Discover the Sonoma County AVAs

Wine 101

Vineyard and sunrise.

Home to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Sonoma County is known as one of the most diverse landscapes for growing wine grapes in the world.  The coastal areas are perfect for growing cool-climate varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while Cabernet thrives in the warmer regions.  There are 18 different American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in Sonoma County, each with its own unique microclimate that sets it apart.

Alexander Valley
The roots of wine in Alexander Valley date all the way back to 1843.  Today it is known for producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Summers in Alexander Valley are warm to hot during the day but cool down in the evening, the hot days ripen the grapes while the cool nights preserve their freshness and acidity.  The soils are very rocky, leading to lower yields and wines rich with tannin – a great characteristic of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Francis Ford Coppola wines from Alexander Valley:

Archimedes

Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon

Director’s Cut Merlot

Director’s Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Francis Coppola Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Bennett Valley
Bennett Valley is one of Sonoma County’s newer AVAs, earning AVA status in 2003.  It has established itself as a premier location to grow Merlot due to volcanic clay soils and a long growing season. It also produces outstanding Pinot Noir and Syrah.  One of the coolest AVA’s in Sonoma County, Bennett Valley is surrounded by hills that funnel in cool winds and fog from the Pacific Ocean.

Chalk Hill
Chalk Hill is appropriately named for its volcanically-derived, chalky white ash soils.  Located within the Northeast corner of the Russian River Valley, the unique soil, climate and elevation separate Chalk Hill from other parts of the Russian River Valley.  Due to the higher elevation of Chalk Hill, this AVA escapes much of the cooling fog that blankets much of the lower-lying Russian River Valley; leading to a warmer climate. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most well-known varietals grown in this AVA.

Los Carneros
Los Carneros is one of the more unique locations in Sonoma County in that the official boundaries of the AVA fall into both Sonoma and Napa Counties.  This AVA is just north of the San Pablo Bay and as a result, is the coolest and windiest AVA in both Sonoma and Napa. Los Carneros is known as one of the premier places to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in both Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Dry Creek Valley
One of the smallest AVA’s in Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley is only 16 miles long by 2 miles wide. Known for Zinfandel, the history of grape growing and winemaking in Dry Creek Valley began over 130 years ago.  The soil is rocky and drains well which stresses the vines during the growing season. This leads to rich and concentrated flavors in the wines produced from Dry Creek Valley.

Francis Ford Coppola wines from Dry Creek Valley:
Director’s Cut Zinfandel

Director’s Cut Technicolor

Francis Coppola Reserve Petit Sirah 

Fort Ross – Seaview
Most vineyards in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA are located along the Pacific Coastline and are at elevations between 920 to 1,800 feet.  This elevation raises them above the fog, leading to warmer temperatures and more sunshine than the lower-lying areas.  The AVA is named after two regional features, the 1812 Russian built Fort Ross and Seaview Road, an extremely scenic route along the Pacific Coast.  Fort Ross-Seaview is home to the closest vineyard to the ocean, located just one mile east of the Pacific Ocean.

Fountaingrove District
The Fountaingrove district achieved AVA status in 2015 and is inspired by the legacy of California’s original “cult winery.”  The first winery in the area was founded in 1875 and was recognized as one of California’s premier producers both before and after Prohibition.  Fountaingrove District sees marine influence; however, is warmer than its neighbor, Russian River Valley. This AVA has terrain of rolling hills with volcanic soils.


Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Green Valley is one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County and is the coolest and foggiest region within the Russian River Valley.  Located in the southwestern part of Russian River Valley, Green Valley is well known for its trademark fog and fine, sandy Goldridge soil.  The Goldridge soil is often sought out for high-quality Pinot Noir.

Knights Valley
Knights Valley is the warmest AVA in Sonoma County and is bordered to the West by Alexander Valley and to the East by Napa County.  Knights Valley has a robust history. One of Sonoma County’s original five AVAs, Knights Valley is named after Thomas Knight who fought in the Bear Flag Revolt.  Knights Valley used to be home to the small town of Kellogg which burned down in the 1960’s and has remained without restaurants, hotels or commercial development since. Today, Knights Valley is well-known for producing Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Francis Ford Coppola wines from Knights Valley:

Director’s Cut Cabernet Franc

Moon Mountain District
Home to only 4 wineries, the Moon Mountain District earned AVA status in 2013 and is located within the Sonoma Valley AVA.  The Moon Mountain District is made up entirely of hillside vineyards that range from 400 to 2,200 feet above sea level.  Growing at elevation leads to wines with intense flavors which comes through especially well in Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel from the Moon Mountain District.

