Although Bennett Valley is among Sonoma County’s more recently recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the grapevine got an early start here.
In 1862, Santa Rosa winemaker Isaac DeTurk planted a vineyard on land he purchased from valley namesake James Bennett. DeTurk called his winery, the valley’s first, Belle Mount. However, the combination of phylloxera and Prohibition cleared the valley of vineyards. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that vineyards returned to Bennett Valley in a meaningful way at the pioneering Matanzas Creek Winery.
There are now 650 vineyard acres and four wineries in Bennett Valley, which was awarded AVA status in 2003.
Merlot and Chardonnay garnered early acclaim, and Cabernet Sauvignon has long been grown in the part of Bennett Valley that overlaps with the Sonoma Mountain AVA.
In recent decades, growers have realized how exciting Pinot Noir, Syrah, and even Grenache can be in this cool-climate region.
The Lay of the Land
The Bennett Valley AVA is located south of the city of Santa Rosa, on high ground between the Sonoma Valley and Cotati Valley. The AVA begins where the city’s suburban neighborhood known as Bennett Valley abruptly gives way to rolling oak woodland and horse pastures bordered by ancient stone walls.
Why is this tiny appellation, located as far inland as Chalk Hill, also one of the coolest AVAs in Sonoma County? The answer lies in the Petaluma Gap, where a break in the higher coastal hills lets in cool winds and fog from the Pacific Ocean.
While the fog may eventually make its way up the Russian River Valley, Bennett Valley sits directly in the path of the initial incursion. In fact, on some summer afternoons a finger of fog can be seen making a beeline for the valley via Crane Canyon — as if with focus and determination.
Matanzas Creek Winery was founded in 1977 on the site of a former dairy. It’s said that the native malolactic bacteria there contributed to the success of the barrel-fermented style of Chardonnay. Now owned by Jackson Family Estates, the winery is also renowned for its lavender fields and lavender products.
Flanagan Wines and Sable Ridge Vineyards are among the few, small, family-operated wineries in Bennett Valley offering tours and tastings by appointment. Many of the wines from Bennett Valley vineyards are made in tiny quantities by small wineries like Eric Kent Wine Cellars and hidden in custom crush and co-op wineries in Santa Rosa and the Bay Area — but they are worth seeking out.
Restaurants and Lodging near Bennett Valley
Near to Bennett Valley in Santa Rosa, try Monti’s for wood-fired rotisseries and wine country cuisine. The nearby Flamingo Resort & Conference Center is a great accommodation choice complete with pools and fitness club. If you want to camp in the area, sites are available nearby at Spring Lake Regional Park.
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