Top Five Under Appreciated Wine Regions
Northern California winemaker is nearly always talked about in terms of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. That’s just the way its. Visitors to "wine country" head to either of these two areas and if they hear about other wine regions besides these, they’ve probably done their research.
So, in the interest of helping with that research, I’d like to suggest…
THE TOP FIVE MOST UNDER-APPRECIATED,
GREAT WINE REGIONS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
In my mind among the top three Pinot Noir growing regions in America (Oregon and Russian River Valley are the other two) and America’s premier Gewurztraminer region. Located about two and a half hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, Anderson Valley is a narrow little valley quite close to the coast, making it among the coolest growing regions in California. It is perfect for early maturing varietals that need a long, cool growing season.
What makes it particularly attractive however is its raw, rural beauty. We are talking about "out of the way". It’s nothing like Highway 29 in Napa or even the much calmer Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley. It is sheltered, rural, nearly pristine. The drive from Highway 101 across Highway 128 into the Valley is one of my favorite in California.
The Wineries That Make Great Anderson Valley Wines
The Atlas Peak appellation overlooks the bottom of Napa Valley and in fact is inside the Napa Valley appellation. It’s best known for being the source of average to mediocre Sangiovese. But that happens when you have a large winery of the same name as the appellation. Yet there are a number of other vineyards and wineries in Atlas Peak that are making tremendous Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandels. In fact some of Napa’s most famous wineries look to the Atlas Peak appellation for cabernet grapes.
The grapes start growing at about 1200 feet on Atlas Peak. The soils tend to be terribly shallow, the climate quite cold, yet the growing area is above the fog line. It truly is winemaking on the edge when it comes to Napa Valley. The best way to check this area out is to drive up Soda Canyon Road off of the Silverado trail. It twists, it winds and the landscape changes dramatically as you go higher and higher up.
Wineries that Make Great Atlas Peak Wines
Astrale e Terra
Green Valley is a small sub-appellation tucked inside the huge and diverse Russian River Valley appellation. It is alongside Anderson Valley the coolest California appellation and the home to remarkable Pinot Noir as well as Chardonnay and a decent amount of Zinfandel planted in its warmer pockets. The appellation doesn’t get spoken or written about much because of the fame of the Russian River Valley that surrounds it. Yet it is a distinct region define by the cool fog that regularly blankets the area during the summer growing season.
What I like so much about Green Valley is that it a perfect example of what the "appellation system" should do: identify and define specific pieces of terroir that are small enough and distinct enough to have some meaning. It too is quite rural, studded with hills and rises, hidden valleys and stands of redwood trees that thrive in the fog.
Wineries that Make Great Green Valley Wines
Sonoma Mountain stares down at anyone who tours the Sonoma Valley, yet very few people go up the mountain. There is no reason to if you are looking to taste wine. But up there are a number of vineyards of great acclaim. The wines from this appellation tend to be Cabernet and Zinfandel. I can count on the Cabernets to offer great finesse when in the right hands.
However, for those of you who are adventurous I advise you next time you are in the Sonoma Valley area to seek out Enterprise Road off of Bennett Valley Road. Take slowly, the circular drive that is Enterprise road will take you up the mountain, exposing you to a number of vineyards, great views and some of the most stunning country road driving north of San Francisco. It is a hidden treat.
Wineries that Make Great Sonoma Mountain Wines
One of California’s newest appellations is Bennett Valley which sits in the Shadow of Sonoma Mountain between the city of Santa Rosa and the town of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County. For many years there was really on one reason for a wine lover to find Bennett Valley and there still is only one reason to head out there if you are looking to taste wine: Matanzas Creek Winery.
However, more and more vineyards are being planted in Bennett Valley led by Kendall-Jackson which purchased Matanzas Creek a few years ago. Prior to that and since then they have planted more vineyards in the foothills that surround Bennett Valley. It is a warmer than the nearby Sonoma Mountain appellation and suited for a number of varietals. Of course Matanzas creek gained great fame for its Merlot and Chardonnay grown here. Bennett Valley Road, which winds its way from Santa Rosa to Glen Ellen is another beautiful, narrow country road that is a find! Vineyards line the road, ponds and old barns are in sight and of course the final destination, Glen Ellen (my home town) is a great place to have lunch then head out for more wine tasting.
Wineries that Make Great Bennett Valley Wine
Matanzas Creek Winery