North Coast Wineries & Grape Growing Regions
California’s wine industry was born in the Sonoma Valley more than 100 years ago, established by immigrants who recognized the natural abundance the land brought forth. Their early efforts took root and evolved into today’s thriving wine industry. The Valley of the Moon, as Sonoma Valley is known, has always cast a luminous spell on inhabitants and visitors alike, filling them with an ever-new appreciation of the cornucopia that is inherent in this special place.
Today’s crop of Sonoma Valley winemakers is as diverse as the grapes grown here. Among them are the first-ever Hispanic and African American-owned wineries, with a healthy percentage of women in all aspects of the industry, including ownership, and large and small operations, each pursuing their dream in their own way. Many of the world’s finest wines are grown in this valley by winemakers who share the same independent spirit and love of the land as their predecessors. See our list of Sonoma’s Recommended Wineries
To the Wappo Indians who first inhabited the valley, “Napa” meant a land of plenty. Spawning salmon filled the waterways, clouds of migrating waterfowl darkened the skies and the valley floor served as home to wildcats, elk, black bear and grizzlies. Wild grapes also grew in abundance, but it took early settlers such as George Calvert Yount to recognize the valley’s potential for cultivating winegrapes. Establishing the first local homestead in what is now Yountville in 1836; Yount was the first to plant vineyards in the valley. Other early pioneers include Charles Krug (commercial winery in 1863), Schramsberg (1862), Beringer (1876) and Inglenook (1879).
Today, Napa Valley is home to approximately 325 wineries and numerous other brands. Its growers and vintners combine cutting-edge science with traditional techniques, and its reputation for producing world-class wines is firmly established in an ever-growing global market. See our list of Napa’s Recommended Wineries
Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys
These fertile growing regions lay a short distance north of the Sonoma Valley. They present breathtaking views and are full of beautiful wineries tucked far away from view. The unique weather and topography makes excellent growing conditions for a wide variety of grapes. The Russian River’s warm days and cool nights are perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape growing. A short distance north is Dry Creek, which is a little warmer and resembles Tuscany. It is perfect for Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet and Merlot. Alexander Valley is slightly to the east is one of the most diverse growing regions producing world-class Chardonnays, Zinfandels, Cabernet and Sangiovese.
There are more than 200 wineries in these areas; the region produces wine featuring over 25 grape varietals. The winding roads and rural environment are perfect for relaxed wine tasting. See our list of Sonoma’s Recommended Wineries
Part of the North Coast AVA, Suisun Valley is Valley Wine Tours latest “find.” Although the AVA is the second oldest AVA in California, it may remind you of Napa and Sonoma 10-20 years ago! Suisun Valley is a region in the California Coast Ranges that is bordered on the east side by the Blue Ridge of the Vaca Mountains, and on the west side by the Howell Mountains, which are also called the St. George Range.
Suisun Valley has a semi-coastal Mediterranean climate with a cool wet season from November to April, followed by a warm dry season. Both the Suisun Valley AVA and the Napa Valley AVA are part of the North Coast AVA, a regional appellation that includes the grape-growing districts of six counties located north of San Francisco Bay. This allows for wines made by blending grapes from different appellations within the six county region to be identified as North Coast wines.
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American Viticultural Areas
Valley Wine Tour educators define an AVA simply as a unique wine growing area. The Wine Institute describes an AVA as the geographic pedigree of its wine. It uses a tag on its label called an Appellation of Origin that provides the geographic origin of where the grapes were grown. Appellations are defined either by political boundaries, such as the name of a county or state, or by federally-recognized growing regions called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).”
The appearance of an AVA on a wine label helps consumer identify where the wine comes from. As of 2016 there are 238 AVA’s listed across the US.
All of these smaller AVAs listed below are part of the North Coast AVA and are broken down by Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. They are all included within the geographic boundaries of the six-county North Coast AVA.
The Sonoma Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area in Sonoma County, CA. The AVA begins near the town of Sonoma and extends north to near the city of Santa Rosa. The region is also known as The Valley of the Moon and it lies in the southern portion of the county. The appellation is bordered by the Mayacamas Mountains to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west.
The area is known for its “one-of-a-kind” soil, one of the components in describing a wine’s terroir. The Sonoma Mountain protects the area from the rainfall and cool influence of the Pacific Ocean. The cool air that does affect the region comes northward from San Pablo Bay located at the north end of San Francisco Bay.
Sonoma is the birth place of California wine and is the perfect place for wine enthusiasts to enjoy an award-winning wine tasting experience.
Napa Valley AVA is an American Viticulture Area (AVA) located in Napa County, CA. Napa County, a legal wine appellation, was established in 1850, one year before Sonoma County. The Napa Valley AVA covers the majority of the county – leaving only a small portion of land northeast of Chiles Valley AVA, where few grapes are grown. The Napa Valley AVA has over 42,000 acres of vines and is considered the top wine region in the United States. Napa Valley AVA is actually a combination of 16 established sub regions including: Atlas Peak, Calistoga, Chiles Valley District, Coombsville, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville and Wild Horse Valley.
More information is available on these Napa wine trade and travel sites: