Green Valley Pinot Noir: The Secret is a Three Letter Word
There are thirteen appellations in Sonoma County, but it is the western maritime-influenced appellations that
are most suited to growing Pinot Noir. These include the Russian River Valley, one of its subsets, Green Valley,
and the Sonoma Coast. Green Valley is located in the southwestern corner of the Russian River Valley and is
one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County. It encompasses 19,000 acres, with 1,200 acres planted to
vineyards. The towns of Forestville, Graton and Sebastopol form the eastern border, and the tiny town of
Occidental defines the western boundary. The appellation is referred to as Sonoma County Green Valley to
avoid confusion with another California appellation with a similar name, Solano County Green Valley.
The Russian River Valley viticultural area, except its southern tip in Green Valley, lies within the Northern
Sonoma viticultural area. The Northern Sonoma viticultural area, in turn, lies largely within the Sonoma Coast
viticultural area. Both the Northern Sonoma and Sonoma Coast viticultural areas are both entirely within the
North Coast viticultural area. The Russian River Valley viticultural area encompasses the Chalk Hill viticultural
area along with Green Valley. A petition submitted by E.&J. Gallo Family Vineyards is currently pending that
would create a 14,044-acre expansion of the established Russian River viticultural area to the south and east,
containing the land just west of the cities of Rohnert Park and Cotati.
Known officially as the “Green Valley of Russian River Valley,” the appellation was approved in 1983 based on
a submission by Joy and Barry Sterling, proprietors of Iron Horse Vineyards. More recently, producers in the
appellation have petitioned the TTB for an appellation name change to “Green Valley-Russian River Valley,” a
shorter, hyphenated name that more readily lends itself to wine label application and recognition. Most wines
from the Green Valley are designated Russian River Valley on the label since the Russian River Valley is
perceived as more prestigious to consumers. For Green Valley of Russian River Valley to be used on a label, at
least 85% of the wine’s grapes must originate from that appellation.
Green Valley is often mistakenly considered a sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley, but it is distinct both
geographically and climatically from the Russian River Valley and can be delineated by the flavor
characteristics of its wines. Defined by the three letter word, fog, Green Valley is the first place where maritime fog enters the Russian River Valley through the Petaluma Wind Gap, and the last place where it burns off,
making it the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River Valley, substantially chillier than the Middle Reach,
Laguna Ridges or Santa Rosa plain sub-regions of the Russian River Valley. The fog typically arrives in the
evening, cools the vines, and then retreats in the morning. A 25º diurnal temperature swing is common.
This maritime air conditioner extends the growing season and allows Pinot Noir to reach full flavor maturity
while retaining natural acidity. It is not unusual for grapes to ripen into mid-October or later. Visit the Green
Valley website, www.greenvalley-russianriver.com, to see an animation demonstrating fog movement for the
Green Valley viticultural area during a typical 24-hour ripening period before harvest.
A series of orogenic episodes near the Pacific Ocean created the mountains and streams that led to the
geology of the Green Valley. The predominant (60%) soil type is Goldridge sandy loam, a low-nutrient, well-drained
soil that is particularly suited for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A hard sub pan limits root
penetration, allowing growers to control yields. A second soil type, Sebastopol (Franciscan), also possesses
At the inaugural Green Valley Symposium in 2004, the characteristics of Green Valley Pinot Noir were detailed.
Lively acidity is typical, what is termed “ice cherries.” The Pinot Noirs are closer in type to the Sonoma Coast
than the Russian River Valley except that the tannins are less masculine. Bright, intense, ripe dark cherries,
black plums, wild berries, cola, exotic spices, rich earth, zesty acidity, and silky tannins are the norm. If any
criticism has been leveled at the Pinot Noirs from Green Valley, it is that they have lacked depth, and at times
have been too austere. However, with the influx of multiple clones, including field selections such as Swan,
planted in the proper sites, this shortcoming is becoming much less frequent. Green Valley Chardonnay
presents a fresh, clean, crisp, Gravenstein apple, complex citrus flavor profile, with a core of minerality and
The history of grape growing in the Green Valley predates the establishment of vineyards in Napa Valley.
