Photo by George Rose
The hottest new region in the county is, in fact, its coolest. What’s hot is the recognition that a place so close to the Pacific, with more than twice the annual rainfall of its inland neighbors, can still be warm enough to ripen wine grapes to their fullest flavor potential. The answer, simply enough, is that these vineyards rise up above the fogline on slopes once given over to natural forestlands, punctuated by the occasional flock of sheep or herd of cows. On the coast, a thriving seafood industry provides the perfect accompaniment to the region’s vinous offerings. Chardonnay with the crab? Oysters? It’s so deliciously Sonoma County. Though at 750 square miles it’s the county’s largest Viticultural Area, it is at present the least planted. But that is changing rapidly as consumers discover the depth of flavors that can be generated when varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are planted where the end of the growing season is coincident with their fullest flavor maturity. That’s how you come up with Chardonnays loaded with fresh dairy cream and toasted hazelnut character and Pinot Noirs sulky and silken with black cherry fruit and sandalwood spice.