Russian River AVA

The Russian River Valley recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, becoming recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983.

The valley is named for the first non-natives to settle in Sonoma County, the Russians, who settled along the Sonoma coast at historic Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841. They left a significant impact on the area since evidence points to them being the first to plant grapevines in our region. By 1876, the Russian River Valley produced in excess of 500,000 gallons of wine, with about 7,000 vine acres planted. Today, the official AVA encompasses 169,029 acres, with over 15,000 acres planted.

The Russian River Valley is shaped by two important factors — weather and geology. Fog from the deep Pacific Ocean typically moves into the region during the summer growing season, providing optimum temperatures for producing quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Diurnal differences can reach up to 40 degrees. This natural heating and air-conditioning allows the grapes to develop to full maturity, retaining much of the natural acidity that might otherwise be lost in warmer climate wine regions.

The second most important factor in shaping the wines of the Russian River Valley is the region’s wide variety of alluvial soils. The gravel, loam and sandy soils found along the river valley have been transported to the area and deposited along the river’s path in several ways. Much of this soil is made up of alluvial materials or weathered sandstone that arrived here over millions of years.

Over millennia, the collisions between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates caused great uplift in the region’s ancient bedrock. This bedrock was eroded and washed by receding oceans and river flooding. In addition, the ebb and flow of massive glaciers played a role in grinding and pushing rock and soil from other areas into this region.

Volcanic activity in what is now known as the Mayacamas Mountains proffered a thick layer of volcanic ash and lava which moved into nearby shallow seas. Combined with alluvial material brought here through flooding, this volcanic mix is found throughout the Russian River Valley. Some of these rocks and soils have been sluiced over millions of years into a gritty, loamy sandstone known as Goldridge soil. Goldridge, a relatively “old” soil in geologic terms, is most prized by vintners within the Russian River Valley AVA for its fine loam character and moderate drainage.

When you combine all the other alluvial sand/clay/loam soils found in the region, such as Zamora, Steinbeck, Arbuckle, Yolo, Haire, and Cortina, there are more variations in soil types in the Russian River Valley than in all of France. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why, in addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, so many grape varieties grow exceedingly well in the region.

Though it is generally agreed in scientific terms that a soil cannot impart flavors to a wine, a soil clearly enhances the character of a grapevine and the fruit that grows on that vine. When all the elements of winegrowing come together — choosing the right grape variety and clonal selection, matching the soil type, and ensuring there is proper moisture content and position to sunlight — a certain magic occurs. In France, winery vignerons have one word to describe this interaction with the environment — terroir.

At J Vineyards & Winery, the journey of wine excellence and appreciation of our terroir has only just begun. In geologic terms, we are still in the embryonic stage. The wide variety of alluvial soils found in our 257-acres of Russian River Valley estate vineyards have been forming for millions of years and have revealed themselves to us as a major asset in our winemaking endeavors.

Russian River Valley Aerial View.

Russian River Valley Aerial View.

Russian River.

Russian River.