Thumbnail Sketches of Major California Pinot Noir Appellations
2,300 acres of vineyards, 1,128 acres of Pinot Noir
30 wineries; 28+ wineries outside Anderson Valley source Pinot Noir grapes from the
Anderson Valley AVA.
10-15 miles from the Pacific Ocean so that the valley receives fog incursions and ocean
breezes, particularly the northern or deep-end of the valley. A wide diurnal range in temperature
of up to 40-50° F allows acid development to remain in line with sugar and flavor
formation during the long, warm Mediterranean summers. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to
ripen grapes in the northern end of the valley), and Region II (2,500-3,500 degree-days to
ripen grapes in the southern end of the valley.
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
“Classic”: Fresh red berries, cherries, white pepper, spice, hint of cedar. Firm, yet feminine,
“Neuvo”: Dark berries, jammy, high extraction, color and tannin, overt oak with caramel and
baking spice, dark herbs including anise, more masculine. Neuvo style is frequently made
with Dijon clones.
Over ½ million acres: 7,000 acres of vineyards (<1,4% of the total area), the largest Sonoma
228 wineries; 56 wineries outside the AVA source grapes from Sonoma Coast.
The “True” Sonoma Coast has 6 wineries and >50 growers
The Sonoma Coast AVA approved in 1987.
The Sonoma Coast AVA extends from the coastline up to 30 miles inland all the way to the base of Sonoma Mountain east of Santa Rosa and in the north from the Mendocino County border
extending south to the north shore of the San Francisco Bay. As a result, the Sonoma Coast
AVA is composed of adverse number of microclimates. A sub-division of the Sonoma Coast
AVA has been labeled the“true” Sonoma Coast, extending from the Pacific Ocean to 4-5 miles
inland (the first two ridges). Some have characterized the “true” Sonoma Coast as follows:
“You should be able to see the ocean,” and, “It’s a long way from anywhere,” and, “ “Most
Sonoma Coast vineyards are soaked with sun and waiting for the fog to come in. The “true”
Sonoma Coast is in the fog waiting for the sun to come out.” In the “true” Sonoma Coast, there
is a cool climate (primarily Region I, <2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes) and relatively high
rainfall leading to slow grape maturation. In Cazadero, the annual rainfall of 55 inches makes it
the second wettest measuring station in California. The true Sonoma Coast vineyards are
primarily above the fog line on slopes or hilltops.
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
More backbone, structure, grit, muscle, and sinew; mineral element; more tannin than the RRV;
dense and concentrated with tightly wound acidity; black cherry, sage, savory, earthy,
peppery; tomato, beet, and rhubarb if unripe.
Russian River Valley
126,600 acres; 15,000 acres of vineyards, 1/6 of total Sonoma County vineyard acreage.
4,600 acres of Pinot Noir, >1/3 if all Pinot Noir in Sonoma County, 19% of the state.
155 wineries; 171 wineries outside the RRV AVA access fruit from the RRV AVA
RRV appellation approved in 1983. The RRV AVA overlaps Green Valley and Sonoma Coast
Fog is drawn inland each day and dissipates by late morning. This reduces photosynthesis in
the grapevine leaves creating a shorter daytime period - the result is the grapes gain sugars
more slowly and have brighter natural acidity. The growing season is long. Region II (2,500-
3,500 degree-days to ripen grapes. The Middle Reach is warmer and produces ripe and
voluptuous fruit. The southern Russian River Valley is cooler and creates wines with crisper
elegance and greater age ability.
The Aromas and Flavors of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Bing cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, plums; roses and smoke scent; Asian spice, c
clove, cola, lavender, violets. Typically a voluptuous texture.
90 square miles. 8,000 planted grape acres (exact figure unavailable).
37 wineries; 75 growers; 124 wineries from outside the Carneros AVA access fruit from the
AVA approved in 1983, one of the first AVAs to be based on climate rather than political
boundaries. Amended in 1987 and 2006.
