The Green Valley of the Russian River Valley suffers an identity crises in name only. Originally called Green Valley, the appellation shared that name with Solano County’s much warmer Green Valley until 2008, when it was tied to the Russian River Valley, which encompasses it.
The characteristics that make it a unique region for growing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, however, are as plain as day — when they aren’t shrouded in thick fog. In a total area of 19,000 acres, Green Valley of the Russian River Valley has 3,600 acres planted to grapes. American Viticulture Area (AVA) status was awarded in 1983.
In this cool-climate region made famous for sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay might be expected to predominate, and indeed, those varietals do. Syrah is a distant third, made in a distinctly northern Rhône style. Several of Sonoma County’s top Zinfandel vineyards exist in favorable, sunny spots within the appellation’s boundaries, but they are seldom labeled as such.
The Lay of the Land
Green Valley of the Russian River Valley roughly outlines the watershed of Green Valley Creek, Atascadero Creek, and Purrington Creek, south of the Russian River. It’s bounded by Gravenstein Highway (State Route 116) to the east, Highway 12 to the south (except for a stretch along Watertrough Road), the Russian River on the north, and shadows the boundary of the Russian River Valley AVA to the west.
Vineyards still share this area with apple orchards, another cool-climate crop. The Gravenstein apple is said to have been brought here via the Russian settlement at Fort Ross, which established inland farms in the early 18th century. A relic of an inland seas several million years old, the dominant soil series here is Goldridge, an unmistakably fine-grained, sandy soil that naturally limits vine vigor.
The cool climate is the hallmark of this AVA. Unlike some coastal locations, it’s largely sheltered from wind, and it isn’t the first to receive the fog bank — but once it’s there, the fog sticks around. Largely facing east, much of the appellation never manages to heat up as much as other areas before the afternoon cool-down begins all over again.
Audrey and Barry Sterling were counseled not to plant grapes at Iron Horse Vineyards when they bought the property in 1976; they’ve since become one of America’s top premium sparkling wine houses — but their “tasting room,” a sort of open-air shack with a beautiful view, is delightfully rustic.
East on Graton Road, a picturesque branch of the valley typifies everything about the appellation. The Dutton family, apple farmers, was among the first to plant vineyards here in the post-Prohibition era. Dutton Estate pours Syrah as well as Chardonnay; Dutton-Goldfield Winery is a partnership showcasing some of the family’s best vineyards.
Founded by a Spanish wine dynasty, Marimar Estate is firmly rooted in Green Valley. Tucked into a lovely little corner of the AVA, Hartford Family Winery also pours Green Valley wines; DeLoach Vineyards is located east of the boundary, but is big on Green Valley wines.
In Forestville, Atascadero Creek has a limited-production wine from a block of Pinot Noir carved out of a railroad yard that used to service a booming apple industry. To the west, Freeman Vineyard & Winery offers a quiet cave for contemplation of Pinot and Chardonnay amidst the redwood forest.
Santa Rosa’s Donelan Family Wines makes intriguing Green Valley Syrah.
Hot tip: In the heart of the valley, River Road Family Vineyard and Winery offers oddly affordable Green Valley wines because of a longstanding sales model.
In the town of Graton, check out the under-the-radar wines of Paul Matthew Vineyards.
Restaurants and Lodging in Green Valley
No question about it, start your day with breakfast at Willow Wood Café, and wrap it up across the street with dinner and cocktails at Underwood Bar & Bistro, a winemakers’ favorite haunt.
Applewood Inn holds up the luxury end, Sebastopol Inn provides hotel lodging convenient to town, while Case Ranch Inn and Avalon Bed & Breakfast are located in the countryside. Occidental Road Cellars is one winery that offers a guest house in the vineyards.
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