How To Rid The World of Sonoma Coast Wines

A new association of vintners has sprouted up and I think it is an important one because it has the opportunity to right a wrong.

The West Sonoma Coast Vintners are comprised of those wineries that profit form the remarkable terroir that is found in the western part of Sonoma County in what is an gorgeous and rugged area. It's the region of Sonoma County beyond Sebastapol that includes Annapolis, Fort Ross/Seaview, Occidental, Freestone, Green Valley and the Sebastopol Hills.

On thier website, the WSCV describe their mission in part this way:

"The West Sonoma Coast Vintners also seeks to facilitate collaboration among members in the region, and to provide a forum for its members to discuss issues important to them."

For the love of terroir, let's hope that this collaboration and forum eventually includes a drive to cut up and subdivide what is one of the most valueless American Viticultural Areas in America: The Sonoma Coast.

The "Sonoma Coast" AVA is huge and includes such a diversity of terroirs that it is was at the time of its official adoption and remains today a geographical region that tells the wine lover nothing about the wines that carry its designation. The appellation stretches from the Marin County line up to the boarder of Mendocino County and includes parts of the Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Mountain and Carneros appellation. It includes more than 750 square miles. As an indicator of quality or character in wine, it holds no value at all.

However, within the Sonoma Coast appellation are very distinct areas that have names and that have much more specific terroir characteristics such as the "Petaluma Gap", Fort Ross, Sebastopol Hills, Freestone and Occidental regions. If these much small and much more distinct areas inside the Sonoma Coast AVA were carved into smaller "sub appellations" the way Green Valley is carved out of the only slightly less absurd than Sonoma Coast Russian River Valley appellation, well, then you'd have something that wine lovers could wrap their heads and tongues around.

Another problem with the Sonoma Coast related to its size is that it gives lesser wines a free ride. Some of America's greatest Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs are built out of grapes grown in the far western part of Sonoma County, which falls inside the Sonoma Coast AVA. Many of these wineries put the "Sonoma Coast" AVA on their labels and these wines have done more than any others for giving this huge appellation the amount of prestige it currently carries. Yet a winery located much further inland that makes wine out of grapes grown in much warmer, less windy, less foggy conditions and that are far inferior to the wines made out near the coast gets to wear the same appellation as these better wines. They are are poaching from the success of wines that are better in large part because the grapes used to make them are produced in an area of profoundly different and appropriate terroir for the variety.

So, my hope is that the West Sonoma Coast Vintners will collaborate on cutting up the Sonoma Coast and giving us something of value? And if you are wondering about the caliber of the wineries that might take this step, consider the wines that are made by the new associations' members which include:

Boheme Wines
Flowers Vineyard & Winery
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
Freeman Vineyard & Winery
Freestone Vineyards
Hawk Hill Vineyard
Hirsch WineryWowfest
Littorai Wines
Patz & Hall Wine Company
Peay Vineyards
Ramey Wine Cellars
Red Car Wine Company
Small Vines

Not a bad collection of wineries. 

If you want to get a taste of many of these producers' wine and learn a great deal more about the terroir of the West Sonoma Coast, consider signing up for the West Sonoma Coast Vintners coming West of West Festival, August 5 to 7.


5 Responses

  1. Phil - April 29, 2011

    Anyone interested in more detail can read the first part of our two part series here:
    Part two is subscriber-only, but I’ll leave the link anyway:

  2. Roger King - April 29, 2011

    Good stuff on getting down to real regional diversity

  3. RedWineExp - April 30, 2011

    Thanks for the listing. It helps…

  4. Charlie Olken - May 2, 2011

    Bravo, Tom. It may be too much to hope that all misdrawn AVAs would be replaceed by meaningful definitions, but there is a chance that the West Sonoma subdivisions will at least give the great wines of that area a chance to stand on their own.

  5. 1WineDude - May 4, 2011

    Totally agree. It’s gotten to the point where just about every time I see a sample from Sonoma Coast I immediately think “well, here comes a total crapshoot…”

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