For years, all that anyone ever talked about when it came to Californian wines was Napa Valley and Sonoma. In the western portion of Sonoma County though, the Russian River Valley stands proud among the distinguished offerings from the region. It’s not that it’s new, but rather, it lived in the shadow of Napa Valley.
Yet, the Russian River Valley (RRV) received its AVA just 2 years after Napa Valley. As wine becomes a bigger part of culture overall, the dare-to-be-great wines of RRV are just starting to shine. While crowds flock to Napa, true wine lovers come here for the romantic surrounds, charming atmosphere, and top-tier restaurants. Just an hour from San Francisco, it’s a must-visit for wine lovers.
Thanks to its location close to the Pacific Ocean, it enjoys cool temperatures and incredibly favorable conditions that allow the varietals in the Russian River Valley to thrive, particularly Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is another that bodes well here, though the Pinot Noir is truly the star.
The Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley are intensely rich, full-bodied, and luscious. They bring a distinctive dark fruitiness to them, a direct result of the maritime influences of the locale and the longer growing season. With high acidity and incredible depth, the Pinot Noirs from RRV are truly memorable.
Likened to an artist’s palette, the Russian River Valley portion that runs through Sonoma has the perfect array of conditions to produce some of the best Pinot Noir in the country. The close proximity to the ocean and the maritime influences with fog really play a vital part in the development of flavors and the retention of acidity.
Go back further in time and you’ll understand why Pinot Noir was the perfect match for this unique landscape. Millions of years ago, when the tectonic plates collided and volcanic vents deposited ash over eroding bedrock, it gave rise to a sandstone loam called “Goldridge” soil. The key in this being a dream come true for thriving vines of Pinot Noir is in its natural ability to provide good drainage and an outstanding natural chemical composition.
The terroir, the fog, the dips in nighttime temperatures…it all sets a marvelous scene for Pinot Noir. Additionally, the Russian River, for which the region has earned its name, is fed by rain. In the winter, it swells up and brings much-needed irrigation to the vineyards in the region during the notorious dry seasons. In other words, it’s like a match made in heaven. Destiny if you will.
Winemakers in the Russian River Valley insist it is the terroir that creates the difference for the Pinot Noir produced here. It was born to be a great region for winemaking. The wines here are in a class of their own, something that other winemakers try to replicate but can’t quite nail. It’s not that they’re doing it wrong or that their wines are poorly made. It’s just that nature has won out in the RRV.
When visiting California, perhaps extending your trip to include a tasting of the great Pinot Noirs from the Sonoma portion of the RRV is in order. The next best thing of course is to enjoy your very own wine tasting in the comforts of your home with your favorite companions.
The RRV is regarded as the upper echelon of Pinot Noir with a variety of exceptional wineries. The following are merely a few examples from an extensive list of options.
Gary Farrell was one of the key reasons why everyone in the world suddenly found out about the Russian River Valley. With that distinction, these Pinot Noirs bring a rich and elegant texture, one that is vivid in ripeness with bright fruity aromas and hints of Asian spice.
Another one that brought the distinction to the RRV is Emeritus Vineyards. The Pinot Noirs it produces are medium-bodied and rich with outstanding ripeness and notes of wood. The acidity and ripe cherry notes are perfectly harmonious and complex. It’s very appealing and can age fabulously 7 to 10 years out. Don’t want to wait that long? You can wait 3 to 5 years and still find much to love.
Dehlinger is extremely low profile, which is why you might be surprised to discover they’ve been crafting some truly remarkable Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley for over 40 years. Founder Tom Dehlinger has long been considered a pioneer of Pinot Noir in California. He initially started with the typical varietals of Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Cabernet and then he dove int Pinot Noir, a most wise choice. Dehlinger’s Pinot Noirs grow in the Goldridge soil and have a well-balanced, fantastically fruity profile that ages exceedingly well.
For those that have yet to sample Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, these top producers in the area are a sure bet for enjoyable wines. However, there are plenty more wineries in the Russian River Valley that also craft stunning Pinot Noirs that you’ll enjoy down to the very last sip.