Sonoma County’s considerable number of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) reflects its wide variety of climates and soil conditions. Although Sonoma is traditionally associated with cooler climate varietals — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, for example — there are several warmer AVAs that produce some of the most complex and delicious Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. Still, consumer recognition has yet to catch up.
Recently, while at a restaurant in Healdsburg, I asked our server his opinion on Sonoma Cabernets. His response was surprising, saying that “Napa has better terroir for Cabernets and Sonoma should stick to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.” I was shocked; I thought this was an outdated way of thinking and that there was widespread acknowledgement of the quality of Sonoma Cabs.
Historically, Napa paved the way for the California wine industry because it proved that the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignons could compete with the first growth Chateaux in Bordeaux. The fact that California Cabs could stand up to well-established French wines was a great thing for the California wine industry back then. However, it has been a long time since Napa proved itself, and times have changed. It’s now important to recognize that Cabernet Sauvignon has evolved in Sonoma, and producers are making highly acclaimed wines. In fact, the first red wine from Sonoma County to ever receive a 100 point score from Robert Parker was a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a Pinot Noir.
I interviewed our Kendall Jackson red winemaker Matt Smith to get his take on Sonoma County Cabernets
“Sonoma County has areas that can grow really great Cabernet. You see higher temperatures at elevation, so mountain AVAs are warmer than other valley AVAs,” said Smith. “There are definitely sites in Sonoma that rival Napa. Producers of high end Napa Cabs have moved towards a ripe jammy-style. I prefer the subtle but more elegant and savory characteristics you get from Sonoma Cabs.”
Our Jackson Hills Cabernet Sauvignon is our appellation specific Cabernet that uses 100% Knights Valley grapes. Sonoma County Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignons tend to exhibit characteristics of blackberry, spice and cocoa, which make the wine round and densely concentrated yet still elegant.
Some people are hesitant to change, yet it can often be rewarding. I believe that wine enthusiasts and the rest of the world will soon realize that Sonoma County is also a source of phenomenal Cabernet Sauvignons.