The History of The Russian River Valley

The Russian River Valley, located in Sonoma County, California, has been home to winemaking since the mid-1800s. It’s one of the most established wine regions in California and features some of the most highly acclaimed wineries in the world. The Russian River Valley AVA makes up roughly one-sixth of Sonoma County’s total planted vineyard land.

In 1983, the appellation was given AVA designation, and in 2005 it was expanded. The region is roughly bounded on the south by Sebastopol and Santa Rosa and on the north by Forestville and Healdsburg. The Russian River Valley has a cool temperature, exacerbated by fog from the Pacific Ocean. The region’s cool-climate varieties, notably Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are well-known.

Climate And Geography

The Russian River Valley AVA doesn’t include the entire Russian Valley, extending north into Mendocino County and southwest to the Pacific Ocean. The land here was impacted by the North American and Pacific structural plates. Ejections by volcanic vents that accumulated volcanic debris over layers of disintegrated bedrock, have built a unique geology over the years.

This brought about the development of “Goldridge soil,” a type of sandstone. Goldridge soil makes up some of the area’s most renowned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards. 

The environment of the Russian River Valley AVA is epitomized by a cool morning haze that streams in from the sea through the Petaluma Gap and wears off during the day. The wide temperature range is because of the cooling impact of the mist, with evening temperatures decreasing as much as 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit from daytime highs.

The mist directs the late spring heat, which allows for a long maturing stage and decreases the chance of overripe grapes. The coldest pieces within the AVA are the center and western areas, where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted.


The Russian River Valley first vineyards started in the nineteenth century when outsiders from Mediterranean countries immigrating to the area. While most vineyards were for individual use, roughly 200 wineries emerged by the turn of the century.

The few wineries that managed to stay open after Prohibition ended sold their grapes to mass quantity wine producers. Wineries in the area didn’t start to focus on quality until the 1970s. In the late 20th century, the large wineries, E and J Gallo and Kendall Jackson had a massive interest in the area.

Gallo bought the enormous Laguna Ranch Winery in 1970. The area was assigned AVA status in 1983. After some time, the region acquired a standing for delivering excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for both still and sparkling wine.

Did you know: The Russian River Valley is one of the most highly regarded regions in the world for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Grape Varieties

According to the trade association Russian River Valley Winegrowers, Chardonnay accounts for 42% of the grapes produced in the region, while Pinot Noir accounts for 29%.

Many microclimates inside the AVA are appropriate for Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon has been established effectively in the hotter areas of Chalk Hill. Indeed, even with non-Burgundian varietals, the crisp climate of Russian River Valley is evident in the wine.

Also read:

On This Day

  • 1983: AVA status was awarded to the appellation.

Want to read more? Try these books!

A Wine Journey along the Russian River, With a New Preface Tales of the Russian River- Stumptown Stories (American Chronicles)

Categories: This Day in Wine History | Articles, Wine, Wine RegionsTags: , , , , By Published On: May 30, 2022Last Updated: February 26, 2024

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