While many people associate Santa Barbara County with pinot noir, thanks in large part to the movie Sideways (for those who haven’t seen it, it’s based around one man’s hunt to find the most delicious pinot in Santa Barbara), this often finicky grape does quite well in other regions of California, too — particularly Sonoma County. In fact, Sonoma County is known for producing some of the most elegant examples of pinot noir in California, noted for showcasing bright red fruit, spice, and earth, with balanced structure.
With its varied topography and microclimates, the expansive region of Sonoma County is home to over 65 grape varieties. Though chardonnay dominates the acreage, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are not far behind. In fact, there are over 13,000 acres of pinot noir planted throughout the Sonoma region, equaling roughly 20% of the region’s vineyards. So why, you may be wondering, is there so much pinot noir planted in Sonoma? While some areas of Sonoma County have ideal climatic conditions for growing such varieties as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and zinfandel, including the Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley AVAs, other areas of Sonoma are just too cold for these varieties to thrive. Luckily, Burgundian grapes like chardonnay and pinot noir tend to flourish in Sonoma’s cooler climates, where coastal influences like wind and fog create an optimal environment for producing highly nuanced wines.
Of the 18 AVAs in Sonoma County, there are three particularly known for pinot noir: Los Carneros, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma Coast. Below we’re taking a closer look at each of these regions to help you discover what makes Sonoma County pinot noir so special. And, if you plan to visit Sonoma Wine Country soon for some wine tasting and exploration, we’ve got the scoop on which wineries to hit for tasting excellent examples of pinot noir.