Northern Sonoma
Northern Sonoma is the second largest AVA within Sonoma County after Sonoma Coast and combines the better part of six other AVAs; Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley and Green Valley. Each of these AVAs feature elevations ranging from the valley floor to mountain peaks.

Petaluma Gap
Petaluma Gap is one of the newest AVAs in Sonoma County.  Wind and fog are a trademark of Petaluma Gap; the “gap” being named after a wind gap that stretches east from the Pacific Ocean through Petaluma and then down to the San Pablo Bay.  This “gap” funnels wind and fog in from the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay, bringing increased air velocity to vineyards in the Petaluma Gap.

Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak
The Pine Mountain Cloverdale Peak AVA is one of the highest elevation grape-growing regions in not only Sonoma County but in all of California. The AVA starts at 1,600 feet and rises to 3,000 feet above sea level.  These higher elevations lead to a longer growing seasons; the grapes are usually harvested up to a month after vineyards on the valley floor.  Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak vineyards are planted in rocky volcanic soil which stress the vines and leads to more intense and flavorful wines.

Francis Ford Coppola wines from Alexander Valley:

Archimedes

Rockpile
Rockpile spreads west of Lake Sonoma to the Mendocino County border.  To qualify for the Rockpile AVA, vineyards must be at 800 feet elevation or higher; and Over 95% of the vineyards in Rockpile are over 1,000 feet in elevation. In comparison to other Sonoma County AVAs, Rockpile is too far upland to be impacted by fog. This leads to grapes with more sun exposure, boosting overall ripeness and richness.  Rockpile is also heavily impacted by wind, with vineyards at high elevation seeing strong winds throughout the day.

Russian River Valley
Perhaps one of the best known AVAs in in Sonoma County, Russian River Valley produces award-winning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Despite its name, the Russian River Valley AVA does not cover the entire length of the Russian River. Instead, the AVA is shaped like a heart in a sweet spot in Sonoma County that’s cool but not too cold. Within the boundaries of the Russian River Valley are the sub-AVAs, Chalk Hill and Green Valley.

The Russian River Valley is well known for the fog that can lead to nighttime drops in temperature – sometimes as much as 35 to 40 degrees  - ideal for the finicky Pinot Noir grape, contributing lively acidity, berry fruit flavors and delicate aromas.

Francis Ford Coppola wines from Russian River Valley:

Francis Coppola Reserve Chardonnay

Francis Coppola Reserve Pinot Noir

Francis Coppola Reserve Viognier

Director’s Cut Chardonnay

Director’s Cut Pinot Noir   

Sonoma Coast
The Sonoma Coast is the largest AVA in Sonoma County, extending from the San Pablo Bay all the way up to the Mendocino County border.  Sonoma Coast is known for cooler climates and high rainfall, seeing more than twice the amount of rainfall of its inland neighbors. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive in the Sonoma Coast.

Sonoma Mountain
Sonoma Mountain is located in the larger Sonoma Valley appellation and was one of the earlier AVAs to be determined by specific elevation.  Vineyards in Sonoma Mountain range between 400 and 1,200 feet in elevation and are located on the north and eastern slopes of Sonoma Mountain. The vineyards in Sonoma Mountain enjoy fog-free morning sun and the unique aspects of the mountainside create microclimates suitable for a diverse range of varietals. 

Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Valley is located at Sonoma County’s southeastern most tip and encompasses five AVA’s within its borders.  Also known as The Valley of the Moon, Sonoma Valley is bordered by two mountain ranges: The Mayacamas Mountains to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west.  These mountain ranges protect the area from the wet and cool influence of the Pacific Ocean.  The cool air that does impact Sonoma Valley comes from the San Pablo Bay through Los Carneros.

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