Thirty-five miles north of San Francisco lies Sonoma County, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the Mayacamas mountain range to the east, separating it from Napa Valley.
Sonoma wine country provides a more relaxed, unpretentious tasting experience compared to the wealth and marketing overdrive of Napa Valley. Sonoma County wine country is truly beautiful, an archetype of pastoral California; rolling hills, vineyards lined with redwood forests, stately oak trees draped with lichen and morning fog.
A green/blue rock called serpentine is prevalent in the soil of Sonoma County. Its high magnesium content imparts low levels of potassium to the vines, forcing a struggle for growth that produces low yields and flavor-rich fruit.
Map of Sonoma County
Sonoma County’s 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) include:
- Alexander Valley
- Chalk Hill
- Dry Creek Valley
- Knights Valley
- Los Carneros
- Northern Sonoma
- Russian River Valley
- Sonoma Coast
- Sonoma County
- Green Valley
- Sonoma Mountain
- Sonoma Valley
Sonoma Zinfandel Characteristics
Each of Sonoma's appellations produce Zinfandel with unique characteristics, however they all share the common link of warm days and cool nights thanks to the marine influence of the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay. In general, Sonoma Zinfandel can be described as having rich and intense blackberry fruit aromatics intertwined with black pepper, anise and allspice.
Northern Sonoma Zinfandel has classic cherry and briar characters that tend to be elegant and not over the top. The Russian River Valley has an extended growing season due to Pacific fog channelled through the Petaluma Gap. The longer hang time intensifies the berry flavors, producing a jammy Zinfandel. Cooler Sonoma Zinfandel growing regions, like southern Sonoma, exhibit brighter fruit and more spice. Sonoma Zinfandel from warmer regions, such as Dry Creek, carry a distinct core of black cherry laced with vanilla. The similarly warm climate of Alexander Valley reveals soft and supple tannin structure with plump black fruits. Sonoma Zin is some of the best!
JC Cellars Sonoma Zinfandel Vineyards
Iron Hill Vineyard - Sonoma Valley Zinfandel
The amphitheater like vineyard, sitting at a steep 55° angle, profoundly influences the depth and concentration of the grapes. The rocky, volcanic soil provides just enough nutrients for the vine's struggling existence. As in the past, this vineyard produces terroir driven Zinfandel entwined with loamy earth tones, wild raspberries and a hint of lavender. More photos of Ironhill Vineyard.
Sweetwater Springs Vineyard - Russian River Valley Zinfandel
Around the corner from the Rochioli’s illustrious West Block Vineyard lies a small but sublime patch of land called Sweetwater Springs, which features Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Dueling cool fogs from both the Petaluma Gap and the mouth of the Russian River allow for an extremely long growing season, again producing concentrated, ripe fruit. This vineyard typically exhibits wines with succulent flavors of black cherry, anisette, vanilla, and spice, but with enough acidity to give vibrancy to these dense and exotic flavors. More photos of Sweetwater Springs Vineyard
St. Peter's Church Vineyard - Cloverdale
This tiny patch of Old Vine Zinfandel is the grandfather of California Zinfandel. Owned by the parish of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Cloverdale, St. Peter's Church Vineyard is a mixed planting of 95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah and 5% Alicante Boushet. The vines were planted over a century ago, in 1888, and were positioned in a circle, the prevailing logic being that if powdery milder or another natural threat attacked the vines the outer circle would become infected first, sparing the prized Zinfandel at the center. The circular vineyard has since been replanted, but the fruit, full of dark and concentrated plum, currant, and earthy tannin, is still the hallmark of this historic vintners landmark.