Moon Mountain Wine Region and Appellation
Soaring more than 2,000 feet above Sonoma Valley, the highest vineyards in the Moon Mountain District American Viticultural Area (AVA) enable clear-day views of San Francisco from 50 miles away, skyscrapers gleaming in the southern distance.
One of the few AVAs in the Mayacamas mountain range—which divides Sonoma County from the Napa Valley—the Moon Mountain District inhabits the eastern hills of the central Sonoma Valley AVA, directly opposite the east-facing Sonoma Mountain AVA.
The Lay of the Land
Though only designated an AVA in 2013—with only 1,500 of its 17,663 acres planted to grapevines—the Moon Mountain District contains one of Sonoma County's oldest and most prestigious vineyards.
One of the AVA's most famous vineyards was originally called Mount Pisgah, first planted with grapevines by San Francisco grocers-turned-vintners Emmanuel Goldstein and Benjamin Dreyfus in 1886. When legendary Napa Valley vintner Louis M. Martini bought the vineyard in 1938, he renamed it Monte Rosso (Italian for "red earth").
Some of California's top heritage clone vines have their roots in this vineyard, prized for the volcanic influence and mineral content of its iron-rich, loamy soil. Especially iconic at Monte Rosso are its complex, high-acidity, and age-worthy old-vine Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are undeniably the most important varieties in the Moon Mountain District, but Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec are also found here. Chardonnay is prominent, and you'll even find some Pinot noir growing in the cooler, southern end of the AVA, at the Hanzell Vineyards estate.
At the AVA's higher elevations, grapevines respond to the more intense solar radiation and wind by growing smaller, thick-skinned grapes that make for intense color and flavor characteristics. Farming on this mountainous terrain is an expensive proposition, which is why Moon Mountain District AVA is known for high-value grapes.
Headed by renowned Sonoma County winemaker Richard Arrowood, Amapola Creek offers estate wines and an illuminating Monte Rosso Zinfandel.
Set even higher than Monte Rosso, HANNA Winery & Vineyards' tufa-etched Bismark Mountain vineyard produces Malbec, Cabernet blends, Zinfandel, and even a tiny bit of Riesling.
In Kenwood, seek out B Wise and Ty Caton, and be sure to visit the stunning Kamen Estate in Sonoma. Also look for Monte Rosso wines from Sonoma's Bedrock Wine Co.
Hanzell Vineyards, founded in the 1950s by Ambassador James Zellerbach, is an appointment-only winery that requires some planning to visit; for the serious student of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay history, it's worth the pilgrimage.
Restaurants and Lodging around Moon Mountain
Moon Mountain District is located directly above an historic, rambling stretch of the Sonoma Valley whose culinary offerings include a mix of taquerias and sidewalk grills with highly rated restaurants like Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.
When taking a break from great mountain-grown wine, take in the long list of world and craft brews at Olde Sonoma Public House, which encourages patrons to order in from Sonoma favorite Mary's Pizza, across the street.
Top lodging choices include Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Kenwood Inn & Spa, and Olea Hotel.
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
West Sonoma Coast