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Cork Dorks Anonymous by: Kris Margerum

 In mid-August I attended the Russian River Valley Pinot Forum which consisted of three days of seminars and tastings. The educational seminars covered a wide range of subjects, including soils, clones, climate, winemaking and vineyard management just to name a few.   Here is a little information regarding the sub regions of Russian River Valley that are known for Pinot Noir.

The Russian River Valley is a very diverse region with a mix of microclimates and soils. The areas where Pinot Noir thrive are all much cooler than the Napa Valley and are influenced by the cold Pacific Ocean waters in the form of fog and wind. Each night during the growing season the fog invades the Russian River Valley, moving north and east mainly from the south through the Petaluma Gap and to a lesser extent up the Russian River itself. During the day the fog slowly burns off starting in the northern and eastern parts of the appellation moving back toward the ocean. This creates a cooler climate ideal for producing quality Pinot Noirs.      

Pinot Noir is planted throughout the appellation but there are six main areas where the best Pinot Noir grapes are grown.


Located in the southwest part of the Russian River Valley, this area is very near the Petaluma Gap and is cold, foggy and windy. It has well drained soils made up of sandstone and marine sediments.  Pinot Noirs from this region have higher acids and express more red fruits and spice.

Sebastopol Hills

Due west of the town of Sebastopol, this region is also in the southern part of the Russian River Valley near the Petaluma Gap fog machine, but differs from the Freestone area in that it is protected by a series of hills. The rolling hills create a mix of microclimates and protection from the wind to allow more ripening of the fruit. The soils are known as the Sebastopol Series and are a mix of marine sediment and sandstone. The wines from this region are complex and layered, expressing both red and black fruit notes.

Green Valley

This area on the western edge of the Russian River Valley is its own AVA and can be listed as either Russian River Valley or Green Valley of the Russian River Valley. The area is also very cool and the fog tends to linger until late morning or early afternoon. The area is known for its Goldridge soils that are made up mostly of sandstone. These wines are expressive of red fruits and have a focused tannin structure.

Laguna Ridge

This area is within the Green Valley AVA and has the same Goldridge soils. It is at a 500 foot elevation allowing the fog to burn off earlier in the day and the hillside is well drained resulting in smaller berries. These wines express a mix of concentrated red and black fruit and have broader tannin structure.

Santa Rosa Bench

This is the area to the west of the cities of Santa Rosa and Windsor. The fog burns off by mid-morning and the soils are a mix of clay, gravel and sand. These wines express more black cherry and are of moderate concentration.

Middle Reach of the Russian River

Further to the west from the Santa Rosa Bench, this area is a bit warmer and has mostly alluvial soils. The wines from here are riper, mouth-filling, plush and can have a powerful tannin structure.

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