Wine Enthusiast magazine names Sonoma County 'Wine Region of the Year'

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The Wine Enthusiast has named Sonoma County “Wine Region of the Year,” as part of its 2019 Wine Star Award Winners, citing Sonoma County’s “long history, resilience, commitment to diversity and global leadership in sustainability.”

Recognition for the region’s sustainability comes in the wake of the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ goal of becoming a 100 percent sustainable wine region by the end of 2019. The effort made headlines earlier this month for achieving 99 percent sustainability with a slate of new farming practices among wine growers.

Sonoma County, just an hour north of San Francisco, has more than 50 miles that ride the Pacific coastline. The region has more than a million acres, with only 6% or 59,000 planted in wine grapes. The wine industry — from farming to production to tourism — is a key economic driver of the region.

The environmental efforts have provided another means for Sonoma County to distinguish itself from the Napa Valley region, which hasn’t initiated a comparable sustainability campaign and also doesn’t feature the same level of diversity in growing regions and varietals.

“I don’t know of any other region that has so many different micro climates in such a narrow range geographically,” said Mick Schroeter, winemaking director of Windsor’s Sonoma-Cutrer.

The key to the region’s character, he said, is where the fog rolls in and how it burns off.

“A great example,” Schroeter said, “are two estate vineyards — Vine Hill Ranch and Owsley Ranch Vineyard. They’re 7 miles apart and they can have a 10-degree difference in temperature. We harvest them a week apart.”

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Jesse Katz, founding winemaker of Aperture Cellars and Devil Proof Vineyard, agrees with Schroeter’s take on why Sonoma County is getting more recognition. Katz has spent time in 100 countries on six continents, and made wine in Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Argentina, Italy and Santa Barbara.

“From everything I’ve seen there’s nothing that can compete with Sonoma County in producing diversity able to showcase Burgundian varietals, Rhones, zins, Bordeaux and sparkling wine,” he said.

“Within Sonoma County, Bordeaux varietals ripen in Alexander Valley and closer to the coast, some sites are cooler than Champagne, France.

“If that doesn’t tell you the diversity in one region, I don’t know what does,” he said.

Katz said he’s staking his career on the belief that Sonoma County’s best sites for Bordeaux varietals can rival any in the world.

Schroeter, a native Australian, said he’s also smitten with Sonoma County but joked it’s a good idea to keep tight-lipped about this geographical paradise.

“Shhhhh,” Schroeter said. “Don’t tell everybody because otherwise everybody will be coming here.”

Keeping Sonoma County a secret may be unlikely as it moves toward its goal of 100% sustainability, as well as participating in and leading other environmental initiatives. According to the Wine Enthusiast, the Sonoma County Winegrowers has been selected as the exclusive partner in the launch of the California Land Stewardship Institute’s Climate Adaptation Certification program. Piloted in Sonoma County, this program will then be shared with other wine regions across the globe.

Wine Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

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