Historic records indicate 10 acres of vineyards were planted in the region by Russian immigrants in 1830. The
vineyard acreage increased dramatically over the years until the 1870s when phylloxera and subsequently
Prohibition intervened. The Green Valley would eventually become more known for apples and prunes than
grapes. Modern viticulture began in Green Valley when Warren and Gail Dutton bought their first 35 acres
west of the town of Graton in the 1960s. Their original family home is now the current Dutton Ranch offices.
They began planting significant acreage near Graton just before the downturn in the apple industry. They were
joined in the late 1960s by Rodney Strong, who, along with the Sterlings of Iron Horse fame, ignored the
widespread opinion of the time that it was too cool to ripen grapes in the region. Today, the Dutton Ranch either
owns, leases or manages more vineyard acreage in the Green Valley than any other grower. The Dutton
Ranch now encompasses 1,300 acres (1,100 vineyards, 200 in apple orchards) in the Russian River Valley
and Green Valley appellations (go to www.duttonranch.com for a map). Warren Dutton passed away in 2001
leaving Gail and sons Steve and Joe to carry on. Each brother now owns his own winery. Joe and his wife Tracy started Dutton Estate in 1994 and Steve and his wife Theresa founded Dutton-Goldfield Winery in 1998
with winemaker Dan Goldfield.
The original Iron Horse Vineyard was planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay after Audrey and Barry Sterling
acquired their 300 acre property on Ross Station Road in 1976. Rodney Strong had originally had an option to
buy the property which had been planted to vineyards between 1971 and 1973. Forrest Tanzer, who was
working for Rodney Strong at the time, became the Sterling’s winemaker, vineyardist and partner. Tanzer
directed the upgrading and expansion of the 110-acre Iron Horse Vineyard which was the most westerly
vineyard in Sonoma County at the time. A winery was built on the property and officially opened in 1979. Iron
Horse Vineyards was the first to release a single-vineyard Green Valley bottling.
Originally, most of the grapes grown in the Green Valley were picked early and used for making sparkling wine.
Over the last fifteen years, there has been a shift to extending hang-time and the production of still wines.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay predominate, with smaller amounts of cool-climate Zinfandel, Syrah and Pinot
Blanc being produced.
The Green Valley viticultural area now has over 100 growers and 20 wineries. Some of the vineyards have
become household names to pinotphiles including Arrendell Vineyard, Don Miguel Vineyard (Marimar Torres),
Dutton-Freestone Hill, Dutton Morelli Lane, Dutton-Rued, Dutton-Thomas Road and Dutton-Widdoes
vineyards, Emeritus Vineyards, Hallberg, Heintz Ranch, Keefer Ranch, and Orogeny Vineyard. The wineries
include Atascadero Creek, Bpinot (Bybee) Vineyards & Habitat, Battaglini Estate Winery, Dutton Estate Winery/
Sebastopol Vineyards, Emeritus Vineyards, Freeman, Graton Ridge Cellars, Hartford Family Winery, Iron
Horse Vineyards, Keefer Ranch, Marimar Torres Estate Winery, Occidental Road Cellars, Orogeny Vineyards,
Patassy Vineyard, Peters Family Winery, Radio-Coteau, River Road Vineyards, Russian River Valley
Vineyards, and Taft Street Winery. Dutton-Goldfield and Red Car will soon have facilities in the Green Valley
as well. Among the several wineries leasing space in the former Vacu-Dry apple processing plant (now
SonomaWest Industrial Park North) at the corner of Gravenstein Highway and Occidental Road, which is
technically within the Green Valley appellation, are Adrian Fog Winery, Benziger Family Winery, Chasseur
Winery, Kosta Browne Winery, Tandem Winery, WesMar Winery and Willowbrook Cellars. These wineries
source grapes primarily outside the Green Valley appellation. Merry Edwards Winery and Paul Hobbs Winery
sit at the eastern border of the Green Valley appellation.
