Originally established as Sonoma County Green Valley in 1983, the history regarding Green Valley of Russian River Valley is as old as the beginning theories of Northern California’s plate tectonics. The movement of earth masses has created an ideal wine grape growing region for Green Valley… both with its bordering mountains’ Franciscan soils and its valley floor’s Goldridge soils. Originally, all of California was under water, with the Sierras being part of the Pacific Coastline.
If this is news to you, I suggest great reading by Steve Heimoff: “A Wine Journey along the Russian River.” It was in Steve’s book that I first discovered that Sonoma County has relatively new history, as compared to the eastern and central parts of the US. It just never occurred to me otherwise, until I read his book. To become familiar with soils of Russian River Valley, Steve interviewed Ph.D. Terry Wright, Educational Consultant and Professor Emeritus, Geology, Sonoma State University (RIP). Terry’s geology research has most recently produced the following about Green Valley. This information is also found on the Green Valley Website.
Terry Wright‘s GEOLOGY
Three to five million years ago, Green Valley was a shallow inland sea, which slowly tilted and drained into the ocean. This left behind a series of fine sandy soil types which, with their balanced chemistry and slight variations in clay content, perfectly fed vine plants with nutrients and water.
The older geology of the appellation looks like a crazy quilt with patches of varying soils, a mixture of ocean floor rocks faulted together as the Pacific Ocean floor slid down and east under the edge of the continent 100 million years ago. Alluvium produced by rivers and streams eroding the older rocks and soils covers the valley floor.
The two major soil categories are the sandy Goldridge that makes up about 60 percent of Green Valley and the older rocky Franciscan. Classic Goldridge provides good drainage and exceptional, natural chemical balance. Franciscan soils are dominantly light brown, sandy clay loam with higher magnesium content, well suited to Green Valley’s cool climate.
The American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Green Valley was first established in 1983, as Sonoma County Green Valley. In 1836, grape growing in Green Valley is recorded as the first.
From the Williams Selyem Website:
Winegrowing in the Russian River Valley began with the Russian colonists who settled the Northern California coast in the early 1800s. Vineyards were among the first cultivated fields in what is now the Russian River Valley appellation… When the Russians arrived to settle the Sonoma Coast between Bodega and Fort Ross in 1812, they brought with them foodstuffs including grapevines from Lima, Peru… In 1836, a Russian agronomist named Yegor Chernykh was sent by a Russian-American Company to develop food supplies for the Alaskan settlements. Chernykh established a farm just west of what is now Graton and, as part of his crops, he planted grapes. While there is no record of how productive the vines at Chernykh farm were, evidence indicates that wine was produced for sacramental purposes, and it may be surmised that grapevine cuttings from this farm were a source for future vineyards throughout a large portion of western Sonoma County.
In 2008, the Tax and Trade Bureau approved a name change; from Sonoma County Green Valley to the official name of Green Valley of Russian River Valley. (There’s also a Green Valley in Solano County. The new distinction clearly defined this Green Valley being part of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.)
[This map is borrowed from the Wine Road Website. Visit them at www.wineroad.com for many more details about Northern Sonoma County.]
Green Valley is located in the middle of Sonoma County, in the south-central area of Russian River Valley. Its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean makes it one of the coolest appellations within Sonoma County. The climate in the Green Valley is cooler than other parts of the Russian River Valley, favoring the cultivation of cool climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Green Valley begins its landscape from just north of Forestville and Petaluma and reaching northward to Sebastopol. Hundreds of thousands of years ago it was under the sea as part of the Pacific Ocean. According to Jim Pratt, of Cornerstone Certified Vineyard, “When the Pacific receded, it left great soil: sandstone, down anywhere from about five to nine feet, with a sandy loam soil on top. So what we have is a moderate clay layer that’s permeable to water. This gives us outstanding drainage, with the sandy loam on top. This is good nutrient content, but not so much that it dictates the vigor of the vine. This way the winemaker and grape grower can actually work together with the soil, take what it gives, and then add this Green Valley area’s climate.”
The fruit in Green Valley ripens slowly, which produces wines with lower alcohol and more evenly balanced acidity, a hallmark for perfect food friendly wines.
Ah… the cool, cool, climate… As I travel from Windsor to Petaluma to visit with one of my daughters, I travel southwest and actually watch the fog bank to the left become visible, even though it’s burned off in my own town. It continues to increase, and sometimes I actually ride right into it, before I reach her home. The outside temperature of her location is always at least 10 degrees cooler than mine on any given day… guaranteed. She’s only 10 miles from the Pacific, while we’re 30 miles. All of this is what makes Green Valley so prominent, as compared to the rest of Russian River Valley… Green Valley is the coolest. (Some would call the word “coolest” a pun, I just call it “magical.”)