In celebration of our new Reserve labels, wine journalist and sommelier Courtney Schiessl penned a post that explores the Russian River Valley, where two of our most popular domestic Reserve Series wines are made. Read Courtney’s take on this region below and check out more of her work in publications like Forbes and Vinepair.
Drenched in sweat, standing in the middle of a sloped vineyard surrounded by tall redwoods several years ago, I thought, “There is no way the Russian River Valley is a cool-climate winemaking region.” It simply wasn’t possible—if all I could feel was the blazing California sun beating down on my pale, city-slicker shoulders in mid-April, how would the surrounding grapevines survive through the height of summer?
My answer came after the sun went down that evening, as I curled up in front of a crackling fire under a warm blanket. As the fog began to roll in from the Pacific, temperatures quickly cooled to illustrate a defining element of the Russian River Valley’s wines. This dichotomy between warm days of abundant sunshine and chilly nights yields that beautiful contrast of juicy fruit and full, smooth body against fresh, lifting acidity in the region’s signature Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
Sonoma wines have become well-known fixtures for good reason, but the reality is that Sonoma County is a large area, covering a wide swath of land from the Mayacamas Mountains to the Pacific coast. Individual climates and soils—and the resulting styles of wines produced—vary dramatically, from the very cool vineyards and sparkling wines of Carneros, to the warm, dry summers and blockbuster Cabernet Sauvignons of Alexander Valley.
The Russian River Valley sits in the heart of Sonoma County, southwest of Healdsburg, where the Russian River itself cuts west on its path towards the Pacific Ocean. Across rolling hills and wide plains, tucked between orchards and redwood forests, vineyards are planted in the region’s fertile, sandy loam soils, which brings richness and body to these wines.
But it’s the cooling marine fog that really makes the Russian River Valley special, and in fact, the region was first delineated based on this fog layer. After grapes ripen during the region’s warm, sunny days, this ocean fog settles over the vines after dark, cooling them down and preserving natural acidity. These cool temperatures also extend the Russian River Valley’s growing season, allowing grapes to ripen slowly and develop complex flavors.
Though many grapes are grown here, the Russian River Valley is perfectly suited to crafting fruity, balanced, layered Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The region really set the standard for high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the U.S., so it’s no surprise that 90+ Cellars would look to this iconic region for excellent renditions of these varieties for its Reserve Series.
California Chardonnays have a reputation for being bombastic and overblown, but Lot 130 couldn’t be further from that stereotype. Fresh apple and lemon greet the nose, accompanied by sunny white flowers and a hint of spice. The palate is generous and complex, with soft fruit and the pleasant bite of lemon zest. Rather than being overpowered with oak, the use of barrel adds welcome texture to the well-balanced wine as bright acidity draws out to a long, refreshing finish.
Lot 75 Pinot Noir is the most popular 90+ Cellars Reserve wine, and it’s easy to see why. At first sniff, it sings of quintessential Russian River Valley Pinot Noir fruit: juicy and pure, laden with red cherries, plums, and a hint of blueberry. That smooth, friendly fruit carries through to the palate, where it’s complemented by fresh herbs, violets, turned earth, and a touch of baking spice. Though the wine is robust and mouth-filling, it’s also lifted, with just enough grip and acidity to make it as wonderful to pair with hearty dishes as it is sipped on its own.
It’s rare to find great Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for under $20 per bottle, making both of these wines absolute steals. While Sonoma is known for making an array of delicious Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, the Lot 130 and Lot 75 Reserve wines showcase precisely what makes Russian River Valley so special.
Find these wines, and check out the full 90+ Cellars Reserve Series here.