Sonoma County is comprised of luxury resorts, fine restaurants, major highways, small towns, pastures, country inns, back roads, as well as, the ubiquitous idyllic vineyards. All of this is just over the Golden Gate Bridge, a short 45 miles from San Francisco. The number one grape varietal that you will find planted in Sonoma County is Chardonnay.
Within Sonoma County is the Russian River Valley. What in the world can Russians have to do with California wine country you ask? Well, the Russians were the first non-natives to settle in Sonoma County at Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841. They are credited for the first vineyard plantings in Sonoma County, but the type of grapes they planted is not known. Official status of the Russian River Valley as an American Viticulture Area came in 1983.
The Russian River Valley has approximately 15,000 acres of vines planted within its 169,000 acres of land. There are over 200 grape growers and 70 wineries in this AVA fraction of Sonoma County. In general, it is considered to be one of the finest areas in California to grow grapes.
Among wine aficionados, the Russian River Valley is one of the pinnacle for Pinot Noirs. The area is known for making rich and flavorful, world-class Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir may garner the most attention, the number one planted grape, by over a thousand acres, is still Chardonnay. All other grape varieties in the Russian River Valley are significantly smaller in the number of planted acres. So, at the end of the day, one could say the Russian River Valley is all about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Why does the Russian River Valley grow great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? One of the many reasons is the fog. Every day the fog is drawn in from the Pacific Ocean and can decrease the air temperature by as much as 40 degrees. This creates a cooler growing temperature that high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes require and gives the wines a touch more natural acidity for balance and complexity. Try Sonoma-Cutrer’s single vineyard Chardonnay, The Cutrer, and their Russian River Valley Pinot Noir for two wines that exemplify the exceptional quality of fruit grown in the Russian River Valley.
About the Author
A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier.