About Sonoma Valley
This area of California is best for anyone who already knows their chenin blanc from their pinot noir, and who might well find the popular wineries of the more famous Napa Valley to be less enticing than the smaller, more specialized concerns which dot the Sonoma Valley, immediately west. In fact, it is a painless procedure to cover the best places to visit in both the Sonoma and the Napa Valley. Alternatively, it can be joined from Santa Rosa and also makes an effortless excursion from San Francisco.
The aim is to have a short but pleasurable trip, combining the sampling of some interesting wines with the rural allure of a pair of expansive state parks and the former hillside ranch of writer Jack London, who fell in love with the Sonoma Valley during the early 1900s.
Don’t forget to detour to the state’s oldest commercial winery. California’s first wine was produced by its Spanish missions for sacramental use, using vine cuttings shipped from Europe. Although history records the mission wines as unfit for anything other than religious purposes, the news of the region’s wine-friendly climate and soils spread, and many European vintners began migrating to the American west in the mid-19thC. One of the earliest among them was a Hungarian, Agoston Haraszthy, who opened a winery just outside the town of Sonoma in 1857 and is nowadays remembered as the “father” of Californian viniculture.
Small, green and instantly likeable, Sonoma is the perfect base for touring the valley. A lovely town to get to know during a few hours’ stroll, Sonoma boasts the largest Mexican-era plaza in California and has an impressive historical pedigree. The town holds the state’s most northerly Spanish mission and was where California briefly became an independent republic during the mid-1800s, prior to becoming a U.S. possession.
Travelling north from Sonoma on Hwy-12 brings you to the hamlets of Kenwood and Glen Ellen crouching on wooded hillsides, each with their share of wineries and each providing access to the woodlands and scrub-covered ridges which wall the valley.
Although infrequent local Sonoma County buses (http://sctransit.com) serve the valley, running between Sonoma and Santa Rosa and stopping at most towns along their Hwy-12 route. Golden Gate Transit (http://www.goldengatetransit.org) has a limited service between the Sonoma Valley towns and San Francisco, mostly aimed at commuters.