Like islands in the clouds — that’s how grape growers describe the view from Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak on mornings when much of Sonoma County is swathed in a silvery blanket of clouds.
Among Sonoma County’s newest viticultural areas, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak is one of the highest and most remote. Comprising 4,600 acres, with just 230 acres planted, the AVA (or wine region) was approved in 2011.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed sovereign of the mountain, accounting for some 80 percent of vineyard acres. Merlot and Malbec are a distant second and third. The long season and high sunlight exposure favor red wine grapes, but experimentation is rampant: Along with alternative varietals including Sangiovese and Lagrein, white wine grapes like Muscat and Riesling are grown here, too.
The Lay of the Land
The AVA is situated northeast from the town of Cloverdale along Pine Mountain Road, a former stagecoach route once haunted by infamous “Gentleman Bandit” Black Bart. Cattle grates across the road evidence the ranching history of the area, which the vineyards and olive groves still share with some cattle and sheep. On the Sonoma County side, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak is part of the larger Alexander Valley AVA; the northern section is shared with Mendocino County.
Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak begins at an elevation of 1,600 feet and continues to 3,000 feet. Much of the land is covered in scrub, madrone, and oak woodland, interspersed with lush stands of ferns and spring-fed ponds.
Many of the vineyards are located at such a high elevation that the peak of Pine Mountain itself, studded with a lone pine, appears as just a bump in the near distance. To the north, Cloverdale Peak is partly forested.
Far below, the town of Cloverdale and the wide, flat vineyards stretching along the Russian River appear hazily distant. Here, the viticultural situation is the opposite of the warm days and cool, foggy nights touted by winegrowers in the valley appellations. Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak is all about cooler, lightly breezy days, but warmer nights.
Imagery Estate Winery has made a major investment in Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak terroir, fine-turning their experimental vineyard block-by-block, choosing different soils and exposures for unexpected varieties like Riesling. Their tasting room is located in Glen Ellen.
Captûre Wines makes a Cabernet from their estate Tin Cross Vineyard, site of the area’s pioneer vineyard planted in 1855.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery sources extensively from Silverwood Ranch for their Alexander Valley wines; top blend Archimedes will soon bear the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak appellation. Kendall-Jackson has invested in a 100-acre vineyard in the AVA.
Because of the remote nature of this mountain appellation, there are no wineries and tasting rooms open to drop-ins, but there is one that may be visited by appointment. The folks at Bob Dog Wines at Sky Pine Vineyards are friendly, don’t take themselves too seriously, and offer a free tour and tasting — and something for furry four-legged visitors, too.
Restaurants and Lodging around Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak
Cloverdale is a quiet town with a walkable main street and Wine Country amenities. Start the day with a latté at Plank Coffee or hash browns at landmark diner, Owl Cafe.
Grab a sandwich, a brew, or a burger at Eagle's Nest Deli, Cloverdale Ale Company (Ruth McGowan's Brew Pub), and Hamburger Ranch. Overnight in Cloverdale, or make it your wine tasting base camp at bed and breakfast inns like Kelley & Young Wine Garden Inn and Auberge on the Vineyard or the Best Western Cloverdale Inn and other hotels.
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