The Napa Valley is upscale and elegant,
but the Sonoma Valley is rustic and less pretentious. Its name is Miwok
for many moons. Here, family-run wineries treat visitors like friends,
and tasting are usually free. The wineries in Sonoma County - which stretches
west from Napa County to the Pacific Ocean - boast that they win more
awards than their neighbors in Napa. They credit the rocky soil that forces
the vines to root deeper, producing intensely flavored grapes that translate
into especially complex reds.
In 1975 California wine tours in Napa Valley
had no more than 20 wineries; today there are well over 200 to enjoy.
In Sonoma County, where the web of vineyards is looser, there are 200
or so wineries, and development is now claiming the cool Carneros region,
at the head of the San Francisco Bay, deemed ideal for growing the chardonnay
grape. Within these combined regions of the Wine Country, at least 120
wineries have opened in the last seven years alone. Nowadays many individual
grape growers produce their own wines instead of selling their grapes
to larger wineries. As a result, smaller "boutique" wineries
harvest excellent, reasonably priced wines that have caught the attention
of connoisseurs and critics, while the larger wineries consolidate and
expand their varietals.