Russian River Valley AVA

Blog Post

American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are defined as agricultural regions that have distinct climate or geographic features that impact the way grapes are grown. There are 267 AVAs in the United States, and more than half (147) are in California.

At Ridge Vineyards, our winemaking style is dedicated to highlighting specific patches of ground. An AVA’s climate, soil types, and topography impart unique attributes and directly contribute to a wine’s character. Here, we explore the ways that characteristics of the Russian River Valley AVA are expressed in our wines.

Russian River Valley Climate & Geography

The Russian River Valley AVA lies at the heart of Sonoma County. It’s generally much cooler than the adjacent Dry Creek Valley, and even cooler than the Alexander Valley, with some exceptions. The Russian River that passes through the AVA on its way to the Pacific Ocean serves as a kind of fog tunnel, allowing marine influences to run upstream from the coast, and linger late into the day during the warmer summer growing season. Consequently Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the Russian River AVA in terms of acres planted. But, because there’s been such a long history of farming in and around the heart of Sonoma County, there are still a number of old vine Zinfandel vineyards that have been preserved. These precious old vineyards yield wines with distinctive wild berry flavors and pronounced spice. They’re generally higher in acid and low in alcohol, balancing elegance with ripe Zinfandel fruit.

Characteristics of Russian River Valley Wines

Our Ponzo Vineyard is a classic example of Russian River Valley Zinfandel. Grown at the confluence of Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley, it shows the impact of both appellations. There’s rich bramble fruit on the nose, clove spice, and even a hint of delicate tropical aromas. It’s juicy with bright acidity and dusty tannin.

Further downriver and deeper into the Russian River AVA is the Mancini Ranch. This ranch, planted in the 1920s, to predominantly Zinfandel and Carignane, is one of the Sonoma County Vineyards protected by the non-profit organization, the Historic Vineyard Society (HSV). The HSV is a team of wine growers (including Ridge’s own David Gates) that support historic vineyards through education, research, and vineyard-related events in an effort to “Help keep these precious vines in the ground!” Our Mancini Ranch offers up aromas of raspberry, black cherry, and baking spices with a classic Russian River fruit bright acidity and freshness.

Our San Lorenzo Vineyard also lies within the Russian River Valley AVA, but it’s an atypical ranch. Located at the very northeastern corner of the AVA, it technically lies both within the cool and foggy Russian River AVA and the hot and dry Alexander Valley AVA. Planted in the late 19th century to two-thirds Zinfandel and one-third Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet, these old bush vines are low-yielding and offer up small, thick-skinned berries. The resulting wine has the rich bramble fruit, deep color, and the intense structure of an Alexander Valley old vine Zinfandel, with the notes of dried herb and spice of a Russian River Valley Zinfandel.


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