your accommodations...

Reply by StevenBabb, Jun 2, 2010.

has anyone tried any offerings from Korbin Kameron? Mitchel Ming is the owner, and the Ming family is involved with the winery operation on mt. veeder. In fact, it's named after his twin sons, Korbin and Kameron.

i had the chance to taste their cab and merlot last year at a fundraiser tasting here in san francisco. relatively young winery, but good stuff and great potential. korbin was actualy pouring and it was nice to visit and learn about the family and winery.

and a beautiful logo and bottle design.... can't help it, i'm a sucker for a great bottle! haha


Reply by gingenie, Jun 16, 2010.

I'm new to Snooth, but want to book something special for my friend as she is spending part of her honeymoon in Sonoma. She's there for two days, 24-25 June, staying at The Hidden Oak, E. Napa St. I don't know about the quality of the hotel, but I'd like to arrange a special tasting / lunch for her and her new husband. Something near to their hotel if poss so they don't have to drive. Any suggestions? 

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