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Russian River Valley Neighborhoods

Rod Berglund, the proprietor and winemaker at Joseph Swan Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, always includes some informative and even provocative writing in his email newsletters. The Spring Newsletter spoke to the different Russian River Valley “Neighborhoods.” I would like to paraphrase his commentary since it is so enlightening.

In recent years, there has been talk of defining the wines from the different sub regions of the Russian River Valley, and the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association has started a conversation about defining the character of the various neighborhoods. Rod points out that the wines from each sub region carry an overall defining character of the Russian River Valley AVA as a whole, but seem to represent variations on the theme. The Pinot Noirs from the Middle Reach are generally riper, richer and more powerful fruit-driven wines, those from the Laguna Ridge are earthy, spicy and red-fruited, while those from the Green Valley have higher acidity and crisp, bright red fruit.

The boundaries of the specific sub regions have not been clearly delineated, except Green Valley, which is its own appellation within the Russian River Valley. As many as seven sub regions have been identified, including Middle Reach, Windsor Hills, Laguna Ridge, Santa Rosa Plains, Sebastopol Hills, Green Valley and Freestone. The Russian River Valley AVA is defined by the coastal fog influence in varying degrees depending upon elevation and distance from the Pacific Ocean.

Currently, a large panel of winemakers is being assembled who are skilled in tasting young, unfinished wines and discerning the attributes that are directly attributable to the characteristics of the fruit from which they were made. The information will be recorded into a searchable data base and will be tied to vineyard and harvest data. Over a period of many years, patterns should emerge that define the various neighborhoods or even lead to the discovery of more neighborhoods.

Rod’s winery and estate vineyard lie in the Laguna Ridge area, a north-south ridge of low-lying hills west of the Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Santa Rosa Plains area. The Laguna Ridge tends to have earlier bud break, spring temperatures are higher, summer temperatures are often cooler than the valley floor, and the fog often hangs later as well. These differences manifest themselves in the wines made from the Laguna Ridge. The Pinot Noirs tend to have bright, deep red fruit, great acidity, usually some spice and earthy components, as well as the typical Russian River Valley lush mouthfeel. The wine from the Santa Rosa Plains, in contrast, seems to be prettier with brighter red fruit and less spice. The Green Valley wines tend to have more acidity and often more tannin. Rod emphasizes that these are generalities.

In summary, Rod points out, “Perhaps the voyage of discovery that the winegrowers of the Russian River Valley are about to embark on will give some real weight to defining this and the other neighborhoods on the similarities expressed in the wines. Or, perhaps there is no there there and the differences are just in our collective imaginations! Only time will tell. Let the voyage of discovery begin!”

I have reviewed a number of Russian River Valley wines lately, some of which are from newer producers, and some represent inaugural releases (Della).

2010 Bewitched Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $50 (discounted to $22). Uniquely packaged with a paper enclosure or wine wrap. From Truett-Hurst Vineyards & Winery. · Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. The nose offers a strong oak scent which overwhelms any fruit. Light to mid weight black cherry and black raspberry flavor with a very strong tug of oak and tannin, most evident on the short finish. The packaging is much more impressive than the wine. Score: 85

Bluxome Street Winery SF

The original California winemaking boom began not in Napa or Sonoma, but in San Francisco - SOMA, or South of Market, to be exact. At one time, no less than 120 wineries and commercial cellars called San Francisco home, but the 1906 earthquake ended many of the dreams of wine producers, and whatever spark remained was eliminated by Prohibition. Until now.

Bluxome Street Winery is open “South of the Slot” in San Francisco as both a working winery and a place to relax and enjoy a drink or two. Before SOMA, the area was called “South of the Slot,” a term coined by Jack London referencing the iron fissure running along Market Street upon which the San Francisco cable cars traveled (and still do).

Bluxome Street Winery produces Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Russian River Valley vineyards. The wines are sold by the flight, glass, bottle or barrel. The winery, at 53 Bluxome Street, welcomes visitors from noon until 7:00 PM Tuesday through Sunday.

2012 Bluxome Street Winery South of the Slot Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., 175 cases, $45. · Moderately light reddish purple hue in the glass. Very flowery nose initially, becoming more serious over time with scents of black cherry and wood spice. Intriguingly silky on the mid weight palate, featuring fresh flavors of black cherry and black raspberry with undertones of spice, stem and oak, finishing with modest intensity. Score: 89

2012 Bluxome Street Winery Teac-Mor Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay

14.2% alc., 175 cases, $38. · Moderately light golden yellow color in the glass. This wine really sings with appealing aromas of lemon curd and apple and bright lemon flavor accented with notes of pear, peach, herbs and very subtle oak. Very clean and crisp and thoroughly enjoyable, even exceptional. Score: 94

2012 Cobden Wini Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 100 cases, pH 3.69, TA 0.58, $36. Name of label pays homage to the middle names of the winemaker’s parents. Label says, “Dog ate tasting notes.” Fruit sourced from 3 vineyards. Clones 777 and Pommard. Maco-bin fermented, barrel aged sur lie with monthly batonage for 10 months in 33% new French oak. Unfined and unfiltered. Vinified by Mark Davis, assistant winemaker at O’Brien Estate Winery (Oak Knoll AVA) with previous experience at Twomey Cellars. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Shy and mysterious upon opening featuring aromas of dark red and purple fruits. Earthy and well oaked on the palate with mid weight flavors of black cherry and black raspberry with a hint of tobacco and spice. Very smoothly textured with a modest finish. Better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle showing very ripe fruit aromas and flavors, and notes of oak-driven char, dark chocolate and spice. Score: 88

