Fine Spot for Pinot: Visit Sonoma’s Newest Wine Appellation in Petaluma

Petaluma Gap is Sonoma County's 18th wine appellation and a destination for Pinot lovers.

This past November, the federal government recognized the Petaluma Gap as the newest American Viticultural Area (AVA), giving Sonoma County its 18th such wine appellation and providing another reminder or its vast diversity of grape growing throughout the region.

The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s ruling allows wineries that use grapes from the area to put the “Petaluma Gap” designation on their bottle labels in an effort to differentiate themselves in the competitive $34 billion marketplace for California wines.

The Gap covers 4,000 acres of vineyards in an overall 200,000-acre region in southern Sonoma County and northern Marin County. About 75 percent of the acreage is planted to Pinot Noir, which is the most expensive wine grape in the county. The rest is mostly composed of Chardonnay and Syrah.

Much of the new AVA is already covered under the enormous Sonoma Coast appellation, but Petaluma Gap proponents noted their area was different because of the afternoon wind and fog that come from Bodega Bay and pass through the hills and into San Pablo Bay, cooling the fruit and allowing a longer hang time to give it more flavor.

“It (the wind) helps cool down the grape and slow down the ripening,” says Rickey Trombetta, who chairs the Petaluma Winegrowers Alliance and is owner of Trombetta Family Wines in Forestville, which sources grapes from the area. “When the wine is part of a meal, it doesn’t overshadow and it doesn’t disappear.”

The region already has some advantages, especially its winegrowers alliance, which was founded in 2005. In addition, notable vintners such as David Ramey and Ana Keller source fruit from Petaluma Gap, and Bill Price’s Gap’s Crown vineyard has received tremendous accolades for the Pinot Noir grapes it produces for such wineries as Sebastopol’s Kosta Browne and Sonoma’s Walt Wines.