Among the wineries outside Green Valley that source grapes from the Green Valley appellation are A.P. Vin,
Anthill Farms, August West, Benovia Winery, Barnett, Capiaux, DeLoach, DuMol, Dutton-Goldfield, EnRoute,
Eric Ross, Gary Farrell, Guerrero-Fernandez Winery, Halleck Vineyard, Hess, Jordan (Chardonnay), Landmark
Vineyards, LIOCO, Loring Wine Co., Lost Canyon, Lynmar, Martinelli Winery, Merry Edwards, Pali Wine Co.,
Patz & Hall, Paul Hobbs, Rhys Vineyards, Salinia Wine Co., Sequana, Scherrer Winery, Small Vines, Talisman,
I recently sampled a number of Pinot Noirs from the Green Valley appellation. The overall quality was
consistently high with many exceptional wines in the tasting. Green Valley is appearing on more wine labels as
the consumer gains more insight into the special wines from this viticultural area. Green Valley is clearly a
badge of distinction and an appellation designation worthy of displaying. And, it’s all due to a three letter word.
2008 OTP Of The Place Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 320 cases, Unreleased. From an
unnamed prestigious vineyard in the Green Valley appellation.
A savory nose featuring plenty of oak. Dark red
cherry and berry flavors with oak char in the background. Rich and brooding yet displaying some elegance.
The pedigree of the fruit is evident but the oak steals the show at present. Decent (+).
2008 Loring Wine Company Graham Family Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.2% alc., $40, screw cap.
Penetrating and haunting aromas of red plums, red berries, violets and
graham cracker. Really impressive and tasty sweet red berry attack that
progresses to a memorable finish. This hedonistic, Caliesque sucker
hangs around for at least half a minute. The fruit is startling good and
the very smooth mouth feel brings the hair on your neck to attention. The
alcohol is well integrated and the wine was still delicious the next day from a
previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating the balance is spot on. This
is a great sipping wine that aims to please.
2007 Roessler Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
175 cases, $32. Sourced from the Thomas Road Vineyard in Green Valley
planted in 1997 and farmed by Dutton Ranch.
Intense reddish-purple color in
the glass. Subdued aromas of dark red fruits framed by toast and sweet smoke.
A discreet and sensual wine offering strawberry and raspberry fruit with an
underpinning of brisk acidity highlighted by a citrus peel note on the tangy finish.
A great food wine. Fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. Very good.
2007 Bpinot (Bybee) Vineyards & Habitat Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.9% alc., 396 cases, $39. Crafted from organic grapes by winemaker
Suzanne Hagen. Aged 10 months in lightly toasted French oak. Unfined and
Aromas of raspberry, strawberry, cherry, rosebush, grape must,
redwood and spice draw you in, leading to a moderately rich dark red fruit core
that is augmented by notes of loamy earthy, tea, herbs and soy. The flavor of
Pinot grapes really comes through. Picks up richness with time in the glass.
Harmonious and seductive with soft, ripe tannins. Very good (+).
2007 Capiaux Widdoes Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $40.
Leads off with scents of
black cherries, toasty oak and charcoal. Delicious aggressive attack of ripe cherries that are tar- and earthtoned.
Nicely balanced with firm tannins and a moderately length finish. Soft in the mouth and aims to please
but a little clumsy and doesn’t offer much nuance. Decent (+).
2007 Failla Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $47.
The nose is dominated by
purple fruits, mushrooms, oak and brioche. On the palate, the flavors echo the aromas with added interest
offered by savory herbs. Smooth and full-bodied, even muscular, with silky tannins, good acidity and some
persistence on the fruity finish. Decent.
