We explore the diverse pinot noir and dreamlike scenery of Sonoma, where warm hospitality and relaxed Californian charm flow as freely as the wines.

Given its million-plus acres and 18 designated AVAs, trying to ‘do’ Sonoma wine country in a single weekend would be a stretch for most. Undeterred, the Pinot Palooza team recently took the challenge and bolted up Highway 101 from San Francisco to experience some of Sonoma’s finest pinot in situ.

And what a trip it was. Along with tasting some incredible wines we got to experience the region’s hospitable locals and famed coastal fog, which rolls in and out as if the place is breathing. We met plenty of land-loving grapegrowers and winemakers, and visited some of the coolest tasting rooms (aka cellar doors) we’ve seen in a long time.

Sonoma is basically three wine districts in one (north, south and central), each containing a mix of different microclimates and more soil variety than all of western Europe. What does all this mean? It means you might find an elegantly spicy pinot in the rolling hills of Carneros, sip a lush dark-fruited version beneath the majestic redwoods in the Russian River Valley, then discover an ultra-crisp example on the cooler-than-Burgundy west coast. There’s a huge amount of diversity in the region, and after tastings at Littorai Wines and Peay Vineyards, among others, it’s no surprise that the mountainous west coast was formally proposed for its own AVA status (distinct from the massive Sonoma Coast appellation) at the end of 2018.

Not content with cranking out dependably delicious pinot among the dairy farms, state forests, apple orchards and charming small towns of their picturesque county, Sonoma’s 430-plus vintners have committed to making theirs the world’s first 100 per cent sustainable winegrowing region. This isn’t surprising once you meet the locals, whose laidback earthiness and respect for the land is evident across the board. We also love that most wineries remain family-owned in this place where White Fang author Jack London pioneered organic farming methods in the early 1900s.

Starting out at The Donum Estate, with a jaunt through its epic outdoor sculpture collection – which features works from the likes of Ai Weiwei and Tracey Emin – is a great way to kick off a journey that will feature more terroir-expressive bottlings than you can shake a vine cane at. Time spent at the handsome home of new-wave pinot pushers Scribe Winery is beautifully balanced out with a visit to the home of minimal intervention winemaking legend Ted Lemon (Littorai) and the Russian River Valley-defining Williams Selyem.

The proximity of these guys means that a tasting at Red Car Wine Co (including some cracking rosé) makes perfect sense when you back it up with a visit to their neighbour Dutton Goldfield next door, where you can taste up to a dozen distinct pinots including lively options from the forever-foggy Green Valley. For your Oregon-style pinot fix look to Anthill Farms Winery, and when you’re ready to eat, head to Healdsburg, the foodie capital of the county. Still want to try more of the region’s stellar wines? Cap it all off with some deep-as-the-Pacific pinots at Peay Vineyards.

Sonoma is the kind of place that will draw you in with its easy Californian charm and hold you under with its bevy of incredibly expressive and beguiling pinot noir. Take our word for it though, and don’t rush – leave your big-city worries behind and just go with the flow.