Food and drink 

Sonoma County - tThe Price is Right

Sonoma County wine producers are heading back to Vancouver next month battered but not beaten. Like most fine producing regions, California's North Coast has struggled during the current recession, especially at home in the United States, where selling any wine over $20 has become a badge of honour.

The push back is good news for California wine lovers who are enjoying prices they could only dream about even a few years ago. In B.C., where wine has become a major source of tax revenue for the government, prices are not falling as dramatically but they are better than they were. It's hardly a fire sale but even small reductions are noticed in a market where the cost of wine is frankly embarrassing.

I guess what I'm saying is now is as good time as ever to check out Sonoma County wines.

Sonoma owes most of its quality and refinement to its geographical position alongside California's cool Pacific coast and the magical fog dance that blankets its vineyards most summer days.

Today some 60,000 acres of grapes, 1,800 wine grape growers and 350 wineries spread across a diverse collection of sites and soils, almost all of which are touched by early- or mid-morning fog banks drawn across the county via the Petaluma Gap in the south and up the Russian River in the north.

The fog literally and figuratively blankets the vineyards, protecting them from excessive exposure to heat and sunlight. The cool mornings and evenings are the perfect antidote to warm afternoons because it allows the grapes to retain vital amounts of acid that keeps the resulting wine fresh and balanced.

The combination of cool mornings, warm days and a multitude of terroirs have allowed Sonoma County to earmark 13 individual approved viticultural areas or AVAS and grow an astounding 60 different grape varieties. In preparation for their arrival next month I thought I would take you on a quick tour of modern day Sonoma followed by some specific picks currently sold in British Columbia.

Sparkling wine is a Sonoma specialty and most are made with chardonnay and pinot noir. The grapes are picked early, often in August, from the coolest regions of Marin, Green Valley, Sonoma Coast and Carneros. The best represent fine value in sparkling wine.

Under transition is Sonoma sauvignon blanc going from soft and overripe to dry and crisp with the best sites planted in Russian River Valley, Chalk Hill and Knights Valley. Some are showing up under screw caps, an almost radical leap of faith for old fashioned California wine producers. Needless to say we welcome anything we can get under screw cap.

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