Grapevines were planted along the Sonoma Coast as early as 1817 alongside the newly established dairy farms, apple orchards, and animal ranches. From the 1880s grape growing became a fully recognized agricultural crop and the grape growers and winemakers have since been seeking recognition for their coastal wines. In May 2022, the region was finally awarded its own American Viticultural Area named West Sonoma Coast.

Located on the furthest western part of Sonoma County right up to the Pacific Ocean, it is made up of steep, rugged mountainous terrain along the coastline. It stretches from just North of Bodega Bay, from across the border to Marin County, up to the border with Humboldt County, and inland up the coastal mountains. It has three sub-AVAs, Annapolis, the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, and Freestone-Occidental.

Sonoma County now has 19 AVAs with very diverse microclimates. The cooler areas are West Sonoma Coast by the Pacific and Carneros/Sonoma Valley by San Pablo Bay, and the hottest is Alexander Valley by Cloverdale with up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

West Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA)

The West Sonoma Coast AVA holds approximately 50 vineyards planted with several varieties, mostly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. The large variation in both soil types, elevation and temperatures makes this area unique in Sonoma County winemaking.

The elevation of the West Sonoma Coast AVA ranges from 400 to 1,800 feet, with vineyards planted on steep ridge tops along the San Andreas fault line.

Cold marine air and heavy fog create challenging conditions for grape growers while offering distinct advantages for winemakers. Daytime highs are cooler and nighttime lows are warmer than the rest of the Sonoma Coast AVA, allowing grapes to ripen slowly throughout the day and night, reaching peak maturity at lower sugar levels with pronounced acidity.

This microclimate is therefore very different and much cooler than the well-known Sonoma County AVA of Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, and Chalk Hill.

Here is a picture that shows the magnificent terrain where you find the vineyards on the west Sonoma Coast. With the Pacific top right a steep sloping south-facing vineyard gives the grape grower different elevations and thereby temperature zones to work with.

West Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA)
The West Sonoma Coast growers’ and wineries’ passion for farming along the mountainous coastline shows in their wines, and in the way they work to preserve the character and complexity of the rugged West Sonoma Coast region. The passion is not only shown in their wines, but also through their culture, history, and dedication to the natural landscape and cool, maritime climate which makes wine-making quite a bit harder than in other places.

The wines from West Sonoma tend to highlight bright acidity, pure varietal character, and moderate levels of alcohol. So how do you start tasting these wines? One way is to look to the big wine magazines that have visited the region and follow some of their tasting recommendations.

The recommendations from Decanter wine magazine can be found here, and a tasting report from Wine and Spirits magazine can be found here. The full list of all the West Sonoma Coast vintners is available by visiting the vintners’ own website

From Bodega Bay it is easy to experience the AVA, vineyards, and winemakers. With their motivation now at a maximum level they are busy organizing wine tastings, and major events and traveling the world promoting what could be considered America’s answer to the world-famous Cote d’Or in Burgundy, France.

The events organized by the vintners are available here which includes both regular tastings in San Francisco as well as exclusive dinners with the winemakers.

The vintners have made it easy for anyone looking to personally visit the region and taste the wineries. Most have a tasting room at the winery, some in key wine cities like Healdsburg.  Since Covid is now most common for wineries to accept visitors by reservation only, therefore make sure you have your appointment.

Enjoy the wines of this new and fascinating AVA!