The heart of the Sonoma Valley is home to some of the world’s best Chardonnay. Do you know what makes the Russian River Valley’s wines so extraordinary? Warm days for ripening, cool evenings for slow maturation, and well-draining sandy loam soil work together to produce the deep and nuanced Chardonnay that the Russian River is known for. Learn a little about the Russian River Valley AVA, the region’s history, and its complex and balanced white wine. 

Guide to Russian River Chardonnay

The History of the Russian River and the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA)

In the 19th century, immigrants from Europe planted the area’s first vines. Although most of the vines were planted to produce wine meant for family consumption, by the beginning of the 20th century, more than 200 wineries were in operation. Few survived Prohibition, and those that did sold their wines for bulk (jug) production. 

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the Russian River gained industry and consumer acclaim. In 1973, Foppiano Vineyards was the first to print “Russian River” on its label; soon after, industry giants such as E & J Gallo and Kendall Jackson began heavily investing in the area. Today, these corporations still own large portions of this AVA, making small-production, family-owned wines from the area even more coveted. 

In 2005, the AVA was expanded by 30,200 acres (122 km2) to 126,600 by recognizing previously overlooked portions of the fog regions. Presently the Russian River AVA includes more than 15,000 acres (61 km2) planted to wine grapes. At last count, 79 wineries were listed on the Russian River Valley Winegrowers website. 

Cool climate for Chardonnay

The Russian River Valley AVA includes the southern portion of the Russian River (where the river bends westward and cuts through the Coast Range to the Pacific Ocean). Portions of the Russian River Valley AVA are less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, which provides a cooling, coastal fog that flows through the “Petaluma Gap” in the west (a geographical region that affects wind patterns) and makes its way along the channel cut by the river in the south. The fog tends to roll in during the evening or early morning and retreats before noon. 

The combination of soil and climate create the ideal growing conditions for one of the Russian River Valley AVA’s most acclaimed grapes: Chardonnay. The appellation was granted AVA status in 1983 and accounts for about one-sixth of the total planted vineyard acreage in Sonoma County.

Guide to Russian River Chardonnay

Characteristics of Russian River AVA Chardonnay

Chardonnay thrives in the sandy loam soil of the Russian River Valley AVA. Here, it slowly matures and ripens under the California sun. The result is elegant, smooth white wine with complexity, balance, and sophistication. 

Russian River AVA Chardonnays tend to carry detailed and concentrated aromatics with notes of stone fruits, apple, citrus, flint, and florals. The palate is clean, with bright acidity, richness, and a broad and appealing texture. Oftentimes, the wine will have mineral notes.

Why Drink Russian River AVA Chardonnay? The wine’s combination of perfectly balanced acidity and full body make it an exceptionally food-friendly wine. Russian River Chardonnay is the perfect accompaniment to heavier dishes, such as cream-based sauces, seafood pastas, and strong cheeses. Additionally, its delicate elegance also makes it a perfect accompaniment to lighter dishes, such as nicoise salad, sushi, and quiche. 

Where the Old meets the New

In addition to being one of the best flavor expressions of Chardonnay in California, Russian River AVA Chardonnay is the perfect “Old World wine” from the New World. The finesse, maturity, and subtle oak flavors–all typical in Old World wines–come through in wines from the heart of Sonoma County’s beloved winemaking region.