A Timeline of Sonoma County

Sonoma County could not have become the wine region we know and love today without the pioneers that started it all. Russian colonists planted grapes on the coast of Sonoma County in 1812, and history is continually being made by innovative vintners.

1812

Russian Colonists planted grapes at Fort Ross (Sonoma Coast.)

1823

Spanish Franciscan Father Jose Altamira (Sonoma Mission) planted several thousand vines.

1834

Political upheaval brought an appropriation of all missions by the Mexican government. During this period, cuttings from Sonoma Mission vineyards were transported and planted throughout northern California.

1845

Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma; California becomes independent.

1856

Cyrus Alexander plants grapes in northern Sonoma County.

1857

The Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy “The Father of California Wine Industry” founded Buena Vista winery in Sonoma Valley.

1873

Worldwide outbreak of phylloxera destroys vineyards.

1920

There were 256 wineries. With more than 22,000 acres (8,900 ha) in production, Sonoma County had surpassed Los Angeles.

1920 - 1933

18th Amendment launches Prohibition. Home winemaking booms. 200 gallons (757 liters) per household are allowed. California produces 150 million gallons (567 million liters) of home wine. Acreage grows to over 30,000 acres (12,000 ha) in grape production.

1933

By the time Prohibition is repealed, only 160 of California’s 700 wineries remained. Less than 50 wineries in Sonoma County survive.

1933 - 1945

WWII prevented importing of French wines, which helped Sonoma County wineries to slowly build and revive; much of new production went into bulk wines.

1945 - 1955

Post war grape and wine overproduction showed things down, and pro-ration programs were instituted by the government to deal with the glut. Sonoma County pioneers worked through this to rebuild their wine and grape businesses.

Hanzell Vineyards planted the first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region between 1953 and 1954.

1960's

As the 1960s redefined so many facets of American life, the decade made its mark on the Sonoma County wine industry.  Americans developed a taste for wine and demand began to grow.

1970

A second generation of wineries are started, following a nationwide wine boom. Consumption grows at a 40% rate.

1975

Wine labels are regulated and appellations begin to be important in marketing Sonoma County’s wines. Planted acreage returns toward 1920s levels of 24,000 acres (9,700 ha.)

1976

A seminal event in bringing California wines to international consciousness, the Paris tasting pitted California wines against French offerings. Napa Valley wineries took the top prizes in both white wine (a 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay) and red wine (a 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars cabernet).

In 1976 wine lovers rarely discussed grape growing when considering wine; winery names were what mattered. This was no doubt why few knew that 20 tons (nearly half) of the chardonnay fruit for the Chateau Montelena chardonnay came from Sonoma County vineyards. Bacigalupi Vineyards provided 14 tons.

1980's

Sonoma County made the transition from being known as a producer dairy, grain and fruit crops with grapes in fourth position. By 1989 grapes were Sonoma County’s top revenue-generating agricultural crop. Technological advances in winemaking improved wines to meet the more discerning tastes of consumers.

1999

There are over 49,000 acres (19,800 ha) of vineyards owned by more than 750 growers and 180 bonded wineries in Sonoma County.

Today

Sonoma County has 17 unique AVAs and more than 60 grape varieties are planted here. It is estimated that the wine industry and related tourism contributes over $11 billion to the local economy each year, about 40% of the county’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).