2007 Bpinot (Bybee) Vineyards & Habitat Sera Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 196 cases, $49. A reserve bottling
primarily from Pommard clone grown in the estate vineyard that is
organic and biodynamically certified. Aged 18 months in lightly
toasted French oak. Unfined and unfiltered.
Very charming aromas of
dark red berries, brioche and subtle oak. Lovely cherry and berry flavor that
pack a wallop yet the wine is light on its feet. A dynamite wine that is well-dressed
and ephemeral with supple tannins that allow for early drinking but possessing the
balance to stay the course. The finish sails on for what seems like a minute. A
special wine that you can spend the night with.
2007 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Sanchietti Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 345 cases, $58.
Now this is what I’m
talking about. Nuanced and enticing nose featuring pretty aromas of
red and black berry jam, crushed strawberries, wine cellar, vanillin and
spice. Full-on attack of seductive berry fruit that is earthy and juicy
leading to an aromatic and fruity persistent finish with a subtle kick of
acidity. Very charming with velvety tannins, perfect weight and balance.
This wine is a superb example of how you can craft great Pinot Noir at moderate
alcohol levels. This wine shows the stamp of a gifted winemaker (Dan
2007 Dutton-Goldfield Freestone Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 537 cases,
Fruity nose of grapes and berries with notes of spice and Coca-Cola. Lush, ripe and sweet mouth
coating fruits with a long and powerful fruity finish. The tannins are restrained and the refreshing acidity makes
the wine easily approachable now. Well-proportioned and nicely balanced. Very good.
2006 Patassy Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., $17. This vineyard is farmed by Frank
and Stephan Patassy. It borders Atascadero Creek near Sebastopol. Aged 14 months in French oak.
of crushed, ripe strawberries, wet leaves and prune. A lighter and savory style featuring very ripe fruit flavors
unusual for the Green Valley. Tastes of herbs and bourbon creep in. A value-priced daily drinker. Decent.
2006 Orogeny Fox Den Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
13.7% alc., $34. From an 8-acre vineyard owned by Ed and Sue Smith.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Racy nose showing aromas
of raspberry compote and spice. Complimentary flavors of strawberries,
cranberries, raspberries, currants, and hazelnuts with an earthy underpinning
veering a little toward overripeness. Hi-strung acidity with mild tannins and a
smooth texture. Very good (-).
2006 Keefer Ranch Wines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $42.
Moderate reddish-purple color. Aromas of black cherries,
strawberries, wet leaves, baking spice and oak are echoed in the flavors.
Smooth, clean and elegant with balanced acidity and supple tannins. Perfectly
fine and time to drink up. Very good.
2006 Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Water Trough Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., $70.
nose is loaded with oak toast and char which carries over on the palate. A rich core of dark fruits is quite
pleasing but the toasted oak accent just doesn’t appeal to me. The wine drank much better the next day from
a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more oak integration and a brighter display of fruit. At room
temperature, the finish is a bit hot. Decent.
2005 Dutton-Goldfield Dutton Ranch Freestone Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 361 cases, $58. Located at the southwestern edge of Green Valley. Dijon clones. Very small yields with
tight bunches and tiny thick-skinned berries.
Interesting aromatic profile of flowers, smoke, sap and oak.
Earthy, grilled, smoky dark fruits with a hint of tobacco. Showing primarily secondary bouquet and flavors
without the vibrant fruit shown on release, but will appeal to fans of aged Pinot Noir. Decent (+).
Other Green Valley-Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs worth consideration:
Anthill Farms Tina Marie Vineyard Pinot Noir
A.P. Vin Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir
Barnett Tina Marie Vineyard Pinot Noir
DeLoach Green Valley Pinot Noir
DuMol Aidan Pinot Noir, DuMol Ryan Pinot Noir
Emeritus Pinot Noir
Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir
Hartford Court Hailey’s Block Pinot Noir
Iron Horse Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir
Loring Graham Vineyard Pinot Noir
Loring Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir
Marcassin Bondi Home Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir
Semper Gold Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir
Sequana Sundawg Ridge Pinot Noir