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Russian River/Sonoma County Region
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Full disclosure here. We’ve been coming to the Russian River area for one reason or another for the last 30 years. There’s no other region that has the sentimental memories, from camping to canoeing to wine tasting. But no other region really exemplifies wine regions the way the Russian River Valley does. Rolling hills, smaller vineyards, and the Russian River running through on its way to the Pacific. If there’s such a thing as great grape karma, this is where to find it.

As with many of the other wine growing areas in Northern California, the Russian River area has a history going back over 100 years, to people settling in the area after the California Gold Rush. The Russian River Valley AVA was only formed in 1983, however. One of the defining features of the Russian River area is that it’s closer to the ocean (not just a bay) than the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. This results in more fog at night, larger temperature swings from high to low, and a longer growing season when compared to its neighbors.

Also, just calling this the Russian River Valley is to slight the other AVAs in the region. This area, from Petaluma in the south to Cloverdale in the north, from the edge of the Sonoma Valley on the east to the Pacific coast on the west, has a number of AVAs, each with its own microclimate. The Russian River Valley AVA, best known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, actually has two subsidiary AVAs, Green Valley in the west (think Pinot Noir) and Chalk Hill in the east (Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel). Then there's the Alexander Valley, home to the Bordeaux varietals, both red and white. There's the Dry Creek Valley, home for some of the best Zinfandel in California. There's the Rockpile AVA, newly formed because of its unique take on grapes, especially Zin. And then there's the Sonoma Coast AVA, sort of a catch-all for everything else, but home to some of the best Pinot Noir vineyards anywhere.

Visiting the area means trying these wines in some of the outstanding restaurants in the Healdsburg and Santa Rosa and the other towns, staying in a cute B&B, pairing wines with some of the artisan cheeses made in the area, or just exploring the beauty of the rivers, the hills and the valleys.

Russian River map

Russian River events

Dry Creek Valley map

Dry Creek Valley events

Alexander Valley map

Alexander Valley events