By: Nan McCreary
Wines from Sonoma County, California will be featured at several Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ events including the 2021 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition. The competition, one of the largest in the country, will be held Nov. 5-8, 2020.
Sonoma County, located in Northern California, is one of the state’s largest producers of wine grapes. With over 425 wineries, and an international reputation for world-class wines, Sonoma County is a global travel destination. The county attracts millions of visitors every year. Wineries range from small, family-run operations to international champagne houses.
Sonoma County has a long and storied history: In 1812, Russian fur trappers established an outpost at Fort Ross in northern Sonoma County and planted grapes from Peruvian vine cuttings. In 1823, the Spanish Franciscan priests laid the foundation for the wine industry when Padre Jose Altimira planted several thousand grapevines at their northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the mission, assigning General Mariano Vallejo, the military governor of Mexican California, to oversee its closing and the founding of the town of Sonoma. Vallejo continued to cultivate the vineyards, producing about 540 gallons of wine a year, and providing an annual income of $20,000.
By the time of the “Bear Flag Revolt” (1846) and subsequent annexation of California by the United States, settlers were planting grapes throughout Sonoma County. These included trapper Cyrus Alexander, who first planted grapes in what would become Alexander Valley, and the county’s first “feminine vineyardist,” Senora Maria de Carrillo, who planted 2,000 vines in what is today Santa Rosa.
A key player in Sonoma’s history was an American/Hungarian named Agoston Haraszthy, who arrived in Sonoma Valley in 1855 and purchased the Salvador Vallejo Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. He renamed it Buena Vista and was soon producing fine wines, earning Buena Vista accolades as California’s first premium wine estate. Because of his pioneering spirit and his innovative techniques in winemaking, Haraszthy is often referred to as “the father of the California wine industry.” In 1861, he traveled to Europe to study viticulture and returned with more than 100,000 cuttings of premium grape varietals France, Italy and Spain. It was Haraszthy who first promoted the concept that fine table wines could be produced in Sonoma County as well as in Europe.
After early success, Sonoma County was devastated by Prohibition and phylloxera insects. But like its neighbor, Napa Valley, it slowly rebuilt to become a key player in the nationwide wine boom of the 1960s and 1970s. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Sonoma County has plantings of more than 60 grape varieties in 18 unique American Viticultural Areas (AVAs or appellations), each with unique soils and climates that allow certain grape varieties to grow particularly well.
While the county produces multiple varieties of wine grapes, six varieties comprise nearly 94 percent of the wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Among the lesser-known varietals planted here are Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Viognier.
Sonoma’s success can be attributed to its wide variety of climate and soil conditions, known as terroir. The climate is ideal for grape-growing, with long, dry, sunny and warm summer days offset by cool nights, ocean breezes and fogs. These temperature swings between day and night give grapes time to ripen and then rest, preserving acidity and complexity in the wine. Sonoma also has a wide range of soils, ranging from rich and loamy to volcanic/rocky and well-drained. It has been said that Sonoma County has more soil types than France.
With wines from Sonoma County as the featured region for the 2021 International Wine Competition, Rodeo Uncorked! fans will have several opportunities to enjoy a unique selection of delicious wines created by innovative winemakers at several Rodeo Uncorked! events.
Winning wines from Sonoma County, along with other winning varieties from the competition, will be served during the Roundup & Best Bites Competition, Feb. 21, the Champion Wine Auction & Dinner, February 28, and in the Champion Wine Garden daily during the Rodeo, which runs from March 2-21. To learn more about our events, visit the Rodeo Uncorked! Facebook group page.