10 Fascinating Facts About Sonoma

Sonoma is the sister valley to California’s Napa Valley wine region and offers some amazing wine delights in its own right. Nestled just west of Napa Valley, you may want to plan a few days just to explore this charming twin, which has always been a favorite of mine.  There are quite a few great wineries right near Sonoma Plaza, the main hub of downtown Sonoma, such as Sebastiani, and Ravenswood– or venture further into the county to visit Valley of the Moon, Lambert Bridge, or one of my faves, Dry Creek Vineyards, where I belong to the wine club and also sourced the delightful wines for my own wedding.

10 Fascinating Facts About Sonoma Every Wine Lover Should Know:

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1)    Kunde Winery has actual wine aging caves and tunnels bored deep into the hillside’s five million year-old volcanic lava flows behind the winery. According to their website, this is to ensure quality and they have more than 32,000 square feet of tunnels with a storage capacity for 5,500 barrels. Sources say they also have some fun with the Napa rivalry on their tour, leading a group “prayer” that ends with “Napa makes auto parts, Sonoma makes wine.”

2)    Tina Luster of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau pointed out that there is a Sonoma valley, town and county. The valley and town are on the eastern edge of Sonoma County, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island. They have 50-plus miles of Pacific coastline, as well as three rivers and many old-growth redwoods. The county includes Healdsburg and all of its lovely, off-the-beaten-path wineries.

3)    80% of the scenes in Bottleshock
, the movie about the wine tasting victory of a Napa Valley chardonnay over France's best whites in 1976, were actually shot in Sonoma. Many of these shots were filmed at Kunde Family Estate winery. The wine judging scene was shot in the Dunfillan Ruins on the estate, which is a very popular wine country wedding venue. And 80% of the grapes that Chateau Montelena used to make the winning chardonnay over France's best whites were actually grown in Sonoma County!

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4)    A former Air Force Pilot who served in Vietnam, Brice Cutrer Jones helped fight for small family wineries when he started a winery in Sonoma. During his days at the helm of Sonoma-Cutrer, Brice and a few friends in the industry overturned the only Federal Marketing Order in history in a lawsuit that today allows smaller family wineries to thrive and not be beholden to burdensome taxes that benefit the larger players in the industry. These days, he is founding president of Emeritus Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

5)    The Robledo Family Winery, in the Carneros region, is the first winery established in America by a Mexican migrant vineyard worker, Reynaldo Robledo.  All nine of his children are involved in the operation. Bill Ginnodo, author of "Seven Perfect Days in Northern California: A Guided Driving Tour", suggests trying the Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

6)    Sonoma is home of the northernmost and last Spanish-Mexican mission built along California’s historic El Camino Real, and the location of the Bear Flag Revolt, which transferred ownership of California from Mexico to the United States. Visitors can tour historic buildings at Sonoma State Historic Park.

7)    Sonoma Plaza is eight acres in size – the largest town plaza in California today – and was laid out by General Mariano Vallejo in 1835.

8)    For 25 days in 1846, Sonoma was capital of the independent Republic of California. Horsemen from Sacramento Valley rode into Sonoma on June 14, 1846. They stopped at General Vallejo’s headquarters, arrested the cooperative general and his men, and declared California an independent republic, without firing a shot. Using unbleached muslin and a donated red petticoat, one of the men sewed a red star on the upper left-hand corner and a red stripe along the bottom. He hand-printed “California Republic” and he drew a crude grizzly bear just above it. The Bear Flag of the Republic was hoisted at the northeast corner of Sonoma’s Plaza, proclaiming independence from Mexican rule. Today, a large natural rock, topped with a bronze figure holding aloft the Bear Flag, marks the site where the flag was first raised in the Sonoma Plaza.

9)    Sonoma’s Buena Vista Carneros Estate is known as California’s first premium winery. Buena Vista’s founder, Count Agoston Haraszthy, arrived in Sonoma County in the 1850s and planted some of the state’s first European varietals, laying the foundation for the Buena Vista Winery. He has been considered the “father of the California wine industry,” due to both his extensive knowledge of grape varieties and his worldwide travels, during which he spread the word of California’s winemaking potential. (While exploring rum interests in Nicaragua, legend has it that Count Haraszthy perished crossing a crocodile-infested river.)

10)    Sonoma is home to the world-famous Sonoma Mission Inn. This gorgeous getaway has its own source of thermal mineral water and an award-winning restaurant called Sante. They offer spa treatments, massages and a host of other indulgences.