by Fred McMillin
for June 19, 1998

Winery of the Week

A Sonora Soliloquy


The many Sonoras...

Sonora—A 70,000 sq. mile state in northwest Mexico, containing the 300-mile Sonora River. Wine was made there over two centuries ago as Jesuit missionaries built their chain of missions moving northward toward California.

Sonora Pass—"If California lies beyond that massive wall of mountains, we shall never be able to reach it," said John Bidwall to his wagon train companions in 1841. However, passes were found through the Sierra Nevada, including the 9,600-ft. Sonora Pass.

Sonora, the Town—Before long Sonora was a Gold Rush town in today's Tuolumne County. The miners' best wine was made from a new grape, the Zinfandel.

Sonora Winery and Port Works—The winery is created at Sonora in 1986 by Richard Matranga, winemaker, and Mike Brogan, operations manager.

The Rest of the Story

So, a Sonora winery must make Zinfandel wines. Richard uses grapes from vines 75 to 95 years old. But how successfully?

The critics use words like "heady, "rich," and "robust." In a recent S.F. Chronicle rating of Sierra Foothills' Zins, the Sonora Old Vine garnered 3 stars. None scored higher. The clincher is the results of recent World Wine Championships. A review of the last five years led the Wine Enthusiast to list Sonora among the "Great Zinfandel Producers."

What about the "Port Works" part? Richard makes his from varieties imported from Portugal...and it surely "works." E.g., in a tasting of U.S.A. ports by Smart Wine, the Sonora was "the most intensely flavored" and won the competition. That was the 1992 vintage. Vintage 1994 is now available. My tasters' sole criticism involved the production; Richard turned out only 850 delicious cases.

Just the Facts

Name—Sonora Winery & Port Works
Location—Sonora, south of the town of Angels Camp (where Mark Twain once stayed).
Founded—1986 (If they had started a bit earlier, they could have gotten a nice financial break. To encourage the wine industry, all new vineyards were exempted from taxation for four years...in 1855!)
Capacity—Under 3,000 cases a year.
Contact—Sheila Matranga, (209) 532-7678


No wonder John Bidwell was awed when he approached the Sierra Nevadas. One of the longest mountain ranges in the world (430 miles), its flora include Sequoias over 20 stories high and pine trees older than the Egyptian pyramids. (J.J.B., Wine Regions of America)

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

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