The True Sonoma Coast is famed for its striking landscapes and pioneer spirit. William Kelley offers up of the 10 finest examples of its cool-climate wine styles.
Rugged and fog-swept, the True Sonoma Coast is north California’s most fashionable young wine region, celebrated for its striking Pinot Noir.
Winemakers committed to cool-climate styles, often inspired by Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, are helping to shape the True’s reputation as a marginal site; the perfect place to produce wines with an Old World-inspired balance between fruit and acidity.
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What makes ‘the True’ special is the marriage between its proximity to the Pacific and its distinctive topography. ‘It’s all about access to the ocean,’ explains winemaker Ehren Jordan, whose Failla label has long specialised in these unique sites.
Area: Only 20% of Sonoma Coast AVA’s 194,000ha qualifies as True Sonoma Coast (an unofficial appellation). The 11,000ha AVA of Fort Ross-Seaview, approved in 2012, was the first distinct macroclimate to receive official recognition.
Location: A narrow band of the coast, running from Bodega Bay in the south to the limits of the Sonoma Coast AVA in the north.
Grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with Syrah and small plantings of Riesling, Trousseau and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ted Lemon, a proponent of biodynamics who established his Littorai winery in1993 after a stint at Domaine Roulot in Meursault, was one of the first, though he disclaims slavish reverence for French practice. ‘You’ll never hear what the land is saying,’ he insists, if you simply follow foreign formulae.
Following suit, more and more winemakers in the True are now exploring the parameters of the possible, many of them experimenting with marginal ripeness and whole-cluster fermentation, for example.
Alongside these increasingly diverse expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, other varieties are also attaining prominence. Compelling, cool-climate Syrah from the likes of Arnot-Roberts, Anthill Farms, Ceritas and Peay impress for their finesse and aromatic amplitude.
Of course, not all experiments are so successful. Nor are many wines from the True inexpensive. But for its dynamism, excitement and potential, this strikingly beautiful region has few rivals in North America.