Sonoma is the southwestern county of California’s Wine Country region, which also includes Napa, Mendocino, and Lake counties. It has thirteen approved American Viticulture Areas and over 250 wineries. In 2002 Sonoma County ranked as the thirty-second county in the United States in agricultural production. As early as 1920 Sonoma County was ranked as the eighth most agriculturally productive U.S county and a leading producer of poultry products, hops, grapes, prunes, apples, and dairy products, largely due to the abundance of high quality irrigation water. More than 7.4 million tourists visit each year, spending more than $1 billion in 2006. Sonoma County is the home of Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College.
Sonoma County was once home to several Native American tribes ; by 1850, European settlement had set a new direction that would prove to radically alter the course of land use and resource management of this region. As of 2007, Sonoma County has rich agricultural land, albeit now largely divided between two nearly monocultural uses: grapes and pasturage. The voters have twice approved open space initiatives that have provided funding for public acquisition of natural areas, preserving forested areas, coastal habitat, and other open space.
Winemaking, both the growing of the grapes and their venting, is an important part of the economic and cultural life of Sonoma County. In 2004, growers harvested 165,783 tons of wine grapes worth US$310 million. In 2006 the Sonoma County grape harvest amounted to over 185,000 tons, exceeding Napa County’s harvest by over 30 percent. About 80 percent of non-pasture agricultural land in the county is for growing wine grapes—59,973 acres of vineyards, with over 1100 growers. The most common varieties planted are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, though the area is also known for its Merlot and Zinfandel.
Sonoma County is home to more than 250 wineries with eleven distinct and two shared American Viticultural Areas, including the Sonoma Valley AVA, Russian River Valley AVA, Alexander Valley AVA, Bennett Valley AVA and Dry Creek Valley AVA, the last of which is known for the production of high-quality zinfandels.
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