In Sonoma, there are wineries that have earned a reputation for producing some of the world's best Pinot Noir. Kosta Browne, Marcassin, Failla, Aubert, Littorai, and Williams Selyem are just some of the names that have become iconic for the gorgeous wines they produce year after year. Take a closer look at these outstanding wineries, and you will notice that all of them are sourcing grapes from a very special place seaside in north Sonoma County: The True Sonoma Coast.
David Hirsch (Hirsch Vineyards) was one of the early founders of the region when he purchased 1,100 acres of land north of Bodega in 1978, with a plan to grow trees on the property. The site was at least 14 - 20 degrees cooler than inland Sonoma due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Tectonic plate shifting around the San Andreas Fault created an area of high elevation, rugged hills, canyons, jagged rock, and rich soils. Hirsch was soon advised that if he were to plant Pinot Noir on the site, it would be world class and similar to that of the cool climate wines of Burgundy, France. It would be a challenge to develop a vineyard in this climate, but the opportunity to produce premier Pinot Noir in America was one worth the pursuit. He planted the vineyard and people started taking notice.
Steve Young followed Hirsch and planted Pinot Noir vines off the coast on Taylor Lane. His Summa Vineyard (now owned by Rivers Marie) would soon become one of the most respected. Winemakers like Burt Williams (Williams Selyem) and Ted Lemon (Littorai) took notice of the wines coming from the site and began to buy the grapes for their own production. These were wines of profound structure, intensity, and balance. Elegant wines of incredible distinction, attributed solely to the unique characteristics of the site. The grapes mature slowly in ideal conditions of cool temperatures and abundant sunshine. The cool temperatures foster a longer growing season that often extends February until October. Brilliant sunshine is a result of the land elevation above the coastal fog. The rich and layered soils created by shifting tectonic plates along the San Andreas Fault make for wines that vary incredibly from site to site. Vineyards like Summa and Theriot are only a few hundred feet apart yet produce wines of strikingly specific character. The location directly off the Pacific brings ample rainfall, while the hills and ridges allow for adequate drainage. Indeed, the True Sonoma Coast has everything needed to produce extraordinary Pinot Noir.
The next time you are in Sonoma, take some time to visit the True Sonoma Coast. Visit for the allure of the land, and visit to learn more about the stunning Pinot Noir that emerges from the vines every vintage. Rough terrain makes getting there more of a challenge, but the experience is one that makes it well worth the journey. It is where so many of the great California Pinot Noirs are born.
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