The rugged stretch of land that runs along Sonoma County's coast inspires grand passions. From the pocket coves of Bodega Bay and windswept bluffs of Sea Ranch to inland pine-covered peaks and ocean-carved sea stacks, the area is marked by layers of fog, gulls, sweetgrass, and wildness.
It's a place where you can tidepool for hours in precious solitude or ride thrilling, frigid waves; a place where delicious wine and cheese are made carefully, lovingly, by hand. The people who live here are all, in some fundamental way, dreamers, and as they carve out a living, they ― winemakers, farmers, foragers, surfers, innkeepers, chefs ― are wildly enthusiastic about the place that they call home.
Though the coast lies only 30 miles west of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County's largest city, it's hard to cross the Coast Range to reach the crazy helix of State 1 here. Roads twist in on themselves and rise only to drop. I have to wind around ridge after ridge, descend into pocket valleys, then make my way out of them again, as if I'm a bug trying to cross some massive granite rose in bloom.
This is what has protected the area's distinctiveness, as it fosters what could be called zealotry. Outside the tiny town of Annapolis, up in the hills, vintners and brothers Nick and Andy Peay launch into the difficulties of growing grapes on a former sheep ranch and apple farm as soon as I step out of the car. Their wood house, more than 100 years old, sits atop a knoll overlooking lines of grapevines, and its isolated location and the brothers' flurry of words makes me wonder when they last had visitors. They describe fog belts, soils, and "cool-climate viticulture" ― overwhelming me with thousands of words before I can stammer out a sentence.