The far western reaches of Sonoma County California are isolated, rugged, and wild. With the mighty Pacific Ocean constantly imposing its will on rocky coastlines and thick fog regularly blanketing the mountainous landscape coastal Sonoma is not your typical agricultural region. The weather here is cold, with temperatures rarely exceeding 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and fierce storms and maritime winds routinely wreak havoc on everything in their wake. Merely surviving on the true Sonoma Coast can be a challenge in-and-of itself, yet in the last 30 years a few adventurous individuals have worked to shape this zone into one of the premier cool-climate winegrowing areas in the world.
On our recent visit to Sonoma we aimed to explore the producers making wine on the most extreme edges of the western Sonoma Coast. Our journey brought us first to Bodega Bay, a small fishing village hugging the ocean about 20 miles west of Santa Rosa. This quaint town is most commonly known as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's famous film "The Birds" released in 1963, and it has retained much of the classic coastal character exhibited in the film even after all these years. Along Highway 1 overlooking the bay amidst the classic houses, shops, and restaurants sits the reason we came to town - the tasting room for Sonoma Coast Vineyards.
Founded in 2001, Sonoma Coast Vineyards (SCV) was one of the first producers to attempt to make wine strictly from sites located just a few miles inland from town of Bodega Bay. While they do not own vineyards of their own, SCV sources fruit from a select group of small family-owned properties located in some of the area's best microclimates. Yields at these vineyard sites are typically miniscule due to harsh conditions, which keeps production extremely limited. Quality is the utmost focus, and each wine in their profile is crafted with the specific intent of displaying the terroir of this brilliantly difficult growing region.
We pulled up to the Sonoma Coast Vineyards tasting room for our visit on a stormy and blustery winter day. We were already soaked and soggy from trudging around vineyards earlier that morning, but thankfully for us SCV's contemporary and stylish tasting room was an excellent place to warm up and escape the weather. We quickly took a seat next to the fire and were presented with a wonderful Blanc De Noir sparkling wine to sip on while our tasting was being prepped.
First impressions are everything, and the SCV tasting room impressed us immediately. The space inside is bright, open, and inviting, boasting a single central bar and numerous glass windows letting in loads of natural light. Directly behind the tasting room building sits the bay itself, and we caught ourselves more than a few times gazing out the windows as rain poured down onto the turbulent seas. Immediately next to the primary tasting area sits a single glassed-in private tasting room containing a fireplace and comfortable seating. The entire space has a distinct friendliness and warmth to it, and even though there is not a vineyard in sight the SCV tasting room is one of the most beautiful tasting spaces we have experienced.
Our tasting that day was guided by the wonderful Tasting Room Manager Kasie. We took a seat and were presented with a series of wines showcasing the strengths of the SCV lineup. We visited through a sparkling wine, one Chardonnay, four separate Pinot Noirs, and finished with a wonderfully unique dessert wine. Kasie was kind enough to give us a background on each vineyard, complete with maps and visual aids, and even brought out a small cheese board for us to munch on during our tasting.
Each wine Kasie presented to us during our visit was terrific, and the experience itself was extremely educational. The SCV lineup boasts a number of both single vineyard wines as well as blends of fruit from multiple sites, which serves to express the strength and character of individual microclimates along with the terroir of the region as a whole. Stylistically the wines of SCV express beautifully pure fruit along with impressive restraint and balance. These wines are not dense or heavy, as some bottlings from producers in other Sonoma appellations can be, but rather they project a Burgundian weightlessness while still showcasing distinct California ripeness. These are true coastal wines sure to impress the most discerning palates.
While all of the wines we tasted were great, we were particularly impressed with the dessert wine we were presented with at the end of our tasting. It was a rare botrytis affected Chardonnay and it was absolutely phenomenal. Botrytis, also known as noble rot, is a special fungus that attacks grapes in very specific weather conditions. Wines from Sauternes and Tokaj have been made using Botrytised grapes for hundreds of years, but very few producers in California can make anything comparable. This stuff, however, was amazing. Bright Chardonnay fruit and honeyed notes led while complimented by telltale mushroomy savory sweetness. It was totally unique and totally delicious, the kind of wine that you would never expect but ended up completely adoring. We were blown away.
After sipping and chatting our visit concluded and we had to leave the warm tasting room to once again battle the elements, but we were left with a newly discovered soft spot for this little corner of California. Bodega Bay is a delightful town and we couldn't help but stop for a bowl of chowder on the way out, but for wine geeks like us the true gem here is Sonoma Coast Vineyards. The SCV team has worked tirelessly to bring the world a taste of one of California's greatest cool-climate growing zones and the intentionality with which they have executed their vision is remarkable. If you're interested in what the extreme Sonoma Coast has to offer your quest is simply not complete until you experience the wines of Sonoma Coast Vineyards. We could not recommend them any more highly.