What Would We Do Without Napa?
It’s often said that Sonoma County winemakers have a chip on their shoulder named "Napa Valley". I don’t know if the chip actually exists, if there really is any significant rivalry between the two, or if one region is better than the other. But I do know this. The purported chip/rivalry/competition is perfect fodder for writers who are looking for a lead for their story about Sonoma County.
I think I’ve read this lead at least 1000 times:
"While the Napa Valley receives most
of the attention for producing California’s fine wines,
many believe that Sonoma County, located west of Napa, is
California’s significant other."
There is a certain apologetic quality to this kind of lead in to a story about Sonoma County’s winemaking attributes: "It’s not Napa we are talking about today, but I swear the wines of Sonoma Country are really really good!"
I’m not real sure what Sonoma County would do if it didn’t have Napa Valley as its foil. Perhaps it would stand up on its own two feet and declare, as it should, that it possesses the most diverse set of climates and terroirs of any County in California; or that as counties go, it possesses the most diverse set of unique growing regions for visitors to explore; or that it produces a wider variety of extraordinarily high quality examples of different varietals than any other County in California.
Let’s face it, if you had a friend asking for recommendations on where to spend a week in wine country, would you really suggest Napa Valley over Sonoma County? Would you really? Are these good friends, or just acquaintances.
There is no possibility that in my lifetime or that of my children that Sonoma will eclipse Napa Valley in wine making prestige either among frequent wine drinkers or, certainly, among infrequent wine drinkers. None. The die has been cast on that score. And news stories like the one referenced above will continue to make sure this is the case.
But I think this is OK. As Sonoma’s wine roads slowly become more crowded, they are still a world away from Highway 29 in terms of gridlock, frustration and expense. They’ll always provide that undiscovered backroad that leads to revelation and authenticity that Napa simply can’t match. They’ll always be more likely to lead to wine discoveries that are real discoveries, rather than simple exclamations of relief that the line at the tasting bar isn’t nearly as crowded as the last one you were at.