Stand in a vineyard in Sonoma County’s Moon Mountain District on a clear day, and you might be able to see the skyscrapers of San Francisco gleaming in the distance to the south. The Moon Mountain District American Viticultural Area (AVA) covers 17,663 acres, with 1,500 acres planted to grapevines, and was awarded AVA status in 2013.
Certainly one of the most evocatively titled appellations in Sonoma County, Moon Mountain is defined by its higher elevation above Sonoma Valley, also known for centuries as the Valley of the Moon.
Like a yang to Sonoma Mountain’s yin, Moon Mountain occupies the eastern hills of the central Sonoma Valley AVA, directly opposite the east-facing Sonoma Mountain AVA. It’s one of the few AVAs in the Mayacamas, a mountain range that Sonoma County shares with Napa Valley. Although it is among Sonoma County’s newer viticultural designations, Moon Mountain District contains a few of the county’s oldest and most prestigious vineyards.
Old vine Zinfandel vies for iconic status with Cabernet Sauvignon, planted by Napa Valley’s Louis M. Martini in the same vineyard the legendary vintner bought in 1938. Originally planted in the 1880s by Emmanuel Goldstein, who called it Mount Pisgah, the vineyard was renamed Monte Rosso by Martini. Some of California’s top heritage clone vines have their roots in this vineyard, selected by Martini and University of California viticultural researchers.
Cabernet Sauvignon and its family of Bordeaux varieties—Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec—are prominent in the Moon Mountain District. Grapevines respond to the more intense solar radiation and wind at this elevation by growing smaller, thick-skinned grapes that make for intense color and flavor characteristics, and the economics of farming on mountainous terrain favor such high-value grapes. Zinfandel and Chardonnay are also important, and even Pinot Noir is grown at Hanzell estate at the southern end of the AVA.
The Lay of the Land
In contrast to those of the Sonoma Mountain AVA across the valley, the vineyards of Moon Mountain District generally face southwest, receiving ample exposure not only to afternoon sun, but also to crosswinds from the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay. At elevations ranging from 400 to over 2,000 feet above sea level, vines grow in a variety of soils, mainly rocky and of volcanic origin, on slopes and ridge tops of the Mayacamas Mountains (there is a peak named Moon Mountain here, but it was only named so in 2007 following a petition to the USGS Board on Geographic Names). A clear view 50 miles south to San Francisco is not uncommon from Moon Mountain District vineyards.
Repris Wines is the current incarnation of an estate that was once Chalone Vineyard’s Carmenet project. Still called the Moon Mountain Vineyard, the site offers an excellent view and wines.
Headed by renowned Sonoma County winemaker Richard Arrowood, Amapola Creek offers estate wines and an illuminating Monte Rosso Zinfandel.
Even higher above Monte Rosso, Hanna Winery’s Bismark Mountain vineyard, etched into the rock and tufa decades ago, produces Malbec, Cabernet blends and Zinfandel—even a tiny bit of Riesling!
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