Named after an enterprising pioneer by the name of Cyrus Alexander, the Alexander Valley was considered a better place to grow wheat and raise cattle before it gained fame for its grapes. In the 1880s, immigrants formed the Italian Swiss Colony agricultural cooperative at Asti. In the 1950s, the winery was California’s second-most visited tourism destination, after Disneyland.
The 1960s and 1970s established Alexander Valley as a place where top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon could be grown. Today, the valley retains its sleepy, agricultural character, while comprising 15,000 vineyard acres and 42 wineries. AVA (American Viticulture Area) status was established in 1984.
Cabernet Sauvignon reigns in Alexander Valley; some of America’s most loved Cabernets are grown and made here. Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals are important, particularly in mountain sites above the valley; Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc hold their own; some of the county’s finest old vine Zinfandel is grown here—often made by small wineries, and snapped up fast. A few wineries have located old vine Grenache; newer plantings of Sangiovese show promise.
The Lay of the Land
Unlike the Russian River Valley AVA, which occupies a broad splotch of land in the middle of Sonoma County that’s defined largely by climatic considerations, the Alexander Valley AVA outlines the path of the Russian River as it flows from Mendocino County southeast to Healdsburg. Over the ages, the river meandered across the valley, leaving deposits of gravel underneath the alluvial soil—ideal conditions for growing great Cabernet Sauvignon, and somewhat similar to the best vineyard soils of Bordeaux. West of the “town” of Jimtown, consisting of a deli and a church, the AVA includes mountain vineyards where the grapes enjoy million-dollar views.
Silver Oak Cellars makes two of America’s most popular Cabernet Sauvignons, and one of them comes from Alexander Valley. Also making Cabernet and Chardonnay that’s loved by restauranteurs nationwide, Jordan Vineyard & Winery offers a variety of tours and food-and-wine pairings, with 360-degree views of the valley. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, founded by Kendall-Jackson’s Jess Stonestreet Jackson, strives to be the first name in mountain-grown Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals. Find at-the-winery-only exclusives at well-known Clos du Bois and Geyser Peak; find a wine wonderland for the whole family at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The tasting room at historic Italian Swiss Colony is unfortunately closed to the public. Visitors who remember the spot with nostalgia can still peek in the window, if they ask politely—it’s been virtually unchanged in 40 years. Another impressive, historic winery building is Soda Rock Winery.
Follow “Sin Zin” with “Redemption Zin” at Alexander Valley Vineyards, located on Cyrus Alexander’s old rancho. In downtown Geyserville, Meeker Vineyard cellars wine in a Black Bart-era bank vault. Neighboring Ramazzotti offers sparkling wine, while co-op tasting room Locals offers microwinery discoveries. Bask in the last rays of daylight on the patio at sustainable Medlock Ames; start the evening at the adjacent, renovated rustic-hip Alexander Valley Bar.
Restaurants and Lodging in Alexander Valley
A solar-powered, Victorian bed and breakfast, Hope-Merrill House is furnished with wall-to-wall period decor. Up the road, Geyserville Inn offers vineyard view balconies and apartments for groups and wedding parties. Revitalized family restaurant Catelli’s has just added a stylish new patio seating, and continues to serve up gourmet comfort food, including rabbit ravioli. Nosh on salumi, wood-fired pizza and more at Diavola; at Rustic, director-turned-restauranteur Francis Ford Coppola’s favorites are on the menu, and on the Argentinian-style grill. For an olive tapenade sandwich, Jimtown Store can’t be beat.
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight
Sonoma County Appellations (AVA):
Carneros - Sonoma
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross - Seaview
Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Pine Mountain - Cloverdale Peak
Russian River Valley