About this WINE
North Coast's Sonoma County is California's largest AVA with 19,800 ha (2005) of vines. It has forever been the home of the meek and mild small grower as compared to the grandeur and might of neighbour Napa; more picturesque too, as much of the sandy, gravely loam land belonged to true orchards and fruit farms until the 1970s.
Sonoma Valley covers a small part of Sonoma County but its wines often outshine its illustrious neighbours in Napa County. Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon are cultivated here with much success. Sonoma Valley has long enjoyed a special place in the history of California wine. The first vineyards in the valley were planted by Franciscan monks in 1823. In 1857 Agoston Haraszthy, one of the founding fathers of California's commercial winemaking, opened here the highly successful Buena Vista Winery.
Closer to the coast are the region's top producing AVAs for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay: Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Green Valley, while the slightly warmer Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys have earned a reputation as a hotspot for Cabernet, and increasingly, Zinfandel and Merlot.
Chardonnay is the "Big Daddy" of white wine grapes and one of the most widely planted in the world. It is suited to a wide variety of soils, though it excels in soils with a high limestone content as found in Champagne, Chablis, and the Côte D`Or.
Burgundy is Chardonnay's spiritual home and the best White Burgundies are dry, rich, honeyed wines with marvellous poise, elegance and balance. They are unquestionably the finest dry white wines in the world. Chardonnay plays a crucial role in the Champagne blend, providing structure and finesse, and is the sole grape in Blanc de Blancs.
It is quantitatively important in California and Australia, is widely planted in Chile and South Africa, and is the second most widely planted grape in New Zealand. In warm climates Chardonnay has a tendency to develop very high sugar levels during the final stages of ripening and this can occur at the expense of acidity. Late picking is a common problem and can result in blowsy and flabby wines that lack structure and definition.
Recently in the New World, we have seen a move towards more elegant, better- balanced and less oak-driven Chardonnays, and this is to be welcomed.