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Monday, May 18, 2015

Sonoma County Appellations: All the rest

All the major appellations in Sonoma County have been covered here over the past couple weeks beginning with the Russian River Valley back in late April. Appellations are gov't recognized grape growing regions like Russian River Valley or Napa Valley. So far we've talked about Alexander Valley, Carneros, Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley.

Here's a brief look at the smaller, and less well-known grape growing regions of the county. Many of these are sub-appellations meaning they are a smaller region that is contained within one or more other grape growing appellation.

Click on map for larger image

Bennett Valley

This is a sub-appellation as most of Bennett Valley is also within Sonoma Valley. Its geography and geology are quite separate, however. BV is surrounded by three mountains, all ancient volcanoes. The soil, elevation, and relatively cooler temperatures make it a unique grape growing area from the rest of Sonoma Valley. Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah are the top grapes.

The only winery open to the public is Matanzas Creek though there are a few others in the valley, many of which are tiny one-man operations. There are about 40 wineries buying fruit from Bennett Valley. An example of a well-regarded wine from here is the Carlisle Bennett Valley Syrah.

Chalk Hill

The Chalk Hill sub-appellation is in the northeast corner of Russian River Valley making it slightly warmer than the rest of RRV. There's no chalk in the soil, the name is from the color coming from a mixture of volcanic ash, sand, and silt. This soil does especially well for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Most of Chalk Hill sits on west-facing benchland above the valley floor.

There are eight wineries calling Chalk Hill home including Chalk Hill Winery(!)


Sonoma County's newest appellation (established 2015) runs from the eastern edge of Santa Rosa to the Napa County line. It's so new that you won't find Fountaningrove on the map above--it's in the space east of Santa Rosa. The Fountaingrove District is kind of a mishmash of small growers and smaller wineries in an area between other well-known appellations like Diamond Mtn, Sonoma Vly, and Russian River Vly. There is a variety of soils, topography, and climates so I can't think of one distinguishing feature for this appellation. Maybe over time something will develop and become special about Fountaingrove.

Ft. Ross-Seaview

A sub-appellation of the Sonoma Coast region, Ft. Ross-Seaview is a hilly, very cool area near the Pacific. The vineyards are several hundred feet above sea level keeping them out of the damp fog that hugs the coast much of the summer. It's all about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Grapes were actually planted in this area 200 years ago by Russian settlers.

The Ft. Ross Vineyard winery has a tasting room. There are a few other wineries in the area that take appointments to visit. Several wineries have produced award-winning Pinot from Ft. Ross-Seaview including Flowers, Martinelli, Pahlmeyer, Peay, and Williams Selyem.

Green Valley

A sub-appellation on the western edge of the Russian River Valley. It has the chilly climate and soils made for growing Pinot Noir. Some well-known wineries getting fruit from Green Valley are Deloach, Dutton Estate, Dutton-Goldfield, Hartford, Iron Horse, and Marimar.

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Green Valley tend to be a more crisp, restrained, bright, and structured than many others from the warmer parts of the Russian River Valley. An example of high scoring wines from here are the Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnays sourced from multiple vineyards in Green Valley.

Knights Valley

In a remote eastern section of Sonoma County, Knights Valley sits between northern Napa Valley and Alexander Valley. It's a warm area with volcanic soils known for top-quality Cabernet. There are no wineries to visit. The best-known wine from here is Beringer's Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Moon Mountain

A new sub-appellation of Sonoma Valley. It's not on the valley floor, but in the Mayacamas Mountains between Sonoma and Napa Valleys. The most famous vineyard is Monte Rosso purchased by Louis Martini in the 1930s when it was already 50 years old. Hanna's Bismark Vineyard is also well respected.

The Moon Mtn District is about higher elevation, red, iron-rich volcanic soils, and proximity to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay. A lot of different grape varieties are grown here, but the Cabernet and Zinfandel are outstanding. On Moon Mtn there are a few wineries that require appointments to visit. Some of the wineries getting fruit from here are Bedrock, Hanna, Hanzell, Louis Martini (owned by Gallo), and Rosenblum. One of many high scoring wines from here is Sbragia's Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon.

Northern Sonoma

This is sort of a macro-appellation containing several grape growing areas: Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Knights Valley, and Russian River Valley. The point of the Northern Sonoma appellation would be if you were combining grapes from two or more of these areas you could label the wine Northern Sonoma rather than "just" Sonoma County.

Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak

A new, small, and remote growing area in the far north of Sonoma County and southern Mendocino County overlapping part of Alexander Valley. Pine Mtn-Cloverdale's distinguishing feature is its elevation, as the vineyards are at 1600 to 3000 feet. This is a very warm inland area, but the higher elevation means cooler daytime temps compared to the valley floor and warmer nights as the heavier, cooler nighttime air sinks into the valleys below.

There are about 15 growers in Pine Mtn-Cloverdale and 15 wineries using the fruit. Some of the wineries are Coppola, Imagery, Kendall-Jackson, and Murphy-Goode. The area is planted mostly to Cabernet.

Sonoma Mountain

On the western edge of the Sonoma Valley is the sub-appellation of Sonoma Mtn. It has east facing vineyards in rugged terrain. It's known mostly for Cabernet, but there are little micro-climates growing everything from Chardonnay to Zinfandel.

The Benziger Winery outside the town of Glen Ellen is within the Sonoma Mtn growing region. The most well known vineyards are Laurel Glen, McCrea, and van der Kamp. The Kistler McCrea Chardonnay is an example of a high-scoring wine from this area.

Summer in Bennett Valley