The Fountaingrove District is a sleeper of an appellation within Sonoma County, achieving American Viticultural Area (AVA) status without much fanfare or controversy.
Yet it has a long and colorful history. Taking its name from an historic area of northeastern Santa Rosa, the Fountaingrove District is inspired by the legacy of California’s original “cult winery.” There are 500 acres of vineyard in the 38,000-acre appellation and five wine producers in the Fountaingrove District, which became Sonoma County’s 17th AVA in March, 2015.
Historically, Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and many other grapes were grown in the hills of the Fountaingrove area. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Viognier are top varietals.
The Lay of the Land
Tucked into central-eastern Sonoma County, the Fountaingrove District is surrounded by the Russian River Valley, Knights Valley, Sonoma Valley, and Napa Valley sub-appellations including the Spring Mountain District.
Viticulturally, it also fills the gap — classified as Warm Region II in the Winkler heat summation scale, it’s more marine-influenced than Alexander Valley and areas of northern Napa Valley, but warmer than the Russian River Valley. The terrain is mainly rolling hills, with soils derived from Sonoma Volcanic and Franciscan Formation bedrock.
This new AVA’s most notable winery is, unfortunately, nearly lost to history. In 1875, enigmatic spiritualist cult leader Thomas Lake Harris moved from Brocton, New York, to set up a second, utopian colony on a 600-acre ranch north of Santa Rosa. Termed the “Eden of the West,” Fountain Grove had impressive buildings, gardens, a winery and extensive vineyards.
Harris’ “Brotherhood of the New Life” maintained a wine shop in New York City and even exported wine to the British Isles. The winery was recognized as one of California’s premiere producers both before and after Prohibition (when it was renamed Fountaingrove), thanks to winemaker Kanaye Nagasawa, once called the “Wine King” of California. But since the 1940s the historic winery has been left to the elements. To learn more about the fascinating history of this “ghost winery” and the legacy of Nagasawa, visit the historical exhibit in the cellar at Paradise Ridge Winery. (Paradise Ridge is located just within the Russian River Valley appellation and is sticking with it for their own wines).
All bodegas are backroads in the Fountaingrove District AVA. Several may offer visits and tours by appointment, such as Heller Family Vineyards, which also has a guest house. Dry Creek Valley’s Lambert Bridge Winery sources Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals from the area, and many wineries purchase grapes from Kick Ranch — in the town of Sonoma, try Enkidu Wines’ Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
Restaurants and Lodging near Fountaingrove
There is no place more convenient to the Fountaingrove District to grab a gourmet bite than The Steakhouse @ Equus at the Fountaingrove Inn. And just up the hill, a stone’s throw away from the historic ruins of Fountaingrove, Hilton Sonoma Wine Country also offers lodging, and “city lights” nighttime views from Nectar Restaurant & Lounge.
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