A first-time visitor to Sonoma wine country is usually struck by its rustic charm, especially compared to the more dense and obviously affluent Napa. It has no Target or Dean & DeLuca, and blessedly few traffic jams–driving headaches experienced while traveling between Sonoma wineries are more likely to be caused by getting stuck behind a tractor or rickety pickup truck overloaded with fertilizer and farm equipment. Like Napa, “Sonoma” can refer to a valley, a county, a municipality, and also a shorthand for a distinctive terroir that defines many of America’s finest wines. While no Sonoma wines lack voluptuous, ripe fruit flavors, many of them also display cool-climate elegance, delicacy, and a depth more often associated with the old world. In 1846, Sonoma town was declared by its American settlers to be the capital of the “California Republic” or (“Bear Republic”), an ungoverned state that lasted for 26 days between revolt from Mexican rule and occupation by the U.S. military. Its short-lived flag featured a brown bear, which is now on the state flag of California today, as are the words “California Republic”. Nearly ten years after this political upheaval, the Buena Vista winery was established by Count Agoston Haraszthy, a colorful Hungarian immigrant who was not, in fact, a Count. He is one of several men sometimes referred to as the “Father of the American Wine Industry” which is debatable–as such anointments almost always are. But it is certain that his pioneering work in viticulture had lasting effects on the wine industry. While Napa summer temperatures often climb into the 90s, in Sonoma it is infrequent to even see 85. This cooler climate is essential to achieving the perfect ripeness/acidity balance that defines the best Sonoma wine. The Russian River is an important to the climate as well, pulling fog through the valley to provide a further cooling influence. Sonoma’s 13 AVAs are Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Knights Valley, Northern Sonoma, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, and Sonoma Valley. Sonoma County’s top varieties based on acres planted: Chardonnay – 15,801 Pinot Noir – 12,281 Cabernet Sauvignon – 12,090 Merlot – 5,222 Zinfandel – 5,164 Sauvignon Blanc – 2,600 Syrah – 1,786 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir embody the excellence of Sonoma wine, at least to casual fans. Russian River Valley and Carneros are the appellations most associated with exquisite bottlings of these Burgundian varietals, though they can certainly be found at their best elsewhere in the region. Sonoma Valley’s Hanzell Vineyards–maker of one of California’s most coveted Chardonnays–is noted in The Oxford Companion to Wine as the first California winery to widely embrace the use of French oak barrels. While Chardonnay is the most-planted white grape in Sonoma, low-yielding Pinot Noir is actually edged by Cabernet Sauvignon for most abundant red. From a marketing perspective, Sonoma Cabernet suffers at the hands of Napa Cabernet’s superior brand recognition, but the best examples from Alexander Valley and elsewhere show that the wines themselves stand with America’s best. There are also fantastic and overlooked Merlots produced by Sonoma wineries that rarely have the low-acid “flabbiness” unfairly ascribed to California Merlot. Sonoma is also Northern California’s Zinfandel paradise, with Dry Creek Valley recognized as the leading source of spicy, jammy vinifications of California’s signature grape. The small, northern Rockpile AVA is also noted for great Zinfandel. In addition to wine, Sonoma county is also a craft beer destination, providing a home for famous microbreweries like Russian River Brewing Co. and Racer 5 (whose flagship IPA is appropriately named “Bear Republic”). There is no shortage of top-tier restaurants either, mostly concentrated in the towns including Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, and Sonoma itself. Scroll down to find Sonoma County’s best wineries. The “Highest Visitor Ratings” section lists Sonoma County wineries that have received visitors’ highest ratings for service, views, and wine quality. The “Highest Wine Critic Ratings” section lists the producers of Sonoma’s best wines based on awards won at international wine competitions and ratings from publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and The Wine Advocate. The “All Sonoma County Wineries” section contains a comprehensive, and continuously updated, list of Sonoma County wineries. Click “map view” to access the advanced winery search to find wineries that provide vineyard lodging, have food available to complement their wines, host vineyard weddings, or produce wines from organic grapes. We make it easy to find the best wine tour and tasting destinations in Sonoma County wine country.