Russian River Valley
Where Cool-Climate Varieties Thrive
Russian River Valley is so named because of its historical connection to the Pacific Coastline’s Russian fur trade. This mostly began in 1812 and ended in 1842. Fur traders decided to settle at Fort Ross as its hub, which was the southernmost Russian settlement in North America.
In 1836, the Russian government sent Yegor Leontievich Chernykh, a Moscow-trained agronomist, in order to improve and provide food crops for trappers and traders. With Fort Ross being too cool for farming, Chernykh settled in Russian River Valley. He established a farm along Purrington Creek, between today’s towns of Occidental and Graton. Yegor grew fruit, vegetables, wheat, and other grains. He also developed a large vineyard, introducing the first wine grapes into Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. In 1841, due to a diminished fur supply, the Russians decided to leave California. Everyone, including Yegor, returned to his homeland, ending the Russian pioneering days, but leaving their viticultural history and an important winemaking fingerprint. Ironically, when the Russians left, they were to just miss California’s 1849 Gold Rush.
Russian River Valley Terroir
Russian River Valley’s American Viticultural Area (AVA) is located in Sonoma County, California, centered along the Russian River. Having about one-sixth of the total planted vineyard acreage in Sonoma County, the appellation was granted AVA status in 1983; then it was enlarged in 2005, and again in 2011. The area mainly lies between Sebastopol on its southern end, with Forestville and Healdsburg as its most northern regions. Characteristically, Russian River Valley is known for its cool climate. It is heavily affected by fog that is generated by the valley’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and is carried along the river’s pathways.
Russian River Valley Wine
This region has the greatest success with cool climate varieties; most notably Pinot Noir and Syrah for its red wines, with Chardonnay and Pinot Gris for its whites.
Russian River’s cool climate produces exceptional wine grapes with higher acidity. This cool climate growing condition creates wine grapes that are more subtle. They are lower in alcohol and have brighter fruit flavors. These wines are also lighter in body, for both red and white wines.