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Cool coastal fog encroaches the vineyards surrounding Russian Hill

The Russian River Valley

Viticulture and History

Our search for the ideal location to grow world class Pinot noir and Syrah led us directly to the Russian River Valley where fog-cooled climate and rich alluvial soils provide the perfect conditions for growing Pinot noir and other "cool climate" grape varieties.

The history of grape growing in our region begins with the early Russian settlers who were the first emigrants to settle the area and plant vines. A little known fact is that these plantings, which begin in 1817, were the earliest in northern California, antedating those of Padre Jose Altimira in Sonoma Valley. The region became an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983 and its boundaries underwent an expansion in 2005. The area now boasts over 15,000 acres of vineyards, 200 grape growers and 75 wineries.

The Russian River winds its serpentine 110-mile course from Mendocino County to the Pacific Ocean at the Sonoma coastal town of Jenner, an approximate 30-minute drive west of Russian Hill Estate Winery. The Russian River Valley takes its name from the middle portion of the river as it passes through Sonoma County. Just east of the coastal hills, this is an area of maximal summer maritime incursion, producing foggy, cool mornings that give way to bright, sunny temperate days.

The cooling effect of the fog during summer daylight hours slows the ripening of the grapes resulting in longer “hang times” and, thereby, fuller flavor development. The combination of nighttime fog and daytime sunshine also results in large diurnal temperature differences, conditions which help grapes maintain their natural acidity producing wines with structure and the potential for ageing.

The summer coastal fog enters the Russian River Valley from two directions. From the west, it comes through the coastal mountains up the course of the Russian River. The main fog incursion, however, is from the south through the Petaluma Wind Gap, a large opening in the coastal range that allows the fog to flow unimpeded through the central lowlands of Sonoma County, bathing the Russian River Valley from the southeast.  From our vantage point at Russian Hill Estate Winery, fog banks approach us from both directions and tends to surround us in a “u” shaped pattern to our east, south and west.

The wines of the Russian River Valley are increasingly recognized as among the best in the world and the appellation is often quoted as one of the top in the country. Our "cool climate viticulture" conditions are perfect for growing certain wine grapes, especially Pinot noir and Chardonnay, and recent experience has also shown that "cool climate" Syrah is a distinctive wine unmatched by its warm climate counterpart. Russian Hill Estate Winery has found its perfect home.