Sonoma County, next door to Napa Valley and about 35 miles north of San Francisco, is America's most exciting Chardonnay region. It also happens to be the most sprawling. Unlike smaller, more manicured Napa, Sonoma is a dramatic Rhode-Island-and-a-half of craggy ocean cliffs, TV-Western ranchland and shadowy redwood forests. Chardonnay vineyards are found all over this far-flung landscape, and they produce a wildly diverse group of wines. In Sonoma, you'll find everything from the creamy, buttery Chardonnays to the bright, lively, fruit-forward types and the big, blockbuster wines. (You'll also find good restaurants, luxurious hotels and a wealth of wine- and non-wine-related activities--as noted below.)
Sonoma Valley and Carneros
Sonoma and Napa begin at exactly the same place--above San Pablo Bay, the northernmost reach of San Francisco Bay, in an area named Los Carneros after the sheep that once grazed there. A region of gently rolling hills cooled by the bay's fogs and breezes, Carneros has a sometimes iffy climate that's perfect for Chardonnay, which ripens most evenly where conditions are challenging.