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Of all California’s wine regions, Sonoma may be the easiest to fall in love with. Visit this laid-back land of vineyard-rich valleys, from Sonoma to Dry Creek to Alexander, with the Russian River thrown in

The Sonoma Coast spell

The rough beauty of this Northern California shore inspires grand passions and true reverence

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  • Peay Vineyards is nestled in the hills above the tiny town of Annapolis.

    Sonoma shoreline

    David Fenton

    Click to Enlarge

The Peays searched for years for the perfect location and deemed it this spot 10 years ago, on land others had called too foggy for grapes. "Some might say, 'You fools, what are you doing?' But there's a greater reward for the greater risk," says Nick.

The brothers' energy explains how they've been able to handle the challenges. Winemaker Vanessa Wong, also Nick's wife, uses the long season to craft nuanced Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons, and even Syrahs that have, like many Sonoma Coast labels, developed a cult following. One sip of their minerally, superbly elegant wine and I agree about the rewards. In that instant, I vow to start buying lottery tickets so that with my jackpot I can drink this wine every night, because that's now my definition of true luxury.

I have, you could say, caught the Sonoma Coast fervor.

Why does everything taste so good here? For cheesemaker Liam Callahan of Bellwether Farms, down south in the Petaluma Gap, the answer's pretty simple: happy sheep. "The climate is very, very mild," he explains as he stirs his San Andreas cheese by hand. "We're so close to the ocean. The sheep are not stressed. The more comfortable they are, the better the milk."

Callahan's parents bought a vacation home here years ago, then purchased a few sheep to keep the grass trim. One thing led to another, and the family ― none of them experienced farmers, the children at the time avowed city kids ― found themselves raising sheep and making cheese. The Callahans have learned a lot since then, but because they started with such sweet, mild milk, their cheese developed devoted fans right from the start ― including their very first customer (and still one to this day), the famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse.

 

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