Carneros is adjacent to San Pablo Bay and is heavily influenced by the Bay and the Pacific
Ocean. As the sun heats up the more northerly parts of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, the
rising hot air draws in cool breezes and fog from San Pablo Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The
winds slow the activity in the leaves and dry the dew left by the morning fog. The evening fog
moderates vineyard temperatures the next morning. The result is a moderately long growing
season. The soils are thin and full of clay which holds water but is slow to release it This factor
in addition to the low rainfall make it necessary to irrigate. Mostly Region I (<2.500 degreedays
to ripen grapes).
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Carneros Pinot Noir
Tight, crisp and lean structure. Spicy berry and dried cherry flavors. The older style featured
more herbal, sandalwood, underbrush and earthy notes. The newer styles can have more
black fruit, higher alcohol, and be more jammy.
38,000 acres of land, 52 family farms and ranches.
171 acres of vineyards, 152 acres of Pinot Noir; 7 major grape growers.
The climate is influenced by the Pacific Ocean on the western border and the San Pablo Bay on
the eastern border. Winters are warmer than Napa or Sonoma due to winter precipitation. As
a result, bud break is accelerated, but persistent cool weather in the spring and summer push
flowering set and harvest weeks beyond other cool climate areas in California. Long hang
times are the norm. Farming is a challenge due to the cool weather and lack of water. Region I
(<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes).
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Marin County Pinot Noir
High natural acidity and lower alcohol levels. Typical Pinot Noir aromatic profile but not
especially showy. Small berries, wild and exotic concentrated flavors
Santa Cruz Mountains
350,000 acres over 3 counties
1,350 acres of vines; 90 wineries; 7 wineries outside the SCM AVA access grapes from the SCM
AVA approved in 1981 - the first defined by geophysical, altitudinal, and climatic factors.
Marriage of fog and sun. Extended growing season. Mountainous terrain with many vineyards
located in remote and rugged locations. Harsh climate. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen
grapes). Irrigation water is limited. Top soil is poor in many areas. Yields are low.
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Lovely aromatics, red and dark fruit flavors, easily approachable tannins, lively acidity, and
light to medium bodied.
Santa Lucia Highlands
5,523 grape acres; 2,500 acres planted to Pinot Noir
34 growers, 11 wineries; 62 wineries from outside the SLH AVA source fruit from the SLH AVA.
AVA established in 1991
Natural southeast exposure overlooking the Salina River Valley. Cool mornings with fog and
afternoon breezes from Monterey Bay. Long growing season. Region I (<2,500 degree-days
to ripen grapes). Well-drained granitic soils. Higher vineyards (up to 1,200 feet) have the
benefit of more direct sun.
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
Rich, subtle and complex with demure herbal, mineral and fruit characters. Some vineyards
produce very bold and highly structured wines.
Santa Maria Valley
80,000 acres, 7,500 acres of vineyards.
33 wineries; 50 wineries outside Santa Maria Valley source fruit from the SMV AVA.
AVA approved in 1981, amended in 1985.
The Santa Maria Valley has an east-west orientation and Pacific fog and coastal breezes
permeate the valley leading to an extended growing season (typically 4 weeks longer than
many other California wine regions). The Santa Maria Valley is the most southerly point on the
California coast affected by summer fogs. Low rainfall (essentially a desert on the ocean) and
warm summers. Region I (<2,500 degree-days to ripen grapes).
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Similar to the southern Russian River Valley but more spicy. Red and black raspberry, strawberry,
red and black cherry, earthiness, truffles, forest floor, savory herbs, cola, soy sauce.
More color than the Russian River Valley in most years probably due to longer hang time. The
signature feature is, as the locals call it, Santa Maria spice.
Sta. Rita Hills
30,720 acres: 1,700 grape acres, primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
AVA approved in 2001, amended in 2005.
The mountains run east-west instead of north-south here creating a gap which allows cool
Pacific Ocean winds to flow inland. Fog hovers over the vines until mid-morning and the
temperature barely gets about 75°F in the western reaches of the appellation. Region I (<2,500
degree-days to ripen grapes). The soils are calcerous and well-drained.
The Typical Aromas and Flavors of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noirs
Darker fruit expression is the rule. Blueberries and wild berries are common. Deep, concentrated
fruit, substantial tannic structure, minerality, high acidity, and usually high alcohol (but
can be in balance).