Sonoma Valley Wine History Timeline

Sonoma Valley is one of California’s most famous wine regions, known for producing extremely high-quality grapes and wines. Unfortunately, it’s often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Napa Valley, but Sonoma possesses very different attributes from Napa and is able to hold its own as a top American wine region. 

Sonoma Valley is located north of San Francisco in Northern California. It is a part of the larger North Coast wine region of California. To its east is Napa Valley, to its north is Mendocino, and to its west is the Pacific Ocean. 

Did you know? Sonoma’s unique geographical position is one of the main explanations for its successful wine industry.

It has a very mild climate that is rarely too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. Hail and late frosts that plague many of the world’s famous wine regions are almost non-existent here. Two bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River moderate the climate, and help create the large temperature swings between day and night that grapes love. 

Sonoma’s unique geographical position and features also contribute to its many microclimates. Despite the fact that Sonoma is a relatively small wine region, it possesses many different microclimates that allow for many different types of grapes and wines to be grown and produced. Additionally, Sonoma also possesses a massive amount of soil variation. Sonoma Valley actually possesses more soil types than the entire country of France. Thanks to the varied climate and diverse soil types, Sonoma’s smaller wine regions are all very different and able to produce very unique wines. 

Sonoma Valley’s Wine Regions

Sonoma Valley contains 19 different official wine regions or AVAs. The most well-known are Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley. Alexander Valley is located in Northeast Sonoma and is known for producing high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s one of Sonoma’s larger and older regions and currently contains over 40 different wineries. Russian River Valley is located in the very center of Sonoma and is known for its very large temperature swings. It’s not unusual for the afternoon temperature to drop as much as 40 degrees fahrenheit in the night. This is largely due to a cold coastal fog coming from the Pacific Ocean at night. Russian River Valley is known for producing high-quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. 

Two of the most unique AVAs within Sonoma are Chalk Hill and Fort-Ross Seaview. Chalk Hill is actually located within Russian River Valley, but it has a couple of interesting features that separate it from the rest of Russian River Valley. The first is its slightly warmer climate, and the second is its white, volcanic soils. These white soils are known for producing great expressions of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Fort-Ross Seaview is located within the Sonoma Coast AVA, right next to the Pacific Ocean. This is a smaller AVA with only about 700 acres of vineyards. The landscape here is dramatic and the vineyards are located at high elevations on mountain ridges and valleys. The cold climate and high elevation make it well suited for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

 To learn more about how Sonoma Valley became the famous wine region it is today, take a look at our Sonoma history timeline below. It starts with the first grape plantings and goes all the way through to when the official wine regions were formed.

  • 1817 Russian Colonists cultivated the first grapes at Fort Ross, Sonoma Coast.

    Although some wine grapes were produced before Prohibition and the first wine grapes in Sonoma County were planted by the Russians at Fort Ross in 1817 using Peruvian grape cuttings, Michael Bohan marked the […]
  • 1823 Several thousand vines were cultivated by the Spanish Franciscan Father Jose Altamira (Sonoma Mission).

    At the San Francisco Solano mission, crops were low before thousands of vines were planted there in 1823 by the Spanish Franciscan father Jose Altamira. The wine was used by the padres for pious […]
  • 1824 The first grapevines were planted at Mission San Francisco de Solano

    The first grapevines were cultivated at Mission San Francisco de Solano in 1824, and George Yount obtained his vines from that vineyard a few years later to plant in the Napa Valley. General Mariano […]


“Sonoma County Tourism Official Site |” n.d. Accessed December 19, 2022.

“Sonoma County Wine & Wineries.” n.d. Sonoma County Vintners. Accessed December 19, 2022.


Want to read more? Try these books!

Sonoma County Wineries (CA) (Postcard History Series) Sonoma Valley

Wine Pairing Recommendation

Categories: Wine History Timelines, Wine RegionsTags: , , , , By Published On: June 27, 2022Last Updated: February 21, 2024

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!