2012 Della Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.56, TA 0.62, 200 cases, $60. Aged 15 months in 47% new French oak. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Plenty of black cherry and raspberry aromas are matched with smoky, toasted oak. Impressive attack and finish, with a plethora of well-ripened black cherry, raspberry and plum fruits that demand attention. The tannins are nicely integrated and the wine drinks easily now. For my taste, there is far too much oak at play, but some will find this enviable and it may ameliorate over time in the bottle. Score: 90

2012 Fogline Vineyards Floodgate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

12.9% alc., pH 3.50, TA 0.65, 295 cases, $42. Floodgate Vineyard is in the Middle Reach and organically farmed. Clones 667, 777, 115 and Pommard. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Very aromatic with hi-tone scents of dark cherries, baking spices and dark caramel. Elegant, soft and smooth on the palate featuring a core of fresh cherry fruit augmented with flavors of spice and oak. Very delicate, although the wine picks up some intensity over time in the glass. Supple tannins make for easy drinking. Score: 89

Gracianna Winery

Gracianna Winery is located in the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley. It!s Mercedes Riverblock Vineyard, named after a family matriarch, grandmother Mercedes Sordia, is located on the “Miracle Mile” of Westside Road in Healdsburg. The winery was founded in 2005 by the Amador family of Sonoma County who have been farming and ranching for generations.

The name of the winery comes from the matriarch of the family, their French Basque great-great-grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. A book about her life titled Gracianna was published by Trini Amador in 2013.

The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir is the inaugural release from the Mercedes Riverblock Vineyard. The release coincides with the completion of the Gracianna family estate home, a John Pfleuger design that is inspired by the architecture of the Renaissance and the Tuscany region of Italy. Gracianna's owners, Trini and Lisi Amador, have built a tasting room and special spaces for entertaining on the winery grounds as well. The tasting room, located at 6914 Westside Road, is open daily except Wednesday from 11:00 to 5:00. The website is

Gracianna has medaled in every wine competition entered over the past five years since their first entry in 2007. The winemaker is Trini Amador.

2012 Gracianna Estate Mercedes River Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 25 cases, $58. Calera clone. Harvest Brix 24.8º. Aged 11 months in French oak. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Enticing aromas of strawberry, red cherry, iron, sandalwood and cedary oak. Light to mid weight flavors of dark red cherry with hints of oak-driven cola, anise and spice. Soft and lush, with supple tannins. There is a sense of alcohol on the finish. Unchanged the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 88

2012 Gracianna Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.9% alc. label (15.9% tech sheet), 309 cases, $48. Harvest Brix 25.6º. Aged 11 months in French oak. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddish purple hue in the glass. Shy aromas of Bing cherry, herbs and stem with noticeable volatile acidity. Mid weight core of dark cherry pie filling with hints of nutmeg, oak and dried herbs. Better integration of alcohol but a slight bit of heat is still evident. When tasted later in the day, the volatile acidity had largely blown off, but more oak sheen was evident, and the dry finish was somewhat astringent. The previous three vintages have been more cohesive. Score: 86

2012 Pali Wine Co. Windsor Oaks Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., 460 cases, $56. A large, 250-acre vineyard in the Windsor Hills subregion. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak. · rately light reddish purple color in the glass. Deep aromas of red cherry, strawberry, sandalwood and black tea. Middleweight flavors of luscious black cherry accented with cola and oak lead to a modest cherrydriven finish. Plenty of finesse with a slight sense of alcoholic warmth. Score: 88

2011 Woodenhead Wet Kiss Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc., $52. Unfined and unfiltered. Ritchie Vineyard Martini clone, Cameron Vineyard Martini clone, and River South Vineyard Swan clone. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. A lighter wine with aromas of cherry and oak, and flavors of cherry, marzipan and brown spice. The tannins are soft and suave, and there is a prominent kick of acid on the mouthwatering finish. This is one juicy cherry kiss! Score: 88

2011 Woodenhead Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.6% alc., $42. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Pleasant aromas of Bing cherry, wood spice and tobacco. A lighter weight wine that is elegant and forward drinking. Flavors of cherry and blueberry fruits are accented with notes of herbs and tobacco. Nicely balanced, with an appealing cherry and cranberry fueled finish. Score: 88

2011 Woodenhead Ritchie Vineyard Cinder Cove Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $65. · Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, raspberry and subtle oak lead to a tasty palate of cherry fruit with a slight floral accent. This middleweight wine has accommodating finesse, with balanced tannins and some finishing length. Score: 89

2012 Woodenhead Wes Cameron Ranch “Halfshell White” Russian River Valley French Colombard

11.6% alc., 245 cases, $22. French Colombard was once widely planted in the Russian River Valley, but very little acreage remains. · Pale golden yellow color and clear in the glass. Lively aromas of lemon pie, crème brûlée, banana and tropical fruits including mango hold up nicely over time in the glass. Light weight flavors of tropical citrus, lemon and grapefruit drive this refreshing wine, which is crisp and slightly tart due to hi-strung acidity. A little hollow in the mid palate, but overall a pleasant wine that would be an excellent accompaniment for shellfish. Score: 88

2009 Woodenhead Méthode Champenoise Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine

212 cases, $46. This is a rarity: a sparkling wine made from French Colombard grapes. Disgorged March 12, 2012. · Pale yellow color in the glass. The aromas is leesy, with notes of yellow stone fruits and almonds. Very dry with biting acidity, this citrus driven wine has subtle notes of pear and tropical fruits. Drinks like a very good blanc de blanc Champagne at half the price. Score: 89

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