The Russian River Valley is located in the heart of Sonoma County. The AVA measures approximately 198 square miles and includes more than 200 growers and over 80 wineries. The Russian River Valley AVA is one of 13 American Viticultural Areas contained within the boundary of Sonoma County, which is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by Mendocino County and the south by Marin County.
Viticulture in the Russian River region dates back to the 19th century when immigrants from Mediterranean countries descended upon the region and began planting vines. While most vineyards were "gardens" for personal family consumption, commercial wineries sprung up and by the dawn of the 20th century there were nearly 200 wineries operating.
In 1983, the region was approved for AVA status. Over time the region began to develop a reputation for the quality of its Chardonnay and Pinot noir for both still and sparkling wine production. In the late 1990s and early 21st century, as the popularity for Pinot noir grew, the region saw an explosion of investment with Pinot plantings jumping from 4,000 acres (1,600 ha) to over 12,000 acres (4,900 ha) by 2003.
According to the trade group Russian River Valley Winegrowers, 42 percent of the grapes harvested in the region are chardonnay, while 29 percent are pinot noir. While the region is predominately associated with Chardonnay and Pinot noir, hillside vineyard locations have shown success with other varieties such as Syrah and Zinfandel. Within the AVA there are several microclimates that allow for suitable plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In warmer areas of Chalk Hill there have been successful plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon. Even for these non-Burgundian varietals, the nature of the Russian River Valley's cool climate can be seen in the wine. For example, Russian River Merlots tend to have distinctive tea-like note and Zinfandels tend to exhibit more tart red fruit than Zinfandels from the warmer Dry Creek AVA. While Sauvignon Blanc from the region tend to be slightly less “grassy” they still tend to exhibit herbal and citrus lime aroma. Despite its close proximity, the Russian River AVA produces Chardonnays that are dramatically different than those found in the Alexander Valley AVA. The region's cool climate produces more grapes with higher acidity that tend to be more balanced than the fatter, creamy style found in the Alexander Valley. Grapes from the Russian River and smaller Green Valley areas have been prized by sparkling wine producers for their crispness and high quality.
As of 2008, the Russian River Valley accounted for nearly 19% of all the Pinot noir plantings in California and 10% of all grape varieties planted in Sonoma County. The style of Pinot noir produced from these techniques tend to be heavier, fuller bodied and almost "Syrah-like".
+Information courtesy of Russian River Valley Wine Growers and additional sources.
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