Russian River Valley
While some are familiar with the intricate flavor profile of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, most are unaware of the grandeur and distinction these wines can achieve in Russian River Valley. Russian River Valley is an idyllic growing region along the northwest coastal fringes of Sonoma County. Its proximity to the Pacific Ocean favors a fog-laden grape growing region with redwood forests set as a backdrop. Wines from Russian River Valley are some of the most enchanting of all Pinot Noir because of their seductive aromatics and flavor profile. They have captivating brown and baking spice aromas intermixed with violets and fresh cut roses. They are framed with supple tannins and complex mineral textures with some having hints of dark cocoa and espresso.
Native Americans were among the first to populate areas along the shores of the Russian River until the arrival of the California Gold Rush. Russian River Valley acquired its name from the Russian fur traders that sought refuge and developed an agricultural footprint in the cool coastal reaches of Fort Ross in the 18th century. These fur traders were the first to cultivate grapes in Sonoma County. Logging was one of the leading industries as the river provided a passage for transporting lumber to the mills downstream. European immigrants followed, transforming grain fields and apple orchards into expansive vineyards. Russian River Valley became a sanctuary of multigenerational families who employed toughness and grit to reshape the landscape, blending winemaking and grape growing into the natural beauty. In the 1960’s a transformation in winemaking took place as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were introduced into this terrain.
Climate is etched by the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean that navigates its route into the valley through a split in the mountain ranges, referred to as the Petaluma Gap. The growing season is slowed by heavy fog that creeps its way through the valley, migrating northward at night. In some regions, this maritime influence will cause temperatures to drop by 40 degrees. This downward shift allows Russian River Valley grapes to ripen slowly, retaining their freshness and natural acidity.
There are more variations of soils in Russian River Valley than France. The shifting of tectonic plates over millions of years and volcanic activity in the Mayacamas Mountains created a soil mixture of alluvial, sandstone and sedimentary deposits. Some of the most cherished soils are those of well-drained loamy sandstone referred to as Goldridge.
To better understand the wines of Russian River Valley, they have been grouped into six neighborhoods: Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge, Santa Rosa Plains, Sebastopol Hills, Green Valley, and Eastern Hills. Under the neighborhoods’ initiative, UC Davis in California has done an analysis of soils, sites and climate from each neighborhood. Similar to a fingerprint analysis, they have determined that scientifically “Neighborhoods of Russian River Valley are unique from any other growing region in the world and that they are statistically distinctive between each other.” Also, winemaking does not alter this continuity. The neighborhood accurately defines the sensory characteristics that originate from individual soils and microclimates. Each of these sub-regions has a personalized style and unique signature. Many wineries have vineyards in several neighborhoods.