A simple concept presented by Hugh Johnson in The World Atlas of Wine, and it certainly reigns true, although there is a certain amount of parity this year.
In terms of viticulture, Sonoma’s geographical location affords them a flexibility that Napa, in many ways, does not enjoy. In analyzing the production in Sonoma, it is evident that a majority of producers specialize in producing wines from varietals that suit their individual microclimates. Be it Syrah, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley, Zinfandel from Dry Creek, or Cabernet Franc from Knights Valley, there is far more latitude for exploration.
Their neighbor (Napa Valley) to the east is primarily known as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay producing region. This is largely due to the fact that these varietals do well in the warmer inland climate. Over the years, wineries in Napa have added other varietals to their portfolios; however it is in many ways difficult to qualitatively excel with this broad-based philosophy, as each varietal favors certain conditions. Sonoma excels at those varietals that enjoy a slightly cooler climate, because these are the wines in which they focus all of their attention and research.
Many of the other regions of California have followed Sonoma’s lead. Aided by the influences of the oenology programs at UC Davis and San Jose State, the progress of these regions in the past two decades has been nothing short of amazing.
Read United States Mid-Vintage Growing Report: Sonoma & the North Coast to find out what climate conditions are currently influencing the grapes that will be the wines you’ll be drinking starting next year and what today’s vineyard starts are doing to ensure a favorable end result.