The Sonoma Coast American Viticulture Area (known as an AVA or appellation) may be Sonoma County's most enigmatic wine region. From the wild, wind-swept northern coast to the gently rolling hills of the southern dairy land, it spans the county. Some of California's highest scoring and most coveted cool-climate style wines are grown in the Sonoma Coast AVA. It includes about 2,000 vineyard acres, and fewer than 10 wineries (not counting wineries that belong to overlapping appellations such as the Russian River Valley). Burgundian varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay star in this cool-climate appellation. Syrah is an exciting runner-up. Varietals grown within the crossover appellations are rarely labelled as Sonoma Coast.
Direct, daily influence from the Pacific Ocean defines the appellation. In the northern reach, vineyards are planted high on ridges just a few miles inland. Many lie above the fog that moves in to blanket lower elevations in the afternoon. The heart of the AVA includes the Freestone area, a sheltered, pastoral valley where hillside vineyards bask in sun when it breaks through the fog. In the south, vines in adobe soils grow to the edge of salt mashes bordering San Pablo Bay. And within the Sonoma Coast AVA lies the wind- and fog-influenced Petaluma Gap area, named after a coastal mountain opening that allows winds from the Pacific to breeze through the town of Petaluma and then roar south to San Pablo Bay. Wineries here are represented by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, and the Petaluma Gap got its own AVA designation in December 2017. And the West Sonoma Coast Vintners association represents more than two dozen wineries and growers who are passionate about farming along the mountainous coastline of western Sonoma County. Arguing that they create wines that evoke the complexity of the region — wines expressive of their unique community — they are working to establish an official West Sonoma Coast AVA destination.