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Let's Talk Wine: Explore the Wines of California's Russian River Valley

Sea Coast Online
March 16, 2017
By JoAnn Actis-Grande

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With so much news around Russia lately, I thought it's only fitting to feature one of the finest wine regions here in the United States that bears the name.

The Russian River Valley, located in the heart of Sonoma Valley, California, possesses an incredible river running through acres of highly sought-out vineyards.

The Russian River Appellation is one of many sub appellations within the broader North Coast Appellation. The region has more than 15,000 acres of vineyards, 200 grape growers and 75 wineries. Many California wineries, and wineries from all over the country produce wines from grapes sourced from the Russian River Valley.

The Russian River Valley is rich in history. Grape growing and winemaking are essential to its past. It was the first Northern location to be planted with wine vineyards and home to more famous old vines than any other region in California.

The valley is named for the first non-native settlers. The Russians, who lived along the Sonoma coast in the early 1800s, left a footprint on the area. They discovered a perfect place to hunt sea otters for furs to keep them warm and food for Russian colonies in Alaska. The exceptional fertile soils of the Russian River Valley provided optimum land for farming. Grape vineyards were planted before the Gold Rush. By the late 1800s, wine production in the Russian River Valley was growing strong. Wineries were expanding and wine sales flourishing. During Prohibition (1920 to 1933), production dropped significantly and many wineries were forced to close. Foppiano, Korbel and Martini & Prati stayed and still operate today.

A positive resurgence took place in the '60s when Bob Sisson, an expert on agriculture from the University of California, advised farmers in Sonoma to plant cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley. Growers took note, and new wineries emerged. Legendary names such as Gallo, Sebastiani and Rodney Strong began their dominance at this time in Sonoma.

Climate variations are typical in Sonoma – especially in the Russian River Valley. Vineyards planted near the Pacific Ocean naturally are much cooler with denser fog layers than vineyards found further east. The magnificent Redwoods also add to the cooling factors. Today, most of the best-structured Pinot Noir comes from vineyards in the Russian River Valley. You can also enjoy Chardonnay that is refreshing, full-bodied, yet not over oaked. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel grapes have made large inroads in the warmer pockets of the Russian River Valley.

Oenophiles love this area of the Sonoma Valley that produces worldclass wines. The following is a list of Russian River Valley wineries. Look for them at your favorite wine shop or purchase online direct from the winery.

Acorn, Balletto, DeLoach Vineyards, Inman Family Wines, Korbel, Merry Edwards Winery, Paul Hobbs, Ramey, Merriam Vineyards, Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, and Williams-Selyem.