Edgy and Dramatic, West Sonoma Coast Gets Its Own AVA
BY LAURIE JO MILLER FARR | PHOTOS COURTESY OF SONOMA COUNTY TOURISM
Following a decade-long conversation, all eyes turned to a beautiful and remote place when California’s newest AVA, West Sonoma Coast Vintners, was finally established in May 2022. One of the goals of Sonoma County’s nineteenth AVA is to “define the West Sonoma Coast and differentiate its wines from those grown in other viticultural regions.” – westsonomacoast.com
There’s nowhere else like West Sonoma Coast; it’s dramatic and edgy; it’s balanced on a famous tectonic plate. A long and slender region of 76 miles stretches from east of the Pacific to south of the Mendocino County border, north of Petaluma Gap, and west of the Russian River. Characterized by a jagged coastline, cool maritime breezes, creeping fog, and steep ridges along the San Andreas Fault, farming is challenging.
Nevertheless, stewards of this dramatic land assure that the wine is worth the effort. Due to its proximity to the ocean, these grapevines produce fine wines with complexity and fresh coastal minerality.
Some wineries are located within the newly created West Sonoma Coast AVA, others have vineyards, and others own or lease a vineyard in the region. Among the appellation’s 29 members are highly acclaimed vintners such as Hirsch, Failla, Flowers, Littorai, and Joseph Phelps, as well as boutique wineries focused on cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. “The West Sonoma Coast AVA creates distinctive wines showcasing a mesmerizing sense of place in the glass,” said Jamie Kutch of Kutch Wines, who works with several sites in the region.
Wineries to Visit
Some of the highly respected brands sourcing grapes within the new AVA host tastings at more accessible locations, such as Healdsburg and Sebastopol. However, nothing beats wine tasting where the grapevines grow, so check out a few of the member vintners and others pouring within the AVA itself.
Five miles inland from the coastal Sea Ranch community in tiny Annapolis (population: 200), Alma Fria tastings are led by winemaker Carroll Kemp, an early advocate for the West Sonoma Coast AVA. // www.almafria.com
Peay Vineyards hosts visitors in a tasting room beside the majestic coastal vineyard in Annapolis. Six varietals are grown on the 53-acre hilltop vineyard in the far northwestern corner of the AVA, four miles from the Pacific Ocean. // www.peayvineyards.com
Above the fog, take a seat at this stunning, rustic spot overlooking the Pacific at Fort Ross Vineyard Tasting Room in Jenner. Four estate-grown wines are accompanied by small bites. Open by appointment, Friday through Tuesday. // www.fortrossvineyard.com
It’s all about Burgundian-style Pinot Noir at a project focused on unique sites on the headlands near Bodega in the Freestone-Occidental area. Steve Kistler founded Occidental Wines as a small family brand in 2011, operating from a newly built state-of-the-art winery overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Guests may request a visit via the mailing list. // www.occidentalwines.com
Walk-ins are welcome; no appointment is required at Bohème Wines Cellar Door Tasting Room on Main Street in Occidental. Stop in on Thursday through Sunday, between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. for exceptional wines that are locally sourced. // www.bohemewines.com
Binoculars, Kites, and Hiking Shoes
Cetaceans like hanging out in West Sonoma, too. During their January through May northbound migration, Whale Watch Public Education Program volunteers share their knowledge at Bodega Head, a prime observation point. Check out more locations to whale watching along the West Sonoma Coast at Gualala Point Regional Park, public access trails at The Sea Ranch, Stillwater Cove Regional Park, Fort Ross State Historic Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve, and Salt Point State Park, where the Pygmy Forest is a not-to-miss curiosity.
For dramatic Pacific views and a breeze off the ocean, it’s hard to beat West Sonoma.It’s no coincidence that there are two kite shops in Bodega Bay — Second Wind and Candy & Kites. Let them fly at Doran Regional Park, 127 acres between Bodega Harbor and Bodega Bay, for picnics, walks on the beach, and watching surfers brave the cold water. Day-use parking is $7. // www.parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov
Walk the driftwood-strewn beach at Jenner, where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Up in the Jenner Headlands, Sea to Sky Trail is a moderate hike of 4.4 miles out and back.
Where to Eat
In Bodega Bay, The Birds Café reflects the venue for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller with movie memorabilia lining the walls. The casual spot serves Sonoma wines to accompany fish tacos, oysters, clam chowder, and fish & chips and has a patio and porch overlooking the water. // www.thebirdscafe.com
Also in Bodega Bay, Michelin-starred Terrapin Creek Café is a must-do stop for gourmands and seafood lovers. Enjoy immaculate white cloth service, and as a bonus, there’s a cozy fireplace and a chance of spotting migrating whales offshore. // www.terrapincreekcafe.com
Halfway between Bodega and Occidental, warm up over breakfast at Freestone Artisan Cheese or stop in for picnic basket lunch goodies. Among the house wines on the shelves, find a vineyard-designated Chardonnay from Freeman Vineyards, a member of the new AVA. // www.freestoneartisancheese.com
Oysters and a glass of wine can be synchronized with the sunset on the patio at River’s End Inn & Restaurant in Jenner. Stay for dinner or stay for longer in one of the cozy cabins, a digital detox destination. // www.ilovesunsets.com
Teak rocking chairs by the fire pit and an infinity-edge hot tub facing the bay are just a couple of reasons why The Lodge at Bodega Bay earns top marks from loyal guests. Explore eight acres perched on a Pacific bluff, dine at Drakes, and relax in an in-room Jacuzzi. Amenities include a heated pool, a signature spa, and fitness center at this 295-room retreat. // www.LodgeatBodegaBay.com
Describing themselves as “One part modern hippie and two parts rustic modern,” Timber Cove Resort in Jenner presides over yet another craggy Pacific bluff. There’s live music on Wednesday; local wineries pour for guests on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Coast Kitchen serves indoors and outdoors. // www.timberccoveresort.com
Casual elegance are keywords at The Stavrand, a newly renovated 1920s-style landmark in Guerneville, where the six-acre orchard, redwood setting, outdoor pool, and Dining Room have been grabbing attention. // www.thestavrand.com
Given the drive time, the newly renovated guest rooms at The Sea Ranch Lodge are good news. Accommodation at the 53-acre resort is available from summer 2023. Meanwhile, there’s food and drink in The Café, The Bar + Lounge, and The Dining Room (open for dinner Thursday through Monday). Black Point Beach is just north of the property, one of five public beaches. // www.thesearanchlodge.com