There is no doubt that California wines are lauded worldwide and has put US winemaking on the map, but who is responsible? There are two regions that have contributed immensely; Sonoma and Napa. The latter has received most of the recognition; however its westerly neighbor clearly produces extremely high-quality wine that rivals Napa. Sonoma has burst onto the fine wine scene within recent years and her wines are gaining their rightful recognition. Both regions produce spectacular products worthy of much praise from wine aficionados and critiques alike. Both boast producers and growing areas that are known worldwide, but will Sonoma ever surpass her neighbor? Could Napa ever become runner-up with Sonoma being crowned the monarch of California wines?
In terms of quality, Sonoma has most definitely caught up to Napa; however the question remains whether Napa can be toppled. As a matter of criteria, I would like to discuss keys to current success, geographic and climatic conditions, varietals, brands, the market, and naturally enough, the future. My hope is that these criteria will enable one to judge if Sonoma can surpass Napa. Now let us explore the question together…
To begin, let me give an analogy that will help explain the success of these two regions. Napa has and can be compared to Bordeaux, while Sonoma has and can be compared to Burgundy. Although, not perfect, I believe this analogy will shed some light on the matter. Napa success was founded, by and large, on outside capital, those who made their profits elsewhere and established wineries with their bank accounts; it has a brand attitude towards wine where the wine estate rules the day, much like the Chateau-system rules in Bordeaux. The region is about image. Napa has effectively used outside capital to create a number of quality luxury products that will ensure that she will succeed in the future because her products are some of the most sought after on the wine market. In this matter, she can almost do no wrong, however it must be noted that her image of wealth and luxury is a turnoff to some, but ultimately, the products still speak for themselves and the region. These have been some of the keys to Napa’s success.
Conversely, Sonoma success is dependent on two main axioms. First, its plurality of climatic and geographic conditions that allow for a number of different varietals to grow successfully throughout the county, in addition to the attitude of its winemakers. Secondly, Sonoma boasts an agricultural attitude much like that of Burgundy. Its producers feel a closeness to the land, leaving one with the impression that location does matter and that wine is not simply a luxury, but the product of “blood, sweat, and tears,” resulting in a wine that reflects both the land and the winemaker. Simply put, Sonoma is more down to earth. Its winemakers desire to make the best product they can paying careful attention to what varietal is most well-suited for a certain geographic location. This attitude has contributed to Sonoma’s success and will assure that the region continues